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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Tom Reese SJ: from Pedro Arrupe to the Legionaries of Christ

Jesuit Thomas Reese has an interesting post at the Georgetown/On Faith blog today. The post mentions a lot ..... the replacement by JPII of the superior general of the Society of Jesus in 1981 ... the saint-unworthiness of JPII (and Pius XII) ... the imposition of martial law by B16 on the Legionaries of Christ ... and the ways that business as usual at the Vatican have enabled the sex abuse crisis.

First, though, for those interested, here's a bit about what happened with JPII and Pedro Arrupe from an 1981 TIME story ....

Religion: John Paul Takes On the Jesuits

[...] John Paul II, no stranger to controversy, last week took a bold step to bridle the Society of Jesus. In a move interpreted as a warning to all religious orders, he suspended the normal workings of the Jesuit Constitutions, removed the acting leader of the organization and replaced him with two Italian Jesuits who enjoy the Vatican's confidence: Paolo Dezza, 79, and Joseph Pittau, 53 ....

Pontiffs have intervened in the past by dictating the elections of Superiors General. In 1773 Pope Clement XIV even dissolved the society, a 41-year-long humiliation that some Jesuit intellectuals close to the Vatican are comparing with John Paul's treatment.

The current conflict has been building ever since the Second Vatican Council, when some Jesuits began busying themselves in social action and in questioning papal teachings. In 1973 a harried Pope Paul VI wrote Superior General Pedro Arrupe to "express our desire, indeed our demand," that the Jesuits remain loyal to the papacy. In 1979 Pope John Paul II directed Arrupe to wipe out secularism and other "regrettable shortcomings."

Last year Arrupe, Superior General since 1965, cited age and health in asking John Paul's permission to resign. In August, felled by a stroke that left him partially paralyzed, Arrupe, 73, followed Jesuit legal procedure and selected a Vicar General (interim leader), American Father Vincent O'Keefe, 61, to run the order. O'Keefe is a former president of Fordham University. Unable to speak intelligibly because of his illness, Arrupe has not replied to John Paul's announcement that he was naming Dezza as "a delegate who will represent me more closely in the society" until a General Congregation elects Arrupe's permanent successor.

When Arrupe was chosen Superior General, Dezza and O'Keefe were among his four advisers. Dezza, no reactionary but well to the right of both Arrupe and O'Keefe, is a philosopher and onetime rector of Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University. John Paul named the energetic Pittau to assist the aged, partially blind Dezza and take over "should he be impeded or die." Pittau, considered a moderate, is the sort of well-trained, efficient academic who catches John Paul's eye. A Harvard Ph.D. in sociology, he is rector of Tokyo's Sophia University and, since last year, leader of the Japan province. O'Keefe remains an adviser to the new team and refuses to comment.

In a letter to Arrupe, John Paul saw a need for "more thorough preparation of the society" before a General Congregation is held. That is being read as a signal that John Paul wants the Jesuits to shape up before the election of a new leader. As a result, no one in Rome sees a replacement for the Dezza-Pittau administration until at least 1983 and perhaps years beyond that.

And here's most of Fr. Reese's post ......


Pope imposes martial law on Legionaries of Christ

Thirteen years after the Hartford Courant ran an expose of sexual abuses by the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, the Vatican has finally imposed martial law on the order and mandated the rewriting of its constitution and the revamping of its spirituality and culture.

Nothing comparable to this papal intervention has occurred in the church since John Paul II appointed a pontifical delegate for the Society of Jesus in 1981 during the illness of its superior general, Pedro Arrupe, S.J. In the Jesuit case, the delegate was simply an interim leader since there was no papal criticism of the Jesuit constitution, its founder and his spirituality. The alleged crime of the Jesuits was not being sufficiently loyal to the pope.

The two interventions point to a fatal flaw in the papacy of John Paul II. John Paul trusted those who cheered him and tried to crush those who questioned his ideas or actions. This led him to trust Maciel and distrust questioning Jesuits.

Having grown up in a persecuted church where unity was a matter of survival, John Paul could not accept open debate and discussion in the church. Loyalty was more important than intelligence or pastoral skill. As a result, the quality of bishops appointed under him declined, as did the competence of people working in the Vatican.

This is not to downplay John Paul's important role in world affairs. He was much more important to the peaceful fall of Communism than Ronald Reagan. He also did more to improve Catholic relations with Jews than any pope in history.

But the sad truth is that while he was good for the world, he was bad for the church. His suppression of theological discussion and debate, his insensitivity to women's issues, and his appointments kept the church from responding pastorally and intelligently not only to the sexual abuse crisis but to other issues facing the church.

I have no doubt that John Paul is in heaven, but the effort to canonize him should be put on hold along with that of Pius XII.

There are those who criticize Pope Benedict for trying to save the Legionaries instead of simply shutting them down. These critics forget that there were two sets of victims who were exploited by Maciel.

First there were those he sexually abused. But there were also the hundreds if not thousands of naïve, idealistic, conservative Catholics who were fooled into believing that he was a holy man leading them to Christ ...... But the Vatican response needs to focus not only on the Legionaries but also on itself. Why did it take 13 years for the Vatican to intervene? Why did the Congregation for Religious not investigate the numerous accusations against Maciel? Why did it approve such a defective constitution in the first place? Is it true, as Jason Berry alleges in the National Catholic Reporter, that Maciel used Legionaries' money to buy influence with cardinals in the Vatican?

