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The Future of the Jesuits
Catholic Exchange ^ | December 28, 2007 | Russell Shaw

Posted on 12/28/2007 8:15:50 AM PST by NYer

p>On a quick trip to Rome a few weeks ago, I made it a point to visit the Gesu, the mother church of the Society of Jesus, and to pray for the Jesuits and their general congregation opening January 7. I found much of the church's magnificent Baroque interior concealed by scaffolding set up for a housecleaning before that crucial event.

The symbolism couldn't have been more apt. Just as the Gesu, in the historic heart of Rome, needed renovating, so does the Society itself. Rather than operating at the cutting edge of the Church, Jesuits in recent decades have fallen increasingly behind the times and, not unlike the Gesu, now stand in need of some serious renewing.

This is not an anti-Jesuit polemic. I am grateful for the education I received from the Society. Over the years I've known many Jesuits, and most have been — and still are — admirable men, loyal sons of the Church deeply devoted to the service of the people of God. Many have been, and still are, my friends.

Yet as 217 Jesuits from around the world convene at the Society's headquarters near St. Peter's Square for the 35th general congregation in the order's history, they face the challenge of not only electing a new General Superior but setting directions for a body in long-running crisis. Business as usual won't work. The Jesuits need an overhaul and they need it soon.

Numbers underscore the urgency. Forty years ago there were 35,000 Jesuits in the world. Now there are 19,000. The dropoff has been even steeper in the United States, where the Society counted over 8,000 members in 1965 and now has under 3,000.

True, the Society still has an impressive presence — in the U.S. alone, 28 colleges and universities and 40 secondary schools. But how Jesuit are those institutions? The colleges and universities have boards of trustees with a majority of lay members; four have lay presidents, with more presumably coming; on most Jesuit campuses, Jesuits are a small and shrinking handful, while the percentage of Jesuit teachers in the high schools has dropped from roughly half in the mid-1960s to single digits now.

The problem goes beyond declining numbers. Among the very few theologians whom the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith has criticized by name in recent years, four have been members of the Society. A larger reality is the phenomenon of "tacit dissent" that Peter McDonough and Eugene C. Bianchi (himself an ex-Jesuit) found among many of the 430 current and former Jesuits whom they interviewed for Passionate Uncertainty, their 2002 report on the Society in the U.S.

 The Jesuits' problems are neither new nor uniquely theirs. In 1973 Time magazine declared the Society "a microcosm of the tensions and turmoil that are sweeping the Roman Catholic Church as a whole." But although the Church still has lots of problems, it's moved on since 1973, while many Jesuits appear to be frozen in postures of avant-garde dissension out of the past. I repeat — today's Society has many exceptions to this picture. But the picture is accurate enough to merit concern.

Two years ago Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., General Superior of the Society since 1983, announced that he would retire in 2008 when he turned 80. The delegates to the 35th general congregation have the task of choosing a successor and setting policy for the years ahead. People who care about the Jesuits should wish them much success. That's what I prayed for at the Gesu when I was there.

TOPICS: Catholic; Current Events; History; Ministry/Outreach
KEYWORDS: gesu; jesuit
Russell Shaw is a freelance writer from Washington, D.C. You can email him at

To purchase Shaw's most popular books, attractively priced, in the Catholic Exchange store, click here.

1 posted on 12/28/2007 8:15:52 AM PST by NYer
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To: NYer

Most of the Jesuits I have had contact with have been left wing.

2 posted on 12/28/2007 8:18:16 AM PST by Greg F (Duncan Hunter is a good man.)
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To: Salvation; narses; SMEDLEYBUTLER; redhead; Notwithstanding; nickcarraway; Romulus; ...

The Church of the Gesù in Rome, begun in 1568, twelve years after Ignatius's death, was at the center of a network of Jesuit works in the Eternal City, including houses for former prostitutes, orphanages, schools, and homes for the elderly.

The nave of the Gesù, an early example of Baroque architecture, is not interrupted by pillars. This enormous interior, topped by a barrel-vaulted ceiling, was designed to be a great place acoustically for preaching.

3 posted on 12/28/2007 8:19:26 AM PST by NYer ("Where the bishop is present, there is the Catholic Church" - Ignatius of Antioch)
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To: Greg F

I would wholeheartedly agree. The order is nothing like the one my great uncle was a part of. A number of men I know who have entered the seminary had not even considered the SoJ.

They want nothing to do with what the Jesuits have become (this coming from a guy that went to a Jesuit high school and still has a soft spot for Marquette University).

4 posted on 12/28/2007 8:39:24 AM PST by MNlurker
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To: MNlurker

Georgetown here (it’s where I met one of the left wing Jesuits . . .).

5 posted on 12/28/2007 8:40:58 AM PST by Greg F (Duncan Hunter is a good man.)
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To: NYer

As a public educated, cradle Catholic man with an affinity for the value and practice of the Spiritual Exercises, and with no ties to Jesuit Education except as an external observer, I marvel at the fact that the Jesuits who have delivered the exercies to me so far and the priests that administer the retreat houses can be so Orthodox (for the most part) while their counterparts in Jesuit education can be so alarmingly liberal. I have posed this observed dichotomy to my more Orthodox Jesuit friends and they are as much at a loss to explain it as anyone I’ve read.

The fact that both these ‘camps’ exist in the same order is a mystery to me. I don’t think Ignatius Loyola would be pleased at what the Society has become.

6 posted on 12/28/2007 10:25:25 AM PST by OriginalChristian (Viva Cristo Rey!)
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To: NYer

Is there any hope that the new leader will be able to bring the Society back to orthodoxy?

7 posted on 12/28/2007 5:48:08 PM PST by Unam Sanctam
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To: Unam Sanctam

One hope only: the power of prayer, the power of God to work miracles. Possibly also, it’s rumored, a little bit of the power of the Pope.

8 posted on 12/29/2007 6:16:05 PM PST by baa39
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To: Greg F

A friend of mine, when meeting a Jesuit for the first time, likes to ask, “Are you a good Jesuit, or a bad Jesuit?”

9 posted on 12/30/2007 4:27:35 PM PST by Jeff Chandler ("Liberals want to save the world for the children they aren't having." -Mark Steyn)
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