Sunday, December 23, 2007

Jesuits and other heretics, part 2

...So here comes the part actually related to title. At least two people I ran into this week made some comments to the effect of "Jesuits aren't really Catholic" and "Jesuit tradition? What the hell is that?" Well, my gut reaction to both statements, respectively, goes as follows: "Yes they are. If they are baptized then they are real Catholics. If they are validly ordained then they are real Catholic Priests as well." And, "Religious orders have intellectual and spiritual traditions associated with them. The Jesuit Tradition is one associated with the Society of Jesus as much as the Benedictine Tradition is associated with Benedictines etc." Perhaps my answers are a bit trite, a tad too smug. Perhaps I'm not reading the serious subtext here: the Jesuits are off their rockers. Honestly, I hate it when people make the Jesuits the ecclesiastical whipping-boy. Realizing the underlying message of these and other recent comments I was determined to find the catalyst. Jesuit bashing is endemic to these parts- but such a concentrated rash? Something is ticking people off. It's like some kind of virulent disease broke out. In the 1969 techno-thriller "The Andromeda Strain" an entire fictitious New Mexico town is nearly wiped out by a mysterious and apparently extra-terrestrial pathogen. There are but two survivors- a baby and a crazy old man. Uncle Sam assembles a team of elite scientists to decipher the problem. One doctor comments, "We'll have the answer to this disease when we know why a sixty-nine-year-old Sterno drinker with a bleeding ulcer is like a perfectly healthy two-month-old baby." Likewise I found myself wondering, "What makes both an athletic female high school senior and a middle-aged pastor of a large urban parish tick?" Evidently it was something that happened in St Louis, Missouri, last fall no less. The version I heard goes like this: 'The Jesuits finally came clean; they renounced their affiliation with Rome. Didn't you hear? St Louis University is no longer a Catholic school; they are a school in the "Jesuit tradition."' Hoorah! We always knew they were screwed up. Now all our slander was justified! After all, "if you're not going to be 'Catholic,' you might as well stop pretending," as one gentlemen incisively mused... Which is funny because the facts indicate that this situation is precisely the opposite. If SLU is pretending to be anything (and nothing suggests they are) they are pretending to be non-Catholic! Indeed, SLU is ever the 'Catholic' institution (for all practical intents and purposes) that it has been in its distinguished 180 year history. If we take a peek at their website at we immediately find references to this "Jesuit Tradition"- which ultimately leads to information that is unmistakably Catholic. So who are they tricking? The government evidently. This is actually about something as simple as money. The City of St Louis approved a multi-million dollar TIF (tax increment financing) plan which would fund certain urban renewal projects for a blighted area- including facilities for SLU. At some point the whistle-blower appeared and pointed out that tax dollars for religious schools violate the Federal 'Establishment' Clause, not to mention the Missouri State Constitution which has stronger wording yet. According to the Missouri Court of Appeals the State Constitution is in this regard "both more explicit and more restrictive than the First Amendment to the United States Constitution." Apparently The Masons sued. Nevertheless the Jesuits, brilliant as always (in all seriousness) found a way. According to both the wording of the law and scrutiny of relevant judicial precedent mere loose affiliation with a religion does not disqualify an institution from receiving aid. It must be, in fact, "controlled by a religious creed"(emphasis mine). Jesuits are Catholic. But Catholicism is a choice. ('creed' is credo, I believe, and belief absolutely must be free). And all Catholics, and non-Catholics for that matter, are not Jesuits. Students aren't turned away from SLU based on creed, and while it is a Catholic institution (whatever 'institution' happens to mean) the power lies in the hands of a lay-board. Thus, from an operational standpoint SLU is non-sectarian. Yet, it remains identifiably Catholic. Enigmatic? So is any city or public organization filled with a demographic group in majority or plurality which happens to be Catholic: Los Angeles in 2000 was 46.5% Hispanic, incidentally L.A. was also 39% Catholic in 2005, but the "City of Angels," or more precisely Nuestra Señora Reina de los Angeles is still not part of the RC Church. According to this reasoning which was, of course, supported with ample precedent, The Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals found that SLU, a school in the "Jesuit tradition," does NOT violate the Establishment Clause and is therefore eligible to receive public funds from the City. Sure, Jesuits are still Catholic but here the word Catholic was merely a nominal distinction that stopped the school from getting millions of dollars. Heck, for that matter let's not pretend; critics of the Jesuits and their 'crazy' liberation theology won't pretend that people go to Jesuit schools for religious reasons anyway! But what about that that business where Jesus said "Whoever is ashamed of me...the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his Father's glory," Mark 8:38? Aren't they forsaking God? Nope, they dropped a politically charged word. In seminary we once were assigned to debate various moral issues without referencing the Bible or the Catechism, not to speak of the word "Catholic." Our professor's soundly reasoned that "if you dispute someone hostile to your Church, you can bet they will reject your internal sources. If you use these words, you're dead in most forums." When in pun intended- in a secular society use the jargon. It's all about the words. I bet things haven't changed functionally around SLU since Fall 2006. Everyone knows where the Jesuits stand (like it or not), God not the least, and that ultimately dismisses the criticisms here, whether on a legal or theological level. Heck, around here the Catholic Schools would love to get public funds of any kind. The closest we ever got was some kind of text-book lending program. I was looking at Yugoslavia in textbooks. The legislature ran from vouchers like the plague. If only we were schools in the "Catholic tradition"... But that would forfeit too much control, not to mention be impossible because the Catholic elementary and secondary schools in the diocese are parochial not private organizations per se, that is, they are associated with parishes. This deeper level of "sectarian" entanglement makes the mere thought quite a stretch. Perhaps my analysis of the SLU situation is overly simplistic. To be safe I'll let the accused party speak for itself. Let those friendly to the cause explain their reasoning in their terms. This amicus curiae brief from the aforementioned case should suffice: . And for that matter you can read the Appelate Court's decision for yourself:,ED86804
And so, sadly, I regret to inform my friends that this ordeal at SLU had absolutely nothing to do with a cowardly renunciation of Catholic doctrine. It's all law and politics. Which is okay...and money. I think the Church likes those things. Check it out yourself, but don't let the facts get in the way. Oh, the St Louis Urban Review always has wonderful information regarding "urban planning and related politics in the City of St. Louis and region." There's always a lively discussion. Check it out at

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