The Vast Jesuit Conspiracy, Fuzzy Math, and a Troubling Pope: Fr. Neuhaus Attacks the Jesuits and Challenges the Pope
Fr. Neuhaus at First Things proves in his latest article that the vast Jesuit conspiracy theory is alive and well. He also shows the “fuzzy math” typical of such articles. 5 living Jesuits + 1 deceased Jesuit + an “aloof” Father General = the entirety of the 19,000+ Society of Jesus. He also demonstrates the tired double standard that “liberals” are dissenters if they criticize the Pope, but “conservatives” like himself are free to criticize the Pope when the Pope doesn’t agree with them or do what they want. Perhaps there’s not here the “smell of mendacity” which he speaks of in his article, but one may just detect an odor of duplicity.
He calls the words of Jesuit Provincial Father Robert Scullin “defiant,” but they strike me as rather complicit with the intentions of the recent instruction:
“We continue to invite all qualified young men of either orientation who desire to lead a celibate chaste religious life to consider joining us on our mission.”
The key word here is “qualified.” The instruction, as I and many others have come to understand it, does not exclude men merely on the basis of orientation. Thus those charged with approving such men would have to determine whether that person was qualified according to the standards set by the instruction. Nowhere does Fr. Scullin say that the instruction is to be ignored.
I also have to say it’s a cheap shot when Neuhaus calls it “surprising” that transsexuals are not included in Scullin’s statement.
“Jesuits do seem to be in the vanguard of the attack” he says.
I have to question how he gets this impression, unless silence on a topic is now considered being in the vanguard of an attack. With the exception of Father Tom O’Brien, whom he mentions (and who did so without permission, it seems), I can only think of one or two Jesuits that have said anything publicly on the matter. Furthermore, he tries to suggest that O’Brien’s provincial’s rebuke of him for doing so points to something sinister:
“It is a way of proceeding that candidly says (at least within the family) that the instruction will be ignored, while asking Jesuits to be publicly discreet about their repudiation of the Church’s teaching on sexuality.”
Again, Neuhaus is promoting the vast Jesuit conspiracy theory. All Jesuits now, it seems, are dedicated to the “repudiation of the Church’s teaching on sexuality.” (I hate it that my superiors keep forgetting to send me the memos about our secret mission to undermine the Church). Fr. Neuhaus also knows, I presume, that it is common practice in religious communities for one to seek permission from one’s superior before making statements or publishing articles or books on potentially controversial topics. It’s not something devious, it’s the tradition of the Church.
I’d also question, in part, his view of vocational discernment. He says:
“Presumably, the individual discerns whether he—or, for that matter, she—is called to the priesthood, and the role of the Church is limited to ratifying that discernment. Needless to say, this is not the way the Catholic Church understands the vocation to the priesthood.”
Besides obfuscating things by throwing in “she,” I wonder if Fr. Neuhaus has been to an ordination liturgy lately. While there is certainly more involved in the process than merely what he describes above, the way in which the ordination liturgy proceeds is much like it. The superiors of the man to be ordained, who have discerned with him throughout the time of his formation, judge him worthy of ordination, and the Church affirms that judgment by means of ordination. Again, the process is more complicated than that and, clearly, doesn’t involve women, but I’m puzzled by the confidence of his statement that “this is not the way that the Catholic Church understands the vocation to the priesthood.”
As for his criticisms of Father James Keenan, it would seem to me that since Father Keenan is a moral theologian, he is asking questions within his area of expertise, as is allowed by canon law. If the Vatican finds his questions problematic, I’m sure they will let him know, as they have several other moral theologians, among them Jesuits.
Father Neuhaus is also exceedingly kind in allowing us Jesuits a little “cachet”:
“Then, too, and despite the Jesuits’ diminishing numbers, prestige, and influence, there are still those who think the word ‘Jesuit’ carries a certain intellectual cachet.”
Given all this time I’m spending studying, I bloody well hope it does!
And then there’s the matter of the Pope, who isn’t quite measuring up:
“Among those who greatly admired Cardinal Ratzinger and were elated by his election as pope, there is a palpable uneasiness.”
Neuhaus says that Benedict’s choice of his successor at CDF, and his successor’s successor in San Francisco are “troubling.” Neuhaus hopes gentle Benedict will put aside his fear and stand up like a man against those wily Jesuits who, by the end of Neuhaus’ article, are now threatening schism (again, where’s that memo I didn’t get?) and are “rejectionists”:
“And so it is that we are faced with what may be a defining test of the pontificate of Benedict XVI. As all who know him can attest, he is in personal relations a gentle man and averse to unpleasantness. He cannot relish the prospect of a direct confrontation with major institutions such as the Society of Jesus. Early on in his pontificate, John Paul II made an effort to bring the Jesuits into closer alignment with church teaching and authority, and ended up with little to show for it. As is his custom, the father general of the society, Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, remains publicly aloof.
With this pope, as with all popes, there is the fear of schism. That was the great fear in 1968. Public confrontation would undoubtedly spark a media storm of historic proportions, but, after the dust settled, where would the rejectionists go? Lefebvrism of the left, whether in this country or elsewhere, cannot hold much appeal.”
Well, at least I can agree with that last sentence! As for that intervention in the governance of the Jesuits by John Paul II that Neuhaus mentions, what it proved, and why it resulted in the restoration of the Jesuits’ governance so quickly, was precisely that the Jesuits, though displeased by John Paul’s action, were not poised for schism.
Father Neuhaus and others need to wake up to the fact that the Society of Jesus is not engaged in some vast conspiracy to undermine the Church. It’s a provocative tale to tell, but it’s not the truth. And, also, even if all his charges were valid, 5 men can never stand as representative of 19,000. The Society of Jesus as Father Neuhaus paints it is nothing more than a caricature. In charity, I hope it is simply because he is uninformed. But I can’t help but wonder if he’s simply willing to ignore the truth to promote his agenda, which seems to be laying down a challenge to the Pope to show how “manly” he can be by beating up who Neuhaus paints as the largest bully in the Church's schoolyard—those darn Jesuits.