Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

Essential thinking for reading Catholics.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Yet another view of GC35

UPDATE: CWN's OTR has some interesting comments on this.

Many of the more wayward Jesuits who are currently dotting the ecclesial landscape have, of late, taken issue -- sometimes rather harshly, I thought -- with the views expressed by George Weigel on the state of the Society of Jesus. It has been said that Weigel, like the Fr. Neuhaus before him, is either a man ill-disposed to the Society, or is ignorant of some salient fact or another, or is not viewing things from a proper perspective, or more commonly, that he is a man whose beyond-the-mainstream views have irredeemably tinted his opinions.

This outlook has held some measure of currency in certain quarters. Not with me, mind you, but in certain quarters.

Well, this markwelt just suffered a jarring blow with this piece by John L. Allen, Jr. (generally not considered a slavering right-winger) from the 4/4/08 issue of National Catholic Reporter (hardly right-wing, rad-trad, suppress-'em-all mouthpiece).

Allen's report reminds me of the adage "only Nixon can go to China." I, myself, have received "love letters" of varying degrees of loveliness, to say nothing of combox retorts evidencing varying degrees of lucidity. (I'm often tempted to reply with Jn 18:23, but I stay my hand.) It would appear that to many folks, any expression of concern or commentary is -- must be -- a vicious attack borne of ignorance or malevolence or, Deo volente, both. Allen's analysis casts a serious doubt on that construction.

If anyone has ever spent much time reading Allen's dispatches, they are all invariably even-handed, measured, even serenely dispassionate. I've yet to get wind of anyone calling him an ideologue or similar. The same, triply so, applies to the National Catholic Reporter. This is a publication which I freely, openly and unabashedly declare to be several standard deviations to the left of me and which I find impossible to believe could ever be to the right of anyone who considers himself an observant Catholic.

Allen noted that

"The election of Nicolás was widely interpreted as a victory for the more progressive views associated with many Jesuits, especially interreligious dialogue and social advocacy."

Expression of this outlook was rather derided early on, if you'll recall. When I expressed some revervations on this matter -- and it has NEVER gone beyond reservations -- I was taken to task (with varying degrees of charity) for expressing caution instead of enthusiasm.

What I found curious and telling was Allen's (or, even more so if it was NCR's) choice for a title: Fractious papal-Jesuit 'marriage' has a moment of détente. The pivotal word here, to me, is détente. As someone who grew up in the 1970s* the word summons up the policy of Nixon-Ford-Carter in relation to the Soviet Union. Which implies there is some measure of opposition and conflict in the Vatican-Jesuit relationship. My guess (and it's only that; a guess) is that on the Vatican's part this "détente" can be viewed from the perspective of giving Fr. Nicolás the benefit of the doubt..."let's give the guy a chance to see what he'll do."

This, I believe, stems from the genuine affection B16 has for Jesuits, evidenced in his appointments of Jesuits to important posts and elevating several to cardinalates and bishoprics.

For his part, Fr. Nicolás seems to be aware that "reassuring noises from time to time" won't have the sway they did, say, 10 or 15 years ago. I haven't had the opportunity to delve very deeply into it, but it would appear that his appointments of new Provincials emphasize this.

To me, these gestures are to be viewed as positive first steps. It would be worrisome if these first steps ossify into the only steps.

Once more Allen:

To be sure, Benedict repeatedly called the Jesuits to obedience, and specifically asked for their assent in three critical areas: the theology of religious pluralism, liberation theology, and sexual morality. All represent battle zones; Three Jesuit theologians in the last seven years have drawn Vatican censures for their writings on these topics.

Thus saith Allen:

In terms of substance, however, there’s scant evidence that either Benedict or the Jesuits changed their minds on the issues that provoke conflict.


There’s no indication, however, that the Jesuits made significant concessions on one core matter -- their famed fourth vow of special obedience to the pope “in regard to missions.” Benedict XVI takes a fairly expansive view of the vow as implying “effective and affective” submission across the board, while most Jesuits see it as a more narrow promise to go wherever the pope needs them, either in a geographic sense or in terms of broad areas of concern.

I take this all to mean that while viewpoints may not have altered appreciably, the first order of business is to proceed with cordiality; "polite talk" in Allen's words. Mind you, it can be safe to say that in the end, The Pope Always Wins** but it's pretty evident the Holy Father is hoping for the movement to be voluntary.

Towards the end of the piece, Allen writes something that I find the most telling of all:

One delegate, Mexican Fr. Juan Luis Orozco, summed up the Jesuit approach this way: “We’ll obey, but we’re not the Swiss Guard.” ***

That spirit is not always well received in the Vatican. Speaking on background, one official in Ratzinger’s former domain, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, described the General Congregation as a “disaster.”

What bears noting is that what bothered the unnamed Vatican official was the spirit of Fr. Orozco's remarks. I must confess it doesn't exactly assuage my fevered mind, either.

Read Allen's piece. Go.



* Which David Frum characterized -- correctly, says I -- as "that ghetto of a decade."

** The adage goes something like "He who bites the Pope, dies of it."

*** Every time I read/hear something along these lines, I am inexorably reminded of Cole Porter's "I'm Always True To You, In My Fashion"