Between last Thursday and today over 100 emails and phone calls from friends and others plus long hours scouring the press and the Internet have taught me several things about the Catholic church. 1. The public — including the ex-Catholic public who have slammed the door leaving — still care about the church and wish it well. Perhaps because they deep down sense that they need it, in spite of scandal, to stand for decency, charity, peace. What they hate is our failure to meet their ideals.
2. I thank God for the news media, particularly the New York Times and Washington Post and the web sites like Huffington Post which keep bombarding us with everything they can dig up whether we like it or not. For those who complain about continued in-depth sexual abuse coverage I ask, would you prefer that scandals stay locked in a closet? We’re not going to get in-depth objective coverage of the corruption among the clergy from most of the Catholic press. From the National Catholic Reporter, perhaps. But only twice a month to a limited circulation.
So God has sent Jason Berry, E.J. Dionne, Frank Bruni, Ross Douthat, Gail Collins, Frank Lupica, Laurie Goldstein, Garry Wills, and Maureen Dowd to set fire to our shoes and force us to think. They say the things people think but, for various reasons, are unable to publicly express. Some readers jump to the conclusion that critical journalists are anti-Catholic. Yet it is just as likely that they criticize the church because they are professionals, see a story, and feel obliged to shine light on a problem. Most are Catholics of some degree or another, and if they really didn’t care they would write about something else.
3. The public cares about the Society of Jesus, and this is an opportunity to talk frankly about ourselves and our history — including dealing with challenges from those investigating the early career of Jorge Mario Bergoglio when he was the young provincial of the Argentine Jesuits in the 1970s and later bishop of Buenos Aires during the “dirty war,” when the military junta “disappeared” thousands of citizens, including liberal priests whom they suspected of being under Marxist influence. We must admit that the church was ideologically split during those years between those who worked with the poor in the slums and those attached to the military government. Bergoglio himself has testified and enough respected citizens have backed him for us to conclude that he was not a collaborator, that he helped many victims escape from the country, and that he publicly regrets that the church did not do more.
4. This may be one of the reasons St. Ignatius Loyola, our founder, did not want Jesuits to become bishops. He feared the corruption which often accompanies ambition and careerism. He did not want his men tied down, attached to comfort and prestige, looking for that opportunity to climb the ladder and even dream about becoming a cardinal or pope. Ignatius wanted the Society linked by a single spirit; God blessed that spirit with success; if one becomes a bishop, others may want to follow. Bergoglio seems to understand that. That’s why he lives simply, makes the poor the center of his religious philosophy.
5. Finally, one of the more thought-provoking articles we ran in this magazine is James Hanvey, S.J.’s “Quo Vadis? (3/18/13). He observes, “Running through the Second Vatican Council is the vision of an open church, attentive to the ways in which the Spirit is working in all aspects of human endeavors, its political, cultural and religious traditions.” Repeat: “all aspects of human endeavor.” This includes the daily New York Times, National Public Radio, and the “PBS News Hour.”