For how many decades have we been asking, “What’s happened to the Jesuits?” Ever since the days of Teilhard de Chardin’s Omega Point Christ and cosmic evolutionism, loyal Catholics, devout Catholics — indeed, even everyday Catholics — have been scratching their heads about certain characters in the Society of Jesus. You know, those who would have a very difficult time justifying to their order’s founder, St. Ignatius, what they’ve been doing, saying, and teaching during their Jesuit careers, yet who — ironically — are publicly lauded for their various heterodoxies and heresies.
Readers may recall some of the more egregious among them — for example, Robert Drinan, the Jesuit priest who served in the U.S. Congress from 1971 to 1981. Aside from defying the prohibition against priests serving as elected public officials, Fr. Drinan became known for his fervent advocacy of legal abortion.
Then there’s Fr. Adolfo Nicolás, past superior general of the order, who described the Catholic Church as “a complicated system of controls and regulations that make the Gospel somehow distant from people.” He even proposed alternatives to Catholic doctrine that he defined as “more liberating ways of religious wisdom and the experiences, impossible to systematize, of radical emptiness, non-dualism and transcendence” (L’Espresso, Jan. 23, 2008). Fr. Nicolás made his disdain for the Church even more palpable when he explained that “we Christians have to think and reconsider our Christian practices, from simple devotions to Sacramental celebrations.”
And, more recently, there’s Fr. Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit who, despite openly dissenting from the Church’s teachings on same-sex marriage and the priestly ordination of women, received the prestigious Laetare Medal from the University of Notre Dame this spring. He has described opposition to gay marriage as “demonizing people” and has said that the Church’s prohibition against women’s ordination is “shameful” and “nonsense” (Cardinal Newman Society, Apr. 4).
Enter Fr. Arturo Sosa Abascal of Venezuela. The newly elected Jesuit superior general claimed in an interview with Swiss journalist Giuseppe Rusconi that the words of Jesus condemning divorce (cf. Mt. 19:4-9) are “relative” and must be “discerned” according to the “conscience” of each individual (Rossoporpora, Feb. 18). This is, one supposes, his ostensible contribution to the debate over Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis’s controversial apostolic exhortation that touches on the topic of divorced-and-“remarried” Catholics. If you haven’t been following the scrum, Amoris Laetitia has been widely interpreted, with good reason, as papal consent for civilly remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion, meaning that these divorced Catholics — despite Jesus’ clear imperative to the contrary — are not adulterers. No, no, no! Fr. Sosa continued: “[During Jesus’] time, no one had a recorder to take down his words. What is known is that the words of Jesus must be contextualized, they are expressed in a language, in a specific setting, they are addressed to someone in particular.”
Lest he be misinterpreted, Fr. Sosa further clarified his position in the same interview: “Over the last century in the Church there has been a great blossoming of studies that seek to understand exactly what Jesus meant to say…. That is not relativism, but attests that the word is relative, the Gospel is written by human beings, it is accepted by the Church which is made up of human persons…. So it is true that no one can change the word of Jesus, but one must know what it was!”
Fr. Sosa is to be commended for the forthrightness of his assertions. He doesn’t leave much to the imagination; he doesn’t couch his language in purposeful ambiguities that he can later hide behind in his own defense. He comes right out and says that we can never really know what Jesus said because His words were not “recorded” but were written down by human beings (who are prone to error) and accepted by a bunch of human beings (who are prone to error). His position is an interesting one. Aside from being agnostic — or perhaps gnostic — in flavor, it is also self-consumptively illogical: If Fr. Sosa is asserting that Jesus didn’t really say, “Whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery; and he who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery” (Mt. 19:9), he must admit by his own the-word-is-relative standard that he, Fr. Sosa, is a human (prone to error) and his assertion can only be accepted by human beings (also prone to error). Therefore, Fr. Sosa’s assertion is as meaningless as he claims are Jesus’ words as recorded — or not recorded — in the Gospels. To say that we cannot rely on the Gospels as clear accounts of Jesus’ doings and sayings is tantamount to saying that the Gospels are unremarkable, uninspired, and unreliable. Even more bizarre, Fr. Sosa seems to believe that, if a contemporary scholar works hard enough, he can “discern” what Jesus really said — which would be an unbridled perversion of St. Ignatius’s rules of discernment (viz., The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius).
