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Examining the Jesuit doctrinal hammerlock on the Roman Curia…

Examining the Jesuit doctrinal hammerlock on the Roman Curia…

COMMENTARY: CDF prefect Cardinal Luis Ladaria has been admirable, yet he has had to do quite a bit of shrugging in response to the actions of his brethren from the Society of Jesus.

Five years ago July 1, Pope Francis dismissed the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, elevating his deputy at the same time. 

With the first Jesuit pope appointing a fellow Jesuit, Archbishop Luis Ladaria, as prefect, the Society of Jesus had a hammerlock on doctrinal authority in the Roman Curia. 

Father Ladaria taught me at the Gregorian University in the late 1990s. His course on the Trinity was one of the best we had; he was clearly a top-notch professor and a man of the Church. It was not a great surprise when Benedict XVI appointed him secretary of the CDF in 2008.

So I welcomed his elevation to prefect, though I worried about a Jesuit as chief doctrinal officer in the Church. Not that his orthodoxy was in question, but rather that all senior Jesuits have spent, by necessity, a lifetime of learning to live with unorthodoxy as the price of keeping peace in the community. 

The months leading up to Cardinal Ladaria’s appointment put the question in greater focus. The superior general of the Jesuits, Father Arturo Sosa, made two widely-publicized comments denying truths of the faith. The first denied the historicity of the gospels, as solemnly affirmed by the Council of Trent and Vatican II. The second denied the personal reality of the devil, a truth which Pope Francis emphasizes repeatedly. 

And in January 2017, the roving papal spokesman, interpreter, confidant and amanuenses, Jesuit Father Antonio Spadaro, infamously tweeted that “Theology is not #Mathematics. 2 + 2 in #Theology can make 5.” Vatican I’s Dei Filius and St. John Paul II’s Fides et Ratio took a different view.

The Pope shrugged off both offenses against Catholic truth then. Would his new prefect do the same?

That was the question five years ago. Cardinal Ladaria’s term is now up — the ostensible reason for the papal defenestration of Cardinal Müller — and he is 78. So how has it gone, a Jesuit prefect serving a Jesuit pope?

Cardinal Ladaria has been, unsurprisingly to those who have followed his long career, an admirable prefect. Yet he has had to do quite a bit of shrugging himself in relation to his Jesuit brethren. 

Consider just this past year, being celebrated as an Ignatian Year by the Jesuits, to mark the 500th anniversary of Ignatius’ conversion (May 1521) and the 400th of his canonization (March 1622). Three examples come to mind.

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg is president of the European bishops’ conference and has been appointed relator general of the Synod on Synodality. To him partly falls the guidance of the synodal process, and he will have a leading role at the synod on synodality itself, hyped by some as the most important ecclesial initiative since Vatican II. 

In February he said that the Church’s teaching on homosexuality was “not correct” and must be “changed” given that it was based on outdated “science.” 

The Catechism’s teaching on homosexuality and homosexual acts is based on Christian anthropology not bad science, but leave that aside. What is the prefect of the CDF to do when one of the most senior cardinals in the world says that Church teaching is wrong? If he is a fellow Jesuit, only shrug. After all, the Jesuit pope offered no comment or correction and Cardinal Hollerich sees him frequently.

Also in February, Cardinal Michael Czerny, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, made the long trek to Canada’s west coast to preach at the funeral of Bishop Remi De Roo, the longtime bishop of Victoria.

Bishop De Roo, from the time he was appointed in 1962, dissented from Catholic teaching and personally presided over a wide variety of liturgical abuses. He left his diocese in a disastrous state, pastorally and financially, having squandered millions on an unauthorized race-track venture he had concealed. Cardinal Czerny diplomatically referred to the shambles Bishop De Roo left for the faithful to clean up, but he came with fulsome praise.

“Above all he was a Council Father who dedicated the subsequent 55 years to continually rediscovering what it means to live as a Council Christian and as a Council Church … and now indeed as a Synodal Church,” Czerny preached. 

De Roo was perhaps the least “synodal” bishop in the world. He did not “walk together” with anyone, least of all his brother bishops in Canada. He walked alone and determinedly so. He was emphatically not a “Council Christian” unless one thinks that the Council was at odds with Catholic doctrine. It was impossible to recognize in Bishop De Roo’s decades (1962-1999) in Victoria the teaching of Vatican II in Lumen Gentium (dogmatic constitution on the Church) or Dei Verbum (on Divine Revelation).

What is the prefect of the CDF to do when one of the senior curial cardinals effusively praises one of the leading bishops responsible for the immediate post-conciliar divisions in the Church? If he is a fellow Jesuit, only shrug. After all, the Jesuit pope sends Cardinal Czerny as one of his most trusted envoys.

In April, the new Jesuit bishop of Hong Kong, former Jesuit provincial Stephen Chow, took the occasion of his first Chrism Mass to express a hope for women’s ordination.

Bishop Chow “turned to English, just to address our ordained brothers, and I hope one day maybe ordained sister[s] too.” 

What is the prefect of the CDF to do when a bishop in one of the world’s most important cities implies that the infallible teaching of the Church, repeatedly defended by Pope Francis himself, is not correct? If he is a fellow Jesuit, only shrug. After all, the Jesuit pope spent more than a year selecting Bishop Chow for the delicate post and presumably doctrinal matters were considered.

Cardinal Ladaria handled some difficult files in his five-year term — most notably the increasingly erratic Church in Germany. After that service, he may look forward to retirement. And it may be easier for his successor to correct wayward Jesuits if he himself is not one.

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