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Passionate Uncertainty: Inside the American Jesuits

Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: 1
Pages: 390
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  • Book Info
    Passionate Uncertainty
    Book Description:

    Founded by Ignatius Loyola in 1540, the Society of Jesus remains the largest and most controversial religious order of men in Catholicism. Since the 1960s, however, Jesuits in the United States have lost more than half of their members, and they have experienced a massive upheaval in what they believe and how they work and live. In this groundbreaking book, Peter McDonough and Eugene C. Bianchi draw on interviews and statements gathered from more than four hundred Jesuits and former Jesuits to provide an intimate look at turmoil among Catholicism's legendary best-and-brightest. Priests and former priests speak candidly about their reasons for joining (and leaving) the Jesuits, about their sexual development and orientation, about their spiritual crises and their engagement with other religious traditions. They discuss issues ranging from celibacy to the ordination of women, homosexuality, the rationale of the priesthood, the challenges of community life, and the divinity of Jesus.Passionate Uncertaintytraces the transformation of the Society of Jesus from a fairly unified organization into a smaller, looser community with disparate goals and an elusive corporate identity. From its role as a traditional subculture during the days of immigrant Catholicism, the order has changed into an amalgam of countercultures shaped around social mission, sexual identity, and an eclectic spirituality. The story of the Jesuits reflects the crisis of clerical authority and the deep ambivalence surrounding American Catholicism's encounter with modernity.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93077-3
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. 1-16)

    Catholicism is a paradoxical holdout. The Second Vatican Council (Vatican II, 1962–65)—the watershed conclave of ecclesiastical leaders held in Rome in the early 1960s—set in motion reforms that led the Roman Catholic church to support democratization in Latin America, East Asia, and Eastern and Central Europe. But on the inside, Catholicism has retained its hierarchical traditions, excluding women from the priesthood and hewing to a conservative line on issues involving what one Jesuit has called “pelvic theology”—celibacy, contraception, divorce, abortion, and the like. While its outreach has tilted leftward, the power structure of Catholicism remains confined...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Staying and Leaving
    (pp. 17-42)

    The bluntest fact about vocations to religious life in Catholicism is that the numbers are down. Yet Jesuits and former Jesuits are cautious about extrapolating from their own experience to an appraisal of what motivates other men to stay or leave. The crushing demographics are wrapped in mystery.

    This hesitancy about causal guesswork and the fear of intrusiveness are sometimes pro forma. Once past the ritual disclaimers and protestations of ignorance, speculation flows. At the other extreme is a spurious psychology: Since every case is supposed to be unique, collective patterns are declared to be unparsable. But sometimes the claims...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Becoming a Jesuit
    (pp. 43-63)

    By the 1960s, economic prosperity and social mobility, together with the aggiornamento of Vatican II, had brought American Catholics as close to assimilation as they might dream. Success posed an unexpected dilemma for the Jesuits whose educational prowess had contributed so much to this assimilation. What was left of the distinctive role and appeal of religious life? What was the special identity of the priesthood now? Had it outlived its usefulness? Questions like these scarcely arose before the 1960s, or, if they did, the answers were taken for granted.

    The factors that drew men to the priesthood in the 1930s...

  7. CHAPTER THREE From Innocence to Experience
    (pp. 64-86)

    The sexual magisterium of the church is the doctrinal permafrost of Catholicism. The code applies hard-and-fast principles to the deep passions and drives of the human species. “Sexuality” is an abstraction, a clinical distillate, another Latinate polysyllable. Its ramifications in Catholicism, however, are relentlessly perennial and felt in the flesh.¹

    Whatever the fixity of doctrine concerning “matters of faith and morals,” actual beliefs surrounding the sexual magisterium have moved in a progressive direction since the 1960s and Vatican II, much more spectacularly than has been the case with the social teaching of the church.² It is the break in moral-sexual...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Sex, Celibacy, and Identity
    (pp. 87-109)

    The era when sexuality was, in the sly Irish phrasing, “something about hemlines” is just about over among those who take part in Catholic religious life. Discussion of sexuality is more open now, and different views about sexual morality exist alongside official doctrine.¹

    Jesuits are not uniformly conservative in matters of sexual ethics, and former Jesuits are not exactly libertines. Similarly, the correspondence between clerical and lay status and attitudes toward celibacy—the opening theme of this chapter—is far from perfect. A fundamental property of attitudes regarding celibacy is that Jesuits themselves are divided, and a few are indifferent,...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Ignatian Spiritualities
    (pp. 110-131)

    Imagine a large-format camera, too heavy to use without a tripod. A dark cloth is draped over the head of the photographer and the ground glass at the back of the camera, shielding them from the ambient light, so that the scene can be framed and brought into focus. The image appears upside down and backward. Flipped and reversed in this way, lines and colors become abstract, a calm pool of Platonic shapes.

