Thursday, January 10, 2008

Jesuit Stumbling Blocks

The latest news from Rome is encouraging for those of us who care about doctrinal orthodoxy. The Vatican news agency, Zenit, reports that the head of the Vatican office in charge of religious orders spoke recently to a gathering of Jesuits and urged them, in effect, to clean up their act, especially with regard to obedience to the Church’s teachings.

In his homily at a mass on Monday, Jan. 7, opening the 35th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, Cardinal Franc Rode, Prefect of The Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, exhorted the assembled Jesuits to recover the legacy of their founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola: “It is with sorrow and anxiety that I see that the sentire cum ecclesia [thinking with the Church] of which your founder frequently spoke is diminishing even in some members of religious families. The Church is waiting for a light from you to restore the sensus Ecclesiae.”

Cardinal Rode described his “sorrow and anxiety” about other matters as well, including “a growing distancing from the Hierarchy” of the Church contrary to Ignatius’ formula for the order, “to serve the Lord and his Spouse the Church under the Roman Pontiff.” He reminded the assembly that “consecration to service to Christ cannot be separated from consecration to service to the Church.”

The Jesuit order has, unfortunately, become legendary in recent decades for often rather vocal dissent from the Church’s teachings, especially with regard to life and family issues. Not that every member of the Society of Jesus is a Catholic dissident, and the exceptions are outstanding examples of what it means “to think with the Church. They are, however, the exception.

My own introduction to this phenomenon is perhaps a cautionary tale of how the obstinance of some prominent members of the Jesuits and other Catholic orders regarding Church teachings can create scandal, not only among the Catholic faithful but also among non-Catholic Christians who admire the Church and might someday be persuaded to enter the Church.

Some years ago I was writing a weekly online column for the think tank I worked for. I found a news story reporting that the radical feminist “play,” The Vagina Monologues, was to be performed at several Catholic academic institutions the around the country, with the blessing of college officials. For those of you unfamiliar with the book and the performance “art” associated with it, you can click here to read more. Suffice to say, it is difficult to describe without straying from my policy to provide family-friendly content.

Even though at the time I was still an evangelical protestant, I admired the Church and considered it a bulwark – even perhaps the bulwark – against a host of potential threats to all that is good, true and beautiful. I sought out a Catholic colleague, who explained to me the often shaky faithfulness to Church teaching in a number of American Catholic academic institutions, many of which no longer describe themselves as “Catholic” but rather as “in the Catholic tradition.” I was crestfallen, probably because for the first time I realized how much the teaching authority of the Catholic Church meant to me as a Christian and what the loss of that authority could mean to all believers. I wrote a column on the subject, “Coming to a (Catholic?) Campus near You...”, in which I lamented that such venerable institutions as Notre Dame and Holy Cross had sunk so low. There was no hint of schadenfreude in my attitude. It was more along the lines of “Say it ain’t so, Joe.”

At the time I had no (conscious) idea of becoming a Catholic, but it was still a blow, and in retrospect I think it gave me pause, at least subcousciously. Eventually, as I learned more about the reality of the Catholic Church, I realized that, influential as such orders often are, especially the Jesuits, they do not have the last word when it comes to the teaching authority of the Church. As I wrote in my Apologia,

To be sure, there are plenty of dissenting Catholics, but no one need be in any doubt what they are dissenting from. The buck stops somewhere. Ideally it stops at the desk of the parish priest; if necessary it will go all the way to Rome, but it stops there. Not for nothing do we have the saying, “Roma locuta est, causa finita est.” (Rome has spoken, the case is closed.)

Fortunately I was motivated enough to pursue the matter and discover the real story behind the scandal of Jesuit dissidents. What concerns me is that those who are not similarly motivated might not get beyond such a stumbling block. It appears that the Holy Father is similarly concerned, as was his predecessor. He has publicly corrected several prominent Jesuit theologians since his election nearly three years ago, including the editor of the Jesuit flagship publication, America, who resigned last year following years of dissent from Church teaching. The event caused something of an uproar in liberal Catholic circles at the time.

There are other hopeful signs, too. Younger Jesuits tend to be more orthodox, as are most younger members of all religious orders, especially the ones that are growing. And most hopeful of all, Roma loquitur (Rome is speaking). Let’s hope the Jesuits and their fellow travelers are listening.


CresceNet said...
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Anonymous said...

Rock on with powerful insights!

Maryellen said...

Thanks for posting this. I'm encouraged by one of your last lines when you said: "Younger Jesuits tend to be more orthodox, as are most younger members of all religious orders...."

I do believe we have a a newer, holier generation of Deacons and Priests coming from the Seminaries that are growing. Some more recent Orders of Nuns have run out of space to accommodate the flow of women to the Convents.

I think the Church woke up and began praying in earnest, and this is the answer. I hope and pray the Jesuits will listen

Heide Seward (aka, Miss Climpson) said...

Thank you, Anonymous and Mary Ellen. The news from Rome continues to be good on this score. Zenit News Agency published a translation yesterday (Jan. 18) of the Holy Father's Jan. 10 letter to the Jesuits on the occasion of their General Congregation. I am working on a post about it.

I am constantly encouraged by the current growth of orthodox religious orders and also by the young priests I meet. This is a great time to be Catholic.

Anonymous said...

Thank God that the Jesuits are trying to take the Church and its Italian leadership out of the Dark Ages. The Church is a community of people led by God, not a collection of of slaves to Rome. Is God proud of the actions of the so called leaders of his Church during the 30 Years War? the child molesting clergy? the "approved" persecution of the Jews in WWII, etc. Thank God for the wisdom of modern Jesuits and the colleges where they teach.

Heide said...

Anonymous, I gather from your comments that you are a Protestant, since you seem to think that the appropriate role of a religious order to lead the Church ("out of the Dark Ages," as you put it). To the contrary, it is the duty of all Catholics, including the members of the Society of Jesus, to "think with the Church," as St. Ignatius himself put it.

The primary point of my essay was to offer my own story as a cautionary tale. I was lamenting the evident disregard among some American academic institutions for many of the Church's teachings. It is lamentable in part because it may put others off as it did me--for a time. Fortunately, it did not discourage me indefinitely. Like the Holy Father, I am hopeful that the Jesuits will one day recover the zeal for the Gospel so characteristic of their founder.

As for the sundry issues, real or imagined, which you mentioned, I am not sure how they are appropos of this discussion. If you post in future I would appreciate your sticking to the subject at hand.