Monday, July 21, 2014

Robert Blair Kaiser's Inside the Jesuits: How Pope Francis Is Changing the Church and the World — Jesuit DNA and the Papacy

Some weeks back, Rowman & Littlefield kindly sent me for review a copy of Robert Blair Kaiser's book Inside the Jesuits: How Pope Francis Is Changing the Church and the World (Lanham, MD: Rowan & Littlefield, 2014). The book has now, I believe, appeared in print, but the copy I received was an advance reading copy, a point I mention as I start this brief review because the page numbers I'm citing are from the page proofs, and both they and the text itself may have altered somewhat when the book was published.

Kaiser's thesis: Pope Francis has Jesuit DNA, “a way of being” that Jesuits learn during their formation (xii, cf. 31), and he was chosen to be pope after Benedict's unanticipated, history-shifting resignation (and the disaster of his papacy apparent in his unprecedented decision to resign, which was an admission of the defeat of his papal reign) precisely because he is a Jesuit (3). Francis was made pope because (in contrast to his predecessors) he's "normal" (7) — and his normalcy is rooted in his Jesuit formation, which stresses a "head-and-heart take" on faith as an antidote to the poisonous gloom of the current age as exhibited in the two previous papacies (14).

Kaiser, who was himself a Jesuit for some years, notes that the Jesuit DNA is all about developing people engaged in ongoing discernment to ascertain what will work to the greater good of the people of God (32), and, with its strong stress on discernment, Francis's Jesuit DNA will work for the good of the entire church, since his Jesuit training will help him make right and courageous decisions for the church at this vexed, challenging point in its history (45).

For example, a central part of Jesuit formation bequeathed to the Society of Jesus by its founder Ignatius of Loyola is the tantum quantum rule,  which encourages Jesuits to develop the ability to discern how to use the things of the world to the extent (tantum) that they help the follower of Jesus  achieve her or his spiritual goals, while discerning the threat posed by the things of the world and learning to reject them to the extent (quantum) that they ensnare and impede spiritual progress. Tantum quantum thinking is, then, situational and pragmatic rather than absolutist and dogmatic.

It sharpens one's ability to look at particular situations from various standpoints and make value judgments about them that bring to bear the core values of a spiritual tradition, its core teachings, without dogmatically absolutizing this or that approach in a way that stifles openness to the novel and the workable. In Kaiser's view, "Francis has been a tantum quantum Jesuit at every turn: whatever works" (200).

Another key aspect of Jesuit spirituality encoded in the DNA of all Jesuits through their formation is the notion of magis gloriam —the call always to do more, never to be satisfied with what has already been accomplished. In Kaiser's view, Francis's Jesuit DNA, with its emphasis on going for the magis, urges the church forward to the frontiers, as the tantum quantum rule simultaneously calls on the church to shove aside everything that stands in the way of retrieving a spirituality focused on the joy of the gospel — a theme that is quickly becoming the leitmotiv of Francis's papacy, which is setting a new joyful style for the entire church, Kaiser believes (65).

Francis is, Kaiser thinks, modeling these notions and this understanding of what is central to the Catholic enterprise (joy rather than gloom and condemnation) instead of talking about them:

Francis has not been telling us what the [Second Vatican] council means. He has been showing us what it means by his actions (83). 

In conclusion, Kaiser notes that, when Francis told the media soon after his election, "I think like a Jesuit," what he intended to communicate is that he is (and as pope, will remain) "constantly driven to rediscover, redefine, and reach out for better ways of doing things" (183): 

His Jesuit DNA has driven him to rediscover, redefine, and set out on new frontiers and new boundaries with a holy boldness (194).


I see a Jesuit pope who, because of his Jesuit DNA, has hit on a new way of teaching, not by spouting off pieties or by preaching tirades against "the culture of death" but by giving good examples of his own poverty of spirit (197).

A key contribution of Francis's Jesuit papacy will be, Kaiser believes, the reopening of theological discussions that his two predecessors ruthlessly suppressed, with dire effects for the whole church. As he notes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI all but shut down the "Church’s Research and Development Arm": 

If the Church’s deep thinkers were not encouraged to keep recasting the faith in language contemporaries could understand (and they were not encouraged but investigated to distraction and marginalized and warned not to publish), who would do it? No one except these two pope know-it-alls, surrounded by aides who helped them write abstruse discourses few could understand, if they read them at all (10).

Kaiser cites John A. Dick, an American theologian who spent much of his career teaching at Louvain University in Belgium, who maintains that Francis is moving the church away from harping on the "culture of death" to talking about a "culture of encounter" — a culture of the church's joyful encounter with the secular realm as emphasized by Vatican II, in which it simultaneously learns from the world around it and communicates its core values to the world in respectful dialogical encounter (11). As Dick notes, the mapmakers for this project of developing a new "culture of encounter" in Catholicism are the very people "slapped around for decades by Cardinal Ratzinger/Benedict XVI" —that is, the theologians whose vocation is to help the church move always to the frontiers, to the magis, in its encounter with the world (13).