If the pope wants to deal with the core issue, he should hire an outside management consulting firm to answer these questions and to make recommendations on improving the Vatican curia. The sexual abuse crisis was not only caused by bad priests, it was compounded by bad management at the diocesan and Vatican level.

It will be too easy to blame John Paul for these failures without recognizing that the Vatican has systemic flaws. First among these is a culture that prizes loyalty above competence. The Vatican still acts more like a royal court than a modern bureaucracy. Cardinals and bishops in the Vatican act like and are treated like papal nobility and princes rather than civil servants. There is no theological reason why any Vatican official needs to be a bishop or cardinal.

The Catholic Church encourages the faithful to examine their consciences. The pope and the Vatican need to examine why the church failed as an institution to respond appropriately to the sexual abuse crisis. Such an examination must lead to repentance and change.


This seems like a quite accurate assessment of the situations, past and present.


Blogger PrickliestPear said...

That's a surprisingly blunt piece by Fr. Reese. Maybe I haven't read enough of his work, but in my experience he tends to be more understated than that. In any event, I think his assessment of JPII and the problems with the Vatican are right on the money.

8:02 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi PrickliestPear,

Yes, I was suprised too. He does usually seem to be more diplomatic. Kind of a refreshing change.

8:39 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...


Here's a quick knee-jerk response to the article: "typical neo-modernist rant full of distortions." I will post a more "nuanced" response later.

BTW, the book "The Pope and the Jesuits" by James Hitchcock presents the situation in a more balanced and through manner. Time article, as expected, has errors.



1:28 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


I have a lot of respect for Fr. Reese. If anyone should be able to comment on the Jesuit order, I'd think it would be the former editor of America magazine. I look forward to your further comment.

1:44 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...


I do too and he definitely deserves it! But, any one, including both of us, can inadvertently misrepresent something and if that’s done I don't think the person is necessarily being mendacious. In this case, I think he is angry and that has influenced the piece – that’s why I used the word “rant”.

I agree with you that he is generally more diplomatic and balanced.



1:56 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...


I do too and he definitely deserves it! But, any one, including both of us, can inadvertently misrepresent something and if that’s done I don't think the person is necessarily being mendacious. In this case, I think he is angry and that has influenced the piece – that’s why I used the word “rant”.

I agree with you that he is generally more diplomatic and balanced.



1:57 PM  
Blogger Joseph Fromm said...

Having read Fr. Reese's work for many years, I found that Fr. Reese rarely writes positive or inspirational pieces. Fr. Reese has had an ongoing public feud with his Holiness John Paul II the Great. Fr. Reese used his position at America magazine to openly and repeatedly criticize the 2,500 bishops that put together the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Fr. Reese was fired from his position at America and holds a grudge against Pope JPII and Pope Benedict for this action.



7:30 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...


I read your blog - GOOD JESUIT, BAD JESUIT - often. Thanks for your comments, I think they are right on!



10:17 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

2:38 AM  
Blogger crystal said...


Thanks for your comment.

From what I've read about Fr. Reese being removed from his job at America (an editorial at The Tablet) he was let go because he actually had the courage and honesty to publish both sides of issues instead of just repeating the party line. Does he hold a grudge? I don't know, but from what I've read of his posts at the Georgetown blog, he seems a candid and straightforward moderate.

2:40 AM  
Blogger Cura Animarum said...

I think Reese makes a number of valid points. If he is giving voice to the anger and frustration at the treatment of the Jesuits vs the Legionaries I think that too is perfectly understandable. The Legionaries as an order have been, from the time of their founding, able to move as they pleased through the church with arrogance and an air of entitlement which stemmed directly from their constant assurance of papal protection regardless of what their activities might be. I my experience (all my many numbered years...grin) I have never encountered another order in the church that would move into a diocese under cover of darkness and set up shop without so much as a single discussion with the local bishop and begin the kind of militantly aggressive recruiting practices as I have actually seen this order do.

While I would have preferred the order and it's associations to be disbanded, this humbling blow will have to suffice.

i suppose.

(Maybe sometime I'll tell you how I really feel about the LC's...LOL!)

6:32 AM  
Blogger crystal said...


You must tell me more :)

I actually never noticed them until the recent trouble with their founder. I'll have to read up on them. It does seem like the conservative orders like Opus Dei (and even the SSPX) are given a longer leash by the Vatican.

1:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to discuss Fr. Reese, S.J. and his preoccupations. Fr. Reese is not interested in both sides of the story. He is a radical leftist and is public in his separation from mainstream Catholicism. America magazine does not resemble or reflect the overall conscious and thought of the Society of Jesus. It's open avocation of politicians who support abortion, it separation from Church teaching on ordination and celibacy are just to name a few topics that Fr. Reese has supported as editor of America. The Society of Jesus is on fire with abuse scandals, Fr. Reese's statement on the Legion rings hollow.

7:30 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

I'm a radical leftist :) - Fr. Reese seems pretty much a centralist to me. I disagree with your characterization of America magazine and the Jesuit order.

2:50 AM  

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