Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Jesuits: Where to?

For generations, the Jesuits were recognized as the intellectual "shock troops" of the Catholic Church, and the superior general was known informally as the "Black Pope" in recognition of his enormous influence. But today the rising lay movements like Opus Dei supply the "shock troops" for the papacy, and in his 24 years as leader of the Society, Father Kolvenbach has rarely roused any public controversy.
When he announced plans for this year's general convention, the outgoing superior general said that he could foresee "no particular theme for discussion" at the meeting-- as if the future of the order required no special attention. Other Jesuit leaders seem to share placid confidence that the general congregation will bring no major changes. They are evidently convinced that the next superior general will continue the current policies of the Jesuit leadership and the Society will continue along the same path to…
To where? The mission of the Jesuit order, as understood by most of its members, has changed radically in recent decades. As recently as the mid-20th century, the Jesuits were known as stalwart defenders of the Pope, who trained loyal young Catholics to defend Church doctrines. Today they are inveterate critics of the Vatican, who train young Catholics to question their faith. Is there any discussion among Jesuit leaders of a return to the defense of Catholic orthodoxy? Evidently not.
Perhaps not coincidentally, as the Jesuits have maneuvered to establish what amounts to a "loyal opposition" within the Catholic Church, the order has suffered heavily from defections and lost its ability to attract young recruits. In 1965 when Father Arrupe became superior general, there were about 36,000 Jesuits in the world. Today that figure has been cut nearly in half, with about 19,000 Jesuits remaining in a rapidly aging society.
Where are the Jesuits headed? Where do they want to go? What is their plan for long-term survival-- if indeed their leaders still believe that survival is a worthwhile goal? With a historic leadership change in the offing, one might have expected to see those questions discussed in Jesuit publications during the past year. But with only a few days to go before the 35th general congregation, that discussion still has not begun in earnest.
The Society of Jesus is in crisis: a crisis compounded by the failure of Jesuit leaders to acknowledge that something is seriously wrong.


Anonymous said...

Why go for the Jesuits? The Catholic Church in its entirety in the West is in decline. The Jesuits' current dilemma is shared by the Church at large. If it isn't why, on these microscopic Catholic blogs, are there so many complaints about liberal bishops, rectors and staff of seminaries, parish priests who are content with bad standards (remember, you yourself have written that you don't like other priests celebrating Mass in your church because they are invariably rubrically 'incorrect'), that the laity are lost because they know so little doctrine, that Catholic schools no longer teach the Faith, that the parish congregations are ageing and on and on.

All the religious orders are in decline, vocations are few. The number of people available for the priesthood and the religious life has been reduced to nothing because the laity have ignored Humanae Vitae: they don't exist. Yet the Jesuits, who do their best to engage with the problems of securalism and injustice, are singled out as the most malignant Order in the Church. They are merely part of the whole.

The Catholic bloggosphere represents a world of its own which hardly exists off the computer screen. At no time in history have small groups of dim, idiosyncratic, unintelligent, attention-seeking, mediocre, biassed people been given the same opportunity to present their eccentricities publicly. It is a loner's paradise. The time wasted on reading each other's blogs and posting must be equivalent to psychotic compulsion. Jesuits themselves have been admonished by the retiring general for the amount of time they spend glued to the cyberspace. It is only a matter of time before this obsession reaches the out-patients' departments of mental hospitals, once called lunatic asylums.

Anonymous said...

If they cannot commit to returning to their original charisms and to be faithful and obedient to the Holy Father and the Magisterium then I truly and fervently hope they are suppressed.

The term 'jesuitical' is to say dissenting.


Fr Ray Blake said...

"Why go for the Jesuits?"

1,Because of their past intellectual emminence, which if they returned to the Spirit of their founder they could regain.
2, Because they are the largest male Religious Order, their authentic restoration would have a great influence on others.
3, Because so many of the younger Jesuits are yearning for a change of direction.

These are the first three of the top of my head. I am sure others can suggest further reasons.

Dr. Peter H. Wright said...

This, to me, is a sad state of affairs because the Jesuits I knew as a boy were clever, approachable, kindly, and of course holy men, who made a very good job of teaching the Catholic faith without being too intense about it.

Some of them were rather apt to look down their scholarly noses at other teaching orders such as the Christian Brothers, but somehow this made the Jays even more interesting to be with.

They encouraged resourcefulness and self reliance, but they never deviated from Church doctrine.

Then I heard the Society was withdrawing from education. This meant that some of the cleverest men in the Church would no longer be forming young peoples' minds.

I thought "What a pity." The priests I knew will have been dead for years now. And the charism of the Society of Jesus has been lost, if not forever then for a very long time.

Anonymous said...

4. Because many Jesuits, unfortunately, do not speak with the mind of the Church and seem locked into a 1970s mentality.
5. Because it often seems that within certain sectors, humility has given way to arrogance.
6. Because an admirable concern for THIS WORLD is not enough to sustain the Order unless there is genuine spiritual renewal and reappraisal.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Ray,

Just a quick bit of follow-up to the criticisms made by Fr. Anonymous S.J. who said:

"The Catholic bloggosphere represents a world of its own which hardly exists off the computer screen. At no time in history have small groups of dim, idiosyncratic, unintelligent, attention-seeking, mediocre, biassed people been given the same opportunity to present their eccentricities publicly. It is a loner's paradise."

Would it be unfair to say that it takes one to know one?

Anonymous said...

Suffice to say that the situation the West finds itself in now is not dissmilar to that experienced by Ignatius Loyola and Edmund Campion. Do Jesuits still read about these people? What does the Order choose - indifferentism and irrelevance, or taking up the Cross as is their mission? The next week will tell. If only Cardinal Dulles were twenty years younger.

On the side of the angels said...

Having read Malachi Martin's book on them I'm somewhat biassed; but I have friends who speak not only highly of the young ,deeply devout and highly intellectual revolutionaries [in the most authentic catholic sense] among the Jesuits ; they have related that they are 'mad as hell' with the 'powers that be' and plead for a reform those in control refuse to even consider.
A truly sad state of affairs.

Dr. Peter H. Wright said...

I find the comment by Anon objectionable.

Why does he feel the need to criticise traditional Catholic blogs ?

Why not simply ignore them ?

If bloggers and commenters wish to "waste their time", then that is their choice.

There are much worse ways of wasting one's time.

What evidence does he have to support his theory that blogging and posting is "the equivalent of psychotic compulsion" ?

I see Francis has sensibly criticised the same comment.

The blogosphere may well be a "loner's paradise", but it is none the worse for that.

If it provides an interest for many sick and housebound people, then that is surely a good thing.

I'm not surprised he hasn't signed his name to such a hostile comment.

It is possible to express one's point of view without being gratuitously offensive.

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