The Future of the Jesuits

On a quick trip to Rome a few weeks ago, I made it a point to visit the Gesu, the mother church of the Society of Jesus, and to pray for the Jesuits and their general congregation opening January 7. I found much of the church's magnificent Baroque interior concealed by scaffolding set up for a housecleaning before that crucial event.

The symbolism couldn't have been more apt. Just as the Gesu, in the historic heart of Rome, needed renovating, so does the Society itself. Rather than operating at the cutting edge of the Church, Jesuits in recent decades have fallen increasingly behind the times and, not unlike the Gesu, now stand in need of some serious renewing.

This is not an anti-Jesuit polemic. I am grateful for the education I received from the Society. Over the years I've known many Jesuits, and most have been — and still are — admirable men, loyal sons of the Church deeply devoted to the service of the people of God. Many have been, and still are, my friends.

Yet as 217 Jesuits from around the world convene at the Society's headquarters near St. Peter's Square for the 35th general congregation in the order's history, they face the challenge of not only electing a new General Superior but setting directions for a body in long-running crisis. Business as usual won't work. The Jesuits need an overhaul and they need it soon.

Numbers underscore the urgency. Forty years ago there were 35,000 Jesuits in the world. Now there are 19,000. The dropoff has been even steeper in the United States, where the Society counted over 8,000 members in 1965 and now has under 3,000.

True, the Society still has an impressive presence — in the U.S. alone, 28 colleges and universities and 40 secondary schools. But how Jesuit are those institutions? The colleges and universities have boards of trustees with a majority of lay members; four have lay presidents, with more presumably coming; on most Jesuit campuses, Jesuits are a small and shrinking handful, while the percentage of Jesuit teachers in the high schools has dropped from roughly half in the mid-1960s to single digits now.

The problem goes beyond declining numbers. Among the very few theologians whom the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith has criticized by name in recent years, four have been members of the Society. A larger reality is the phenomenon of "tacit dissent" that Peter McDonough and Eugene C. Bianchi (himself an ex-Jesuit) found among many of the 430 current and former Jesuits whom they interviewed for Passionate Uncertainty, their 2002 report on the Society in the U.S.

 The Jesuits' problems are neither new nor uniquely theirs. In 1973 Time magazine declared the Society "a microcosm of the tensions and turmoil that are sweeping the Roman Catholic Church as a whole." But although the Church still has lots of problems, it's moved on since 1973, while many Jesuits appear to be frozen in postures of avant-garde dissension out of the past. I repeat — today's Society has many exceptions to this picture. But the picture is accurate enough to merit concern.

Two years ago Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., General Superior of the Society since 1983, announced that he would retire in 2008 when he turned 80. The delegates to the 35th general congregation have the task of choosing a successor and setting policy for the years ahead. People who care about the Jesuits should wish them much success. That's what I prayed for at the Gesu when I was there.

Russell Shaw


Russell Shaw is a freelance writer from Washington, D.C. You can email him at

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  • Guest

    My mother asked that we younger kids NEVER attend a Jesuit university – she watched in agony as her older children went there and systematically LOST their faith.  A friend of mine teaches at a Jesuit high schol where the head of the theology dept. proclaimed at a staff meeting that there is NO Hell (that would limit the mercy of God).  There are examples all over Catholic news of Jesuit schools being a fine example of what NOT to do in Catholic education.  Once known for their zeal to spread the faith they are now better known for the opposite.  I would sooner send my kids to a state college than a Jesuit school – for now, we home school.  I do keep this. and all religious orders, in  my daily prayers as I pray one, or more, of my own children may enter this vocation.  What a miracle and blessing it would be to see this order restored to its proper glory!!!  KMc

  • Guest

    Historically, when St. Ignatius founded the Society of Jesus in the 16th century, its primary mission was to serve as a bulwork religious order whose sworn duty was to protect the integrity and respect of the Holy See in a Europe rife with Reformation discord, and later to counter anti-religious fervor in the era of the Enlightenment. Anymore now (and again, as Mr. Shaw points out, there are a few very good apples in the basket: Fr. Mitch Pacwa of EWTN, and Fr. Joseph Koterski of Fordham U. come to mind) the Society has become (to use a biological analogy) the equivalent of an immune system gone awry. Instead of attacking the enemies of the Body, the Jesuit "antibodies" more often then not attack its host (the Body, i.e. the Holy See and Teaching Magisterium of the Church).