One of the most interesting aspects of Kaiser's book, and perhaps one of its key contributions, is its expert quick survey of the kind of thinking-on-the-frontiers that Jesuit theologians (many of them hounded and attacked by the two popes prior to Francis) have been doing for some time now — thinking that has clearly influenced the current pope, and will now begin to permeate the entire church through his new opening to theological discussion, and, in particular, liberation theology.

For instance, Kaiser surveys the work of Jesuit Sri Lankan theologian Aloysius Pieris, an expert in the dialogue between Christianity and Buddhism, noting that "[f]or Pieris, liberation theology in Asia [is] more a process than a theology, 'a primacy of praxis over theory . . . the radical involvement with the poor and the oppressed. We know Jesus the truth by following Jesus the way'" — ideas that have brought Pieris scrutiny from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (93, citing An Asian Theology of Liberation).

Then there's the Indian Jesuit theologian Samuel Rayan, who has written,

Jesus came to decolonize the religion and theology of the people, which had been occupied by royal, priestly, and wealthy settlers from the time of Solomon. Religion became priest-ridden and expensive, legalistic and burdensome. It had its outcastes and untouchables. It also had its ways of fleecing the poor. Jesus marginalized the temple and all priestly pretensions. The temple is destined to disappear. Worship shall be in spirit and truth. Mercy, not sacrifice. People, not Sabbath (105, citing "Decolonization of Theology," JNANA-DEEPA 1,2 [July 1998]).

And prior to Rayan, there was the Belgian Jesuit theologian Jacques Dupuis, who states, 

The primacy of orthopraxy—doing right, a word often paired with the word orthodoxy, thinking right—seems to be plain gospel truth ("'The Truth Will Make You Free': The Theology of Religious Pluralism Revisited," Louvain Studies, 24 [1999], as cited, 109).

These were ideas that led Dupuis into direct conflict with the CDF when Cardinal Ratzinger managed that inquisitorial arm of the Vatican. Kaiser states frankly that Ratzinger's treatment of Dupuis broke his health and led to the collapse of his health, resulting in his death three years after his trial before the CDF (109).

As Kaiser notes, it was some of Dupuis's fellow Jesuits who "delated" (that is, reported) Dupuis to Ratzinger and the CDF (ibid.), a fact he has had a hard time explaining to himself. But, significantly, Kaiser's generally glowing assessment of Jesuit spirituality and Jesuit history also contains the frank admission that, as one pope after another deplored the rise of modernity and the development of democracy in the period following the Reformation and the Enlightenment, Jesuits were always right there at the side of these popes, "aiding and abetting" them, functioning as their "shock troops" and often writing their stinkiest encyclicals sounding the alarm about modernity.

As someone who has a Jesuit education, and whose doctoral dissertation was directed by a Jesuit theologian, Roger Haight, who was silenced by Cardinal Ratzinger due to ostensible defects in his important work in the field of christology, I'm surprised, frankly, that Kaiser is surprised that Jesuits can and do delate brother Jesuits to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Even as a layperson on the fringes of Jesuit life in both my undergraduate and graduate studies, I saw with clear eyes that Jesuits do not always live in sweet communion with Jesuits, and that it's entirely possible for one Jesuit ruthlessly to attack another, to the extent of seeking to call down the wrath of the Vatican on the head of the fellow Jesuit.

As someone who actually was a Jesuit, who continues to consider himself a (lay) Jesuit, and who has very close ties to Jesuits around the world, Kaiser obviously knows the inside Jesuit scoop far better than I do, and it would be not only churlish but injudicious of me to question his statements about what Jesuits are capable of doing to other Jesuits. Even so, I have to admit that, having read Kaiser's book, I'm puzzled by what I'll call the denatured way in which he understands and presents Jesuit community life and spirituality in several instances.

It's not all as Kaiser sees it, I think — and that's to say, what I've seen with my own eyes as someone on the fringe of Jesuit communities at several universities over a span of a number of years leads me radically to question some of Kaiser's sanguine (too sanguine, in my view) appraisals of what Jesuits stand for and what the Jesuit DNA mediated to the church by Francis promises to do for the church. A case in point: women. Women and Pope Francis, which is to say, women and the Jesuit DNA.

Kaiser admits that "longtime marginalization of women . . . is also part of the Jesuit DNA" (52). As he also notes, "The Church’s all-male society tends to produce men who do not think of women very much or wonder why women have always been given third-class status in the Church" — and he freely admits that the Society of Jesus has aped this propensity of "the Church's all-male society" simply to pretend that women aren't even there (ibid.). As he says, "It wasn’t that the Jesuits throughout their history have just decided to be misogynists; they simply ignored women and have not, up to this point, included them in any grand plan for the 'christification of the universe' (a Teilhard expression)" (ibid.).

