218 Jesuits will gather in Rome this week to convene the 35th General Congregation, where they will elect a successor to Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach ( Jesuits to vote for ‘Black Pope’, by Malcom Moore. The Telegraph 1/8/08).
In a column for the National Catholic Reporter, Father John Dear expresses mixed feelings about the Jesuits and the future of the religious order:
NCR asked me to reflect on this Jesuit gathering, but I have such mixed feelings about the Jesuits (not to mention the church), that I can only beg prayers for my order. We’re a complicated bunch. This past spring, the National Jesuit News, a U.S. newspaper reporting on the Society of Jesus, featured a glowing profile of a Jesuit priest (“Army Chaplain Sees Job as Forming People of Peace,” April, 2007) who served as a chaplain in, of all places, Abu Graib, Iraq — not to minister to the tortured, but to the torturers. Happily, he has left Iraq. Alas, he now teaches the morality of war at West Point (where, incidentally, the police have banned me for life.)
This report was shocking and scandalous to me and my Jesuit friends. I don’t understand how we claim to follow the nonviolent Jesus yet support someone who works in a torture center, or an international war headquarters. Unfortunately, given our history of violence, it’s not surprising.
Here is an excerpt from the article that infuriated Father Dear so (Army chaplain sees job as forming ‘people of peace’, by Peter Feuerherd. Long Island Catholic Vol. 45, No. 52. March 21, 2007):
In Baghdad there were few Catholic priests, so Father [Timothy] Valentine was often on call, sent to various locations around the city. One such place was Abu Ghraib, the notorious prison that was a torture chamber for political prisoners under Saddam Hussein and was also the site of shameful abuses by some American soldiers during the early part of the war.
Father Valentine notes that the situation at the prison had greatly improved when he got there. It is what he describes as one of the “untold success stories” of the war.
“I feel very strongly that our soldiers did a noble job” in Iraq, he says, citing Army engineers who successfully put in electricity and running water in some areas for the first time. He was able to observe a military training team, composed largely of Catholics, who were instrumental in teaching police, soldiers and legal officials of the new Iraqi government key concepts about human rights and due process.
“They did a wonderful job. They were affecting a whole culture. These soldiers and officers were great. And they came to church, by the way,” he says.
Now back at West Point, he serves at the Catholic chapel there while teaching. . . .
He believes it is imperative for the church to maintain a presence in the military, providing spiritual guidance to the people charged with carrying out national policy.
“They need spiritual care,” he says. “They have their fingers on enormous power. Service to them will redound to the peace and security of our nation.” Ultimately, he says, “we want people of peace to execute the orders of the president.”