    The ponderousness of the apparatus makes for formalism. Portraits taken with these cameras are liable to make people look solemn. The air of psychological penetration and fugitive...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Eclecticism and Commitment
    (pp. 132-159)

    Twenty years after Vatican II, the Jesuit historian John O’Malley challenged the idea that the council represented a clean sweep of tradition. Following the new theology propounded by the German Jesuit Karl Rahner, O’Malley began by noting that Vatican II signaled a move away from belief in timeless verities toward an appreciation of historical contingency. The council acknowledged the developmental nature of doctrine and prepared the way for the demystification of absolutes.¹

    O’Malley’s second and more novel insight is that in contrast to the confrontational discourse surrounding earlier turning points like the Reformation, the language of Vatican II was remarkably...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Life in Community
    (pp. 160-184)

    Just as happens with the spiritual experience of Jesuits and former Jesuits, it is easier to depict a shared beginning—the citadel-like, us-versus-them, subcultural redoubt of 1940s and 1950s Catholicism—than it is to chart the variations in communal arrangements that have taken shape since that time.¹ The men have fanned out in different directions.

    Assessments of Jesuit community life vary enormously, and so do the expectations brought to it. In one instance, however, accounting for positive and negative evaluations of religious community is easy. Both Jesuits and former Jesuits regularly give higher marks to the experience of living together...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Ministry and the Meaning of Priesthood
    (pp. 185-210)

    As they struggle to set the course of the Society, declining numbers of Jesuits argue about alternative slants on ministry. Mission-minded priorities contend with therapeutic concerns, and collaborative approaches vie with assertive faith-and-justice agendas. Underlying the skirmishes over corporate purpose, a deeper question looms. What, if any, is the connection between ministry and priesthood?

    The Jesuit presence in the schools, parishes, retreat houses, and other operations affiliated with the Society has dropped precipitously. Secondary education provides as good an example as any of the decline. In the early 1960s, just before Vatican II, about half the instructors in the forty-five...

  13. CHAPTER NINE Revitalizing the Schools
    (pp. 211-236)

    While they do many things, Jesuits are best known as educators. The proportion of Jesuits in pastoral activities is on the rise and will probably continue to be large. Still, considered as a whole, the Jesuit presence in secondary and higher education in the United States remains impressive. Activities in secondary and higher education cannot be taken as representative of the full range of the order’s ministries, but they are sizable enough to warrant attention.

    The involvement of Jesuits in education matters for one other complex of reasons. The recent history of the schools dramatizes many of the issues that...

  14. CHAPTER TEN Organizational Dilemmas, Symbolic Conflicts, Structural Problems
    (pp. 237-261)

    In religious orders like the Society of Jesus, practical problems frequently have political undercurrents. Efforts to staff positions in the Society’s apostolic infrastructure with suitable Jesuits can become test cases about the linkage between leadership, qualifications for ministry, and priestly ordination.

    Of course, the ecclesiastical hierarchy allows for tacit understandings and informal settlements. Going by the book and adherence to precision are not hallmarks of the Mediterranean streak in Roman Catholicism.¹ The Society of Jesus has made a name for itself handling friction between sacred imperatives and profane exigencies—“the real politics,” as the English professor in the last chapter...

  15. CHAPTER ELEVEN Low-Profile Politics
    (pp. 262-286)

    At the dawn of the third millennium of the Christian era, on the verge of half a millennium of existence itself, the Society of Jesus could be depicted as a triumph of durability, unstable but long-lived all the same. Yet the Jesuits show signs of having reached an impasse.

    Confusion stems from the clash of priorities within the order and from directives of the kind represented byEx Corde Ecclesiae.Add to this the tendency of Jesuits to be at odds with the sexual magisterium, and the Society begins to look hamstrung. Put schematically: Differences over the implementation of the...

    (pp. 287-306)

    The most remarkable pattern to emerge from the historical panorama presented at the beginning of this book is the odd combination of longevity and volatility that distinguishes the Society of Jesus. Nearly 500 years of existence make for tradition as mundane institutions go, yet the tradition itself appears to be curiously unstable. The order has been expelled from various countries about thirty-five times, from some of them more than once, not counting the cases in which it came within a hair’s breadth of having its operations shut down. Misadventure is not new to the Jesuits.¹

    The difficulties facing the Society...

    (pp. 307-328)
  18. NOTES
    (pp. 329-368)
    (pp. 369-370)
  20. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. 371-372)
  21. INDEX
    (pp. 373-380)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 381-381)