  • Guest

    I know there are faithful Jesuits–I've met them–but my personal experience with the Society of Jesus has been overwhelmingly negative. I went to them for help discerning a religious vocation and I was referred to a Jesuit father for spiritual direction, who pointedly did not believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist (and told me so at every opportunity), habitually celebrated invalid Masses (using grape juice), flaunted Church authority, and taught his young charges (he was a campus minister at a university) heaven knows what. Fortunately Providence found me a much better spiritual director after a short while, but I can scarcely conceive of the damage that this man had done to others and is still doing for all I know.

    Yes, the Society that St. Ignatius founded to be zealous defenders of the Faith needs our prayers very badly.

    "I praise you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for the things you have hidden from the wise and the learned you have revealed to the merest children." -Matthew 11:25

  • Guest

    Well the election of a new General Superior is clearly an excellent opportunity for the Spirit to move them back to where they belong.  The nature of an organization DOES flow from its leadership.

  • Guest

    Yes there are excellent faithful Jesuits.  They are easy to recognize….they look abandoned, abused,  and isolated in their own religious community.  One of the greatest American Jesuits of the 20th Century, Father John Hardon, is still a persona non grata in his own Detroit Province – 7 years after his death.  They persecuted him and tried their best to suppress his work. Enough said.  Religious Congregations continue to exist by the power of the Holy Spirit…when they abandon God, God abandons them. 


    There is no guarantee that the Society will survive – do God's work or die!


  • Guest

    Most of today's Jesuits have as much in common with St. Ignatius as the Pharasees have with Abraham.

  • Guest


    I remember many years ago Father Aruppe who was the head of the Jesuits visited the pope, Paul VI if I recall, and the pope asked him, why his order (the Jesuits) caused him so much personal grief.   Aruppe resigned, but nothing changed.   The Jesuits stayed their course. 

  • Guest

    Reminds me of the old joke about the man trying to decide whether to become a Dominican or a Jesuit. His spiritual director lauds both orders; those of the order of St. Dominic, great preachers formed to fight the Albigensian heresy and the followers of St. Ignatius Loyola, pledged to serve the Pope in defending the Church during the Protestant Reformation. The punch line is, "Seen any Albigensians around lately?"

  • Guest

    Dead men, walking.


  • Guest

    Great punch line PTR. The Dominicans were so successful that in our time the flesh has achieved worship status. We need the Dominicans to bring it back in balance.

  • Guest

    I've witnessed the growth of the Legion of Christ.  They strive to follow the pope and do it with zeal.  Their numbers continually grow.

    I really wish the Jesuits would come back fully to the faith – they would see the order grow too.

  • Guest

    Yes, I must concur – as a convert, I've embraced the faith like many of  you and learned the magnificent truths of our church.  Unfortunately, I too trusted my son to a Jesuit education.  Take out the religion classes and it was a fine experience (unfortunately, that is the Jesuit way, take out religion .. at least our religion).  On reflection, the Jesuits have that holier than thou perspective of education and faith.  They have long since fallen into the "academia" far left and seem driven to cast off magisterial authority (ooh, that would infringe on their ability to teach!) while elevating other faiths at the expense of our own.  Sad.  They need someone to take them over their knee! 


  • Guest

    Ave Maria!


    Unfortunately with what has been goning on at Jesuit run colleges and the things that often appear in their magazine America and then the former editor of that magzine is often tapped as 'resident dissident', the image is badly tarninshed and with excellent reason.  I KNOW there are exceptions but nowadays there is a term 'jesuitical' and it means dissenting.  I have written to some heads of Jesuit colleges and the replies I get are only doubletalk.  We have a retired Jesuit in a nearby town and the last time I went to his ad-lib Mass, I really had to wonder if it was valid for all he changed and left out at the consecration. We had another retured Jesuit here who I liked personally but he would say off-the-wall things like the lutherans have the same Eucharist and etc.

    As to the Servant of God, Fr. Hardon, who may one day be canonized and should be–I understand that no Jesuit would even come to his anniversary or 50 years of priesthood.

    Jesuits as a whole seem to have had another agenda and it has not been faithful.  Yet the true charism is stellar. I Hope they can make the needed changes or I hope they continue to die. We have had enough unfaithfulness and dissent; it is time for a change.

