St. Ignatius Loyola would undoubtedly be happy that a fellow Spaniard, Fr. Adolfo Nicolás, is once again at the helm of the Society of Jesus, but I doubt St. Ignatius would be happy about the state of his order at this moment in church history. While I have a healthy respect for the many good Jesuits I have known, I can't be as optimistic about their ability to pull off an internal reform that would make this company, once known as the pope's shock troops, the pre-eminent force of orthodoxy and spiritual renewal in the world. For this to happen, the Jesuits will need strong, decisive leadership — in other words, Fr. Nicolás has his work cut out for him.
Fr. Nicolás has received his share of accolades for his 40 years of missionary work and solid character, but the "hard questions" have yet to be asked, and his accountability is not merely to the Catholics waiting for a resurrection of this order, but also to St. Ignatius himself, who will undoubtedly be posing the hardest questions of all. I believe that the answers to these questions are what will make or break our confidence in the new General's leadership.
First and foremost, Ignatius would ask if he was planning to use his authority to return Jesuit universities to orthodoxy. The list of Jesuit university horror stories is simply appalling to any decent Catholic let alone a saint like Ignatius. When I was in Ecuador last November, the Jesuit university in Quito sponsored a seminar on the "Theology of Che Guevara" (the radical companion of Fidel Castro) as a legitimate public lecture. In America the horrors range from ten Jesuit universities sponsoring the despicable V-Monologues on campus this year, others hosting gay and lesbian student groups, one giving scholarships for training in pro-abortion activism and many others bestowing honorary degrees and speaking platforms to pro-abortion politicians in commencement ceremonies. What will be done about this?
Second, Ignatius would want to know whether Fr. Nicolás will discipline dissenting theologians in their ranks before the US Bishops or the Vatican have to. Fr. Peter Phan of Georgetown is the most recent example, but other "theologians" like ex-priest Daniel McGuire at Marquette and at least one Jesuit "ethicist" who endorsed the killing of Terri Schiavo are outright predators on the faith of young souls and need to be removed. Then there is the nagging scandal of deceased Jesuit, Robert Drinan. Fr. Drinan was a US Congressman in the 70s with a 100% pro-abortion voting record and was never once disciplined by his superiors for his blatantly heretical positions. In fact, he was so benignly pardoned by his superiors that Georgetown Law School rewarded him with an honorary Endowed Chair for human rights!
Third, what will be done to purge the Jesuits of its misfits, Ignatius would ask. For a starter, Fr. Nicolás could show his seriousness in reform by suspending and removing from office Fr. Michael McFarlane, president of Holy Cross College in Worcester, Massachusetts, who flagrantly disobeyed the directive of Bishop Robert McManus not to allow a pro-abortion group to meet on campus. Better yet, he should remove Fr. McFarlane's Provincial who stood by in silent assent to this disgraceful conduct. He might also clean up the ranks of the Jesuit sex offenders who have cost various Jesuit Provinces more than $60 million in lawsuits in the past decade, including the largest single payout from a religious order in history for more than a hundred victims.
Jesuits ranks have thinned from 38,000 Jesuits worldwide in 1965 to about half that number today. Their average age is rising and their seminaries are anything but full. There is a reason for that: lack of orthodoxy coupled with toleration of dissent and misconduct in the ranks. Only strong leadership and a return to discipline will restore the Jesuits to their position as the world's pre-eminent defenders of the Faith — and, like the rest of us, St. Ignatius will surely be watching.