George Weigel on the Society of Jesus

One thing I will say for a George Weigel’s syndicated columns. They always help me to turn to the Gospels, though not in the way Mr. Weigel may intend. The verse that comes to mind when reading Weigel’s sneering condemnation of those who do not correspond to his own definitions of orthodoxy is Luke 18:11, "I thank thee Lord that I am not like other men." This week, in a column first published in Denver’s archdiocesan newspaper, Mr. Weigel turned his censorious gaze at the Society of Jesus, posing a series of questions to the newly elected General, Father Adolfo Nicholas. His full article can be found here:"Denver Catholic Register" The poor man has only been in his office for a couple of weeks, but Weigel is already clamoring for an accounting. The individual charges that Weigel lays at the feet of the Society do not really merit a response. What is telling is the manner of his accusations. Weigel uses a broad brush to smear the entire Society for what he perceives as the faults of a few of its members. Not once does he balance his charges with any commendation for other members of the Society. The Jesuits, like the Church in general, have a wide variety of opinions, characters, dispositions, and attitudes within their ranks. But, in Weigel’s view, if one Jesuit fails his standards, then the whole order is suspect. Weigel showers special venom upon the person of Father Robert Drinan, S.J., whom he charges with doing "more than anyone else to convince Catholic legislators that the settled teaching of the Church on the grave immorality of abortion had no bearing on their legislative work." I recently had occasion to read Father Drinan’s writings on abortion from the late 1960s and early 1970s. Drinan believed that the gravest danger was permitting the government to establish categories of those who would live or die, and believed sincerely that leaving such decisions to doctors, men and women committed to preserving life, was preferable. Drinan’s position was, I believe, naïve: he did not foresee that some doctors would soon be in the employ of abortion clinics and would be disinclined to counsel women against the procedure that had become their livelihood. But Weigel’s charge against Drinan suggests he desired the abortion-on-demand regimen we have today. He did not. The other curious thing about Weigel’s column, and about his writings in the past few years, is his obsession with homosexuality among the clergy. He rehashes his and Father Richard John Neuhaus’s specious interpretation of the sexual abuse crisis as essentially a gay phenomenon. In what Weigel terms the "Long Lent of 2002" he and others sought to turn gays into scapegoats and send them out of the church carrying the sins of us all. The pastors of the Church, thank God, recognized their own responsibility for the crisis and consequently felt no need of a scapegoat. Weigel’s attack on the Jesuits resembles nothing so much as his earlier attack on Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, D.C. "The Tidings" Innuendo and guilt-by-association characterized that blast as well. What struck me then, and struck me reading Weigel’s attack on the Society this week, was not merely the lack of Christian charity. What is truly alarming is Weigel’s disregard for the actual authority of the Church. Cardinal McCarrick was his bishop when he attacked him. Father Nicholas’s election as superior general of the Society of Jesus was confirmed by Pope Benedict XVI, who evidently did not share Weigel’s concerns. Michael Sean Winters
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9 years 8 months ago
I think what alarms me most about Weigel is his growing commitment to catholic Neo-conservatism in this country. He is most definitely pushing a political agenda, but has managed to parlay his credentials as a papal biographer into some sort of political/theological career. His opinions seem to match a political ethos more than a theological one as can be seen by his stance on the Iraq war.
9 years 7 months ago
It is part of the human condition to suffer, for even our Savior suffered horribly. Yet as he suffered on the cross, he cry out for mercy on them who put him there. God doesn't force us to side with Him, He is grateful when we do. But being human sometimes we chose poorly. And he sees that too. Sometimes in all the opinions we hold individually, we simply forget we are born human, and being what we are, we are never perfect. Sometimes we get it right by His Standards and sometimes we are drawn to the sufferings. It is part of our human nature to reflect on things for that is where opinion is born of. But we mustn't forget the fear that turned to Joy because though the disciples had locked themselves in a room, post resurrection Jesus was there with them all again, and it brought them strength.
9 years 7 months ago
I think that we all know that the Jesuit misbehavior to which Weigel objected was not limited to "one" Jesuit. It is just silly to complain about Weigel's assault on a FEW Jesuits at the beginning of a short paragraph and at the end of it to accuse him of damning the whole Jesuit Order on the basis of the misdeeds of ONE.
9 years 7 months ago
"Both sides are adamant. It's hard to know what to make of it." Not really. It's called being a rather large and diverse community. Read any sampling of Catholic blogs or ask any cross section of parishioners--it's the same old story. People talking past each other, rather than engaging in real dialogue. People commenting here have called Weigel on particular inaccuracies. If he's not willing to take the high road and discuss them (for all I know, maybe he will) then how can he throw down the gauntlet in such a public way without being labelled a hypocrite? Only a simpleton would say any community has no issues. Weigel's errors include rehashing old issues without new insight or creativity. He doesn't even argue them particularly well. He challenges Fr Nicolas publicly in a non-Jesuit forum where the hope seems to be more playing to a supportive crowd. And he persists in making accusations that have been disproved. Weigel may well be right the Jesuits have issues. The problem here is that his own writing has uncovered more of his own. This piece is an embarassment to Weigel and to any diocesan organ that prints it.