  • Guest


    The majority of the readers comments have identified the problem—the Jesuits have replaced learning with Liberalism and intellectual questioning with the outright denial of the teachings of Jesus and have served Satan and his agenda quite well.  Bayside Prophesies has emphasized that Satan has already entered into the Vatican (in many ways!).  As Jesus commented in the Bayside Prophesies; "I will clean my house and will not permit homosexuals (pediophiles) in my church"!  Could Jesus also clean his house with regards to those who OPENLY deny his divinity and the existence of Hell?!  Could be…Jesus works in strange ways!  It looks like the true agenda of the Jesuits has been unmasked….Use scholastism to hide your true purpose… deny the divinity of Jesus and all that Jesus taught!  Could it not be that the reputation of the Jesuits has finally caught up to them?  By the way…..It used to be that the clergy believed and openly taught about the church… and for them the church meant:  1.  clergy is number 1 and the laity as number 2.  But with the advent of sexual abuse that arrogant and ingrained attitude is being replaced by what Jesus has taughtl….namely WE, the laity and the clergy ARE THE CHURCH! 

  • Guest

    Brian A> Muza

    The Society has been off the rails for decades now.  It's truly a miracle that I retained my ardent, orthodox Catholic faith despite every sacrilege and heresy rammed down my throat during my years as a student at both St. Ignatius College Prep (Chicago) and Loyola University of Chicago.

    The veritable handful of good, orthodox Jesuits notwithstanding (Frs. Pacwa, Baker, et al.), the only way to vouchsafe our faith and the precious faith of our impressionable children is to pray for the Society's long-overdue suppression.

    May it please God and His Blessed Mother that the Jesuits be disbanded by the able hand of Benedict XVI.

  • Guest

    Although it sounds like we definitely need to pray for those not abiding by the true magesterium, we need to keep in mind that one should NEVER CRITICIZE A PRIEST OR PRIESTS.  To me, that means not talking ill of them either.  Let us just offer our prayers for those who have fallen astray.  In this time of Mercy, Jesus WILL hear us and grant many graces to those who need it most: "Oh Blood and Water, which gushed forth from heart of Jesus as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in You".


  • davepulse

    It is so simple most Catholic Christians miss it.
    The Jesuits [with a handful of exceptions] are NOT INDWELT by the Holy Spirit. They do not have the DIVINE NATURE of God. They are still children of the father of lies – separated from God. They are NOT NEW CREATION IN CHRIST; behold “OLD THINGS are STILL OLD”. Why? Very simple. They NEVER CAME TO JESUS to RECEIVE HIM as LORD and SAVIOR. True, they were baptized as infants but they never did renounce Satan and all his works when they became adults. Consequently their HEART, their “spirit” were never regenerated. They were ordained “priests” but the Holy Spirit never got hold of them. Hence they do not know and cannot understand the things of God. They can only rely on their understanding of the things of the natural spirit of the fallen man. They walk in REASON and “sight”, not in FAITH.
    Their “eyes cannot see, nor their ears hear, nor can enter into their hearts what God has in store for them” because they never receive the Holy Spirit who alone can reveal to them the truth and the things of God.
    They are still “CATERPILLARS”; they never metamorphosed into “BUTTERFLIES”.
    Their IDENTITY never was changed from a child of Adam to a child of God. They are still under the curse of the law of sin and death, slaves of Satan.
    They have to be BORN-AGAIN in the Spirit of God from above in order to understand the things of God and be used by God.
    What to do? Since SALVATION is only by the GRACE OF GOD, RESPONDED by FAITH, we can only PRAY for God’s mercy to these still-lost “priests” and that when God give them His grace that they will RECOGNIZE and DISCERN it and ACCEPT and RECEIVE God’s grace and mercy by FAITH in Jesus Christ who GAVE HIS “human” life for the forgiveness of our sins, so that He can GIVE HIS “resurrected” life for those who BELIEVE in the cross to obtain ETERNAL LIFE so that He can LIVE HIS DIVINE LIFE in and through us in the person of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
    The presence of the Holy Spirit, who is greater than the “spirit, the god of this world” will enable them to “perform the good works that God has prepared for them when they became His workmanship in Christ Jesus”. They will then “work out” their salvation “in fear and trembling” for it is God who “wills and do at His own good pleasure”.
    Without this happening, the Jesuits will continue to do the work of Satan which is “to steal, and to kill and to destroy” the church instead of nourishing an “abundant life” for the church.

  • follower

    I would like them to fade away…they are well-educated arrogant dissenters. Elitism has no place in the Church. The order does not follow the message of Christ to be humble, give up all and follow him.