Fr Reese and the Reform of the Jesuits
The irreplaceable John L. Allen confirms that Tom Reese, SJ, was forced out of his position as the editor of America magazine by the Vatican.
Some years ago, when I was thinking about becoming Catholic, I read Reese´s Inside the Vatican, a fair-minded, thoughtful look at the Vatican from the perspective of political science. I have deep disagreements, and deep respect, for Reese and his views.
The firing of Reese will certainly raise concerns about a possible purge of the Jesuits. While a purge may or may not be in order, reform of some kind is long overdue.
The truth is that the Jesuits have been led for nearly forty years by what on any account must be held to be the least capable leaders in Jesuit history. Since the early 1960s, the number of Jesuits has fallen from over 40,000 to about 20,000. The number of seminarians studying to be Jesuits has dropped by 90%.
In any business with that level of failure, the leaders would have been fired by the stockholders 35 years ago. If any US bureaucracy had failed that miserably, its leaders would have been dragged before a Senate committee, grilled over a long slow flame, and ignominiously dispatched. What is astonishing is not that on occasion the Jesuits have run into trouble with Rome; what is astonishing is Rome´s patience with the Jesuits, her hope that the Jesuits would reform on their own without meaningful action from the Vatican.
The firing of Reese may well be a signal that that patience has run out. The evidence of the last forty years is irrefutable: the Jesuits are clearly incapable of reforming on their own, and will have to be dealt with from outside the order.
At a human level, I feel sad for Reese, who seems to be handling a difficult situation with dignity and class. One hopes that American Jesuits will think seriously about the history that has brought the Jesuits to their current state--and that the process of reform can begin.