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Continuities and Gaps

The trenchant review by Katarina Schuth, O.S.F., of Passionate Uncertainty, by Peter McDonough and Eugene C. Bianchi, (3/25) fairly raises issues of method, interpretation and context, to which the authors are rightly challenged to respond. In particular, more attention to the global Society of Jesus and its official documents would have helped contextualize the Society in the United States. But it would be unfortunate were potential readers to be persuaded by Schuth’s review to ignore the book, which vividly offers numerous insights, bracing but not hostile, into the experiences, perceptions and choices shaping American Jesuit life today. It does not disappoint on almost all accounts, nor do the 34th General Congregation documents offer an adequate substitute. Better to read both official documents and this book and ponder the continuities and gaps between what we Jesuits say and how we live.

Francis X. Clooney, S.J.
Chestnut Hill, Mass.

Random Snowball

The variety of reactions stirred up by Passionate Uncertainty is all to the good, compared to the alternativesilencethat greets most academic publications. Our purpose here is not to convert Katarina Schuth, O.S.F., and other critics of the book but to set the record straight regarding the analytic and interpretive strategies we employed (3/25).

In faulting us for not using random sampling, Sr. Schuth confuses rules with tools. Sampling designs are practical tools for getting valid estimates of populations, not Platonic rules. Virtually nothing is known about the population of former Jesuits. Consider carrying out a random sample of the homeless, for whom documentation is sketchy, and you understand the basic problem. A strictly random sample of former Jesuits is impossible.

As for Jesuits themselves, we are dealing not with a captive audience, but with a population of diverse men, with an average age in the low 60’s, who are engaged in everything from theological studies to running large universities. The challenge is to get their time and attention in the first place.

Do snowball samples, which ask those who are interviewed early on to nominate others, who in turn nominate others and so forth, produce reliable results? The proof is in the pudding. As we demonstrate on page 310, our samples of Jesuits and former Jesuits closely match the proportions of Jesuits in the 10 provinces of the United States, a fact that Sr. Schuth ignores. And, as we show on page 49, the connections we discover between such variables as social origins and the period of entering the Society of Jesus are what standard histories of American Catholicism would lead us to expect. The older men, born in the Depression, generally come from lower-class backgrounds, in contrast to younger Jesuits and former Jesuits. Here, confirming the obvious suggests that the samples are not technically awry.

Snowball methods are not intrinsically better or worse than other sampling procedures. All of them need to be tailored to the research situation and resources in hand. There is no one-size-fits-all template.

A more serious criticism is that, regardless of the representativeness issue, we put a negative spin on what the men say. The authors state in their methodology that their first rule is deliberately to downplay affirmative responses. We do? We’re unable to locate any such statement. It doesn’t make sense to suppose that authors bent on promoting their dark suppositions would admit to bias of this sort. Yet, like burglars who operate noisily and in broad daylight, we are supposed to be both incompetent and openly dishonest.

We interpreted the discursive interviews and written statements in two stages. First, we used 10-point scales of the sort, How satisfied (10) or dissatisfied (1) are you with the direction the Society of Jesus has taken in the past few years? We employed these items sparingly. Like most grown-ups, Jesuits and former Jesuits don’t take well to Mickey Mouse, polling-type questions. But we have enough measures of this sort to compare Jesuits and several Jesuits along key dimensionssatisfaction with the Society’s performance, with the institutional church, with their own work, et cetera. The quantitative measures also enable us to compute how these variables are interrelatedfor example, how satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the sexual magisterium ties in with satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the institutional church. In order to relieve the general reader of the tedium of heavy-metal science, the pertinent coefficients were relegated to the back of the book, in end notes and in the notes on method. Evidently Sr. Schuth missed these. By an oddly symmetrical logic she comes up with claims we haven’t made and overlooks statements we have made.

How does the comparatively hard data help us with the qualitative, unavoidably interpretative, analysis? Once we have an idea of what goes with what (of how strong or weak the association is between, say, age and satisfaction or dissatisfaction with community life), we can gauge the contours within which the discursive responses vary. None of this tells us what any given response means. But such data help curb systematic misreading of overall patterns in the open-ended answers.

The metric information is scaffolding, neither a blueprint nor the building itself. How did we shape the writing? Slowly. The project took eight years from start to finish. Much of the work was collaborativenot just between the authors themselves but between us and various Jesuits, former Jesuits and other colleagues. The items that went into the open-ended questionnaire, the guts of the study, were formulated in consultation with two Jesuits.

Sr. Schuth concludes by suggesting a look at the inspiring documents of the Jesuits’ 34th General Congregation and the numerous reports of efforts to implement these guiding principles for a more reliable picture of the Society. An impartial observer (that increasingly mythical beast) might note, with all due respect, that this is like having mission statements evaluated by those who compose them. All methods, ours included, have limitations. Yet the collaborative feedback in ours, along with the balance between quantitative and qualitative techniques, has some checks and balances. The approach recommended by Sr. Schuth risks conflating piety with boosterism.

Peter McDonough
Eugene C. Bianchi
Tempe, Ariz.

The Same Story

I was one of the 400-plus Jesuits interviewed by the authors of Passionate Uncertainty, reviewed by Katarina Schuth, O.S.F. (3/25), and I have browsed through the book and found at least three fairly lengthy quotes from my contribution.

Born in Spain, I lived in India 33 of my 53 years as a Jesuit. The