And yet Kaiser declares, "I have reason to hope Pope Francis will wonder [why women have been treated as non-entities by the men running the church] before he’s finished making his contribution to church reform" (ibid.). His Jesuit DNA will impel him to push for magis, for more room for, for fuller inclusion of, women in the church (ibid.)

And so though Kaiser notes that, after having addressed the marginalization of women in the church in its General Congregation in 1995 and having failed to move the Society of Jesus forward in this area, he continues to be confident that Francis's Jesuit training and spirituality will help him as pope to unlock doors closed to Catholic women (62-3). The 1995 Congregation to which Kaiser is referring here endorsed an experiment in lay collaboration begun the preceding year by Bert Thelen, a Jesuit provincial in Wisconsin, but stopped short of identifying these collaborators (who included women) as Jesuits, and, as Kasier admits, inertia within the Society has not moved this idea forward since that time (63).

And so, though "[t]here is still a bit of male chauvinism in the order—maybe more than a little" (64), in Kaiser's view, women will, under the current Jesuit pope, gain much more of a voice in the church, and this will, in turn, change not merely the entire church but how the Jesuit order itself does business when it comes to women. 

Contra theologian Mary Hunt, Kaiser maintains that Francis realizes that "he has a lot of catching up to do with regard to half the human race" (71). Kaiser thinks that Francis acknowledged this in his interview with America magazine last September, in which he appeared to speak of the need to widen the space allotted to women in the church (Non c’è spazio qui), a phrase that was initially (and curiously) left out of the English translation of the interview that appeared in this Jesuit magazine (71). 

Francis's Jesuit DNA will, in short, compel him to open more space for women in the church, Kaiser asserts (ibid.), and Francis alludes to this (he sends a "subtle hint" to critics like Mary Hunt, Kaiser imagines) in his subsequent interview with Eugenio Scalfari in La Repubblica, at the end of which Francis suggests that he and Scalfari meet again for further discussion of the role of women in the church (73).

I'd like to think Kaiser is correct about all of this. My own Jesuit training inclines me, however, to ask what evidence there is in front of my eyes to demonstrate that Francis is moving in the direction Kaiser assumes he's moving here — and moving because of his Jesuit DNA. How does Francis's choice to continue the disgraceful and unwarranted attack of the CDF on American religious women indicate that he wants to open new space for women in the church? 

Does the elevation of right-wing ideologues like Mary Ann Glendon to the advisory board overhauling the Vatican bank really portend a new place for women in the Catholic church, any more than the choice of the American Jesuit journal that featured Francis's interview about his reform vision for the church to add right-wing ideologue Helen Alvaré to its roster of journalists does? (Or does the choice of that same journal to make right-wing ideologue and mouthpiece for the USCCB Sister Mary Ann Walsh its church correspondent indicate a radical opening to the voices of Catholic women?)

Do Mary Ann Glendon, Helen Alvaré, and Mary Ann Walsh speak for all Catholic women? If not (and clearly the position taken regarding contraception alone by all three women in no way represents the views of the vast majority of Catholic women in the developing sector of the world), then where are the other voices — in the Vatican, in Jesuit publications like America

Will Joan Chittister be appointed to a position in the Vatican or to a journalistic position by the Jesuit journal America? Will Elizabeth Johnson or Margaret Farley find themselves on theological advisory boards for the Vatican, or asked to hold journalistic chairs by the Jesuit publication America? What of Ivone Gebara or Mary Hunt or any number of other good, thoughtful, accomplished, but faithfully critical women theologians: where is their place in the new Jesuit-propelled church Francis is calling into being?

From all I have ever observed, the Jesuit DNA is not merely misogynistic: it's deeply so. The Jesuit character is stamped by a kind of macho militarism that runs very deep in the Society of Jesus, and I haven't yet seen the current pope dissociating himself in any effective way from that stamp. I hear nice words coming from his mouth, vis-a-vis opening space for women.

I don't yet see that space opening, however, and I see the cultivation of token reactionary women like Mary Ann Glendon, Helen Alvaré, and Mary Ann Walsh — and I keep harping on America's cultivation of the latter two because the journal is the leading Jesuit journal in the U.S., and published Francis's interview about his plans for the church — as anything but a promising development for women hoping for more space and more voice in the church. 

I continue watching and waiting, but I confess that up to now, I haven't seen the deeply misogynistic (and largely heterosexist and homophobic, historically at least, and from an outsider's perspective) strand of Jesuit DNA encoded in Francis's own outlook pointing us in any really new direction in the Catholic church. Despite what appear to me to be clever, media-savvy image-management techniques that make it appear the church is moving forward on these fronts, when it's really not in the least doing so . . . . 

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