9 years 4 months ago
I didn't know about Mr. Weigel's anti-Jesuit ambitions. Perhaps he sees himself as the new Pombal?
9 years 8 months ago
One could hardly take offense at Weigel's column, as it is just recycled charges which have already been repeated ad nauseum in the pages of such publications as First Things. There is nothing new here. Weigel must have been pressed for time in submitting his column. And, yes, the 'broad brush' approach of Weigel and Neuhaus suggest that they are not really interested in seeing what is good in the Society of Jesus. And the fact that they keep trotting out the same tired examples of what they take to be indications of overall Jesuit failure says to me that they are not really interested in looking any deeper. It's just easier to perpetuate a stereotype by means of which they can blame the Society of Jesus for what they believe is wrong with the Church. It's a shame because I believe that Weigel has the potential to offer some important and fresh perspectives on things. But, at least in this instance, Weigel seems content to pander to an audience that will congratulate him no matter how many times he repeats himself.
9 years 8 months ago
What I find most curious about Weigel's article are the examples he uses; for example, his claim that California Province novices could be found "in gay drag at a novices' party" is not only airlifted in its entirety out of Weigel's 2005 book "God's Choice" it is also a demonstrably false claim. I should know; I lived with those men at the California novitiate, and have seen the picture Weigel has now twice referenced in print as such a source of scandal. What does it show? Two novices in cardboard Mardi Gras masks. No, seriously. Cardboard Mardi Gras masks. How one gets from that to partying in "gay drag" perhaps says more about Weigel's intellectual hermeneutics than it does about the California Province novitiate. Did he do any research for his book, or for his article? Other than reading Paul Mankowski and Dick Neuhaus?
9 years 8 months ago
'Will Father Nicolas demand that Jesuits observe their vows of chastity, whatever their sexual preferences? Will there be consequences for those who violate those vows, or cover for those who do?', writes George Weigel. Upon what evidence is Mr. Weigel basing these grave accusations? Has he spoken with Jesuits around the world and, after exhaustive research and personal conversations with Jesuit priests and brothers, found widespread evidence of their not observing their vows of chastity? (If so, then he is finding something that does not correlate with anything I know about the Society of Jesus.) Or does he think that being gay means being unchaste? (If so, then he disagrees with the Catechism, which calls gay men to celibacy.) Or does he believe that being gay means that you are therefore a sexual abuser? (If so, he is supporting something that almost every reputable psychologist, and expert in sexual crimes, has convincingly refuted.) Taking a select few stories and drawing conclusions for an entire group is simple stereotyping, and should be resisted, no matter what the group.
9 years 8 months ago
This evening, before reading this blog, I read Mr.Weigel's syndicated rant in the (Camden NJ) Catholic Star Herald under the rather self righteous title 'The Catholic Difference.' Some difference indeed! I appreciate the sentiment that these mean-spirited cheap shots do not even merit a response, however, as long as Weigel is given a prominent soapbox in Catholic publications, his attacks must be responded to point by point.
9 years 8 months ago
For whatever it's worth, I've received half a dozen e-mails this week from Jesuits (priests and scholastics) who said that Weigel's column was right on the money. I think this is pertinent because I keep hearing 'they're not describing the Society that I know' from both sides of the fence. Both sides are adamant. It's hard to know what to make of it.
9 years 8 months ago
On the contrary, I read Weigel's piece as not painting all Jesuits with a black brush at all, but rather as challenging Father Nicolas over his statement that there are no problems among the Jesuit order as far as their fourth vow is concerned. The problem is not even that some Jesuits have taught and acted in a way that is against the Pope and the Church's established teachings, that happens in all areas of the Church. The problem is that those individuals have not been brought to heal by their Jesuit superiors. And in all to many cases they have been encouraged in their disobedience. Surely that's a problem which Father Nicolas needs to acknowledge and begin to address. There are black sheep in his flock needing correction and reigning in. These men have have been, and in some cases continue to be a cause of scandal. The fact that the superiors of the order have not been prepared to address those problems is mysterious and I think, and obviously Weigel does as well, a compounding scandal which has seriously hurt the reputation of the order. If Fr. Nichol is unprepared to even acknowledge what everyone knows is the case let alone begin to deal with it, he will not be doing the great work God has called him to. J. Fraser Field
9 years 7 months ago
I am a very dedicated reader of America Magazine for over 25 years. The observations which Mr. Weigel offers are simply true, in the neagative sense. There are, however, many, holy, and loyal Jesuits serving the Church today who go unnoticed by conservative and liberal Catholic journalists today. Reform and renewal are needed in all religious communities. The teachings and example of St. Ignatius will lead the way for such renewal.

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