It is not difficult, then, to accuse the Jesuit superior general — the so-called Black Pope, the international leader of the Society of Jesus — of relativizing the Bible, discounting the words of Jesus, and engaging in doctrinal heresy. And that’s exactly what Raymond Cardinal Burke has concluded. “This is completely wrong,” Cardinal Burke said of Fr. Sosa’s comments in an interview with InfoVaticana (Apr. 10). “In fact, I find it incredible that he could make these kinds of statements. They…need to be corrected. It is unreasonable to think that words in the Gospels, which are words that, after centuries of studies, have been understood to be the direct words of Our Lord, are now not the words of Our Lord because they were not tape-recorded. I can’t understand it.” Cardinal Burke added that he believes the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ought to issue a correction.
Now enter Fr. Thomas Reese. Remember him? He resigned as editor of the Jesuits’ influential America magazine back in 2005 under pressure from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Writing in the National Catholic Reporter, the flagship publication for liberal American Catholicism, Fr. Reese, a Jesuit in full, not only echoes Fr. Sosa’s rejection of Jesus’ words on divorce, he mixes in a little Jesuit gnosticism to refine the case against Jesus’ clear injunction. “Jesus said a lot of things that we do not observe literally without exception,” he writes (Apr. 6). “Jesus does not list any punishment for divorce and remarriage…. I look upon Jesus’ teaching on divorce as the first feminist legislation because a divorced woman was kicked out on the street with no assets or alimony. Today we live in a different world. How can we be so certain that Jesus would respond in the same way to divorce today?” Jesus: the foremost feminist legislator? Good grief! Only a Jesuit.
The fact that Fr. Reese can’t provide an answer to his own rhetorical question speaks volumes about his and Fr. Sosa’s agnosticism. Both of these Jesuits are trapped in an intellectual dead end. If we were to entertain Fr. Reese’s stunted thought process, we might continue by asking further questions along his same line of argument:
· “How can we be so certain that God would respond to Moses with the Ten Commandments today?”
· “How can we be so certain that God would respond in the same way to the sin of Sodom today?”
· “How can we be so certain that Jesus would respond in the same way to the merchants and moneychangers in the Temple today?”
To be sure, Frs. Reese and Sosa, with their moral blind spots and theological tunnel vision, cannot be so certain — even if they sit down to “discern.” What they do seem to know, with their gnostic Jesuit insights, is that they can easily use their own faulty logic to justify as permissible (in their own minds and in like minds) any act that is traditionally defined by the Bible and the Church as immoral. With the number of poorly catechized Christians wandering about blindly these days, the gnostic Jesuits have a captive audience that would love to know the various ways they could engage in immorality and still consider themselves to be faithful to Christ.
Look, anyone can use faulty logic and make idiotic statements. It happens all the time! But it’s just plain sad to see Jesuits — professed members of a manly order with a history of defending the Church and the papacy and a devotion to true Catholic intellectualism — become tools of intellectual idiocy.
Unfortunately, the gnostic Jesuits (you know, the ones who believe that they — they — have access to the truly true truth that relies on neither Scripture nor Tradition) have been emboldened of late not only by the Black Pope but more so by Pope Francis, also a Jesuit educated in the same manner as Frs. Sosa, Nicolás, and Reese. A coincidence? We think not.
“Even under a Jesuit Pope, the [Society of Jesus] suffers from a steady decline in membership, dissent and moral confusion within its ranks, and a widening gulf between many Jesuit universities and the Church.” — Patrick J. Reilly, Cardinal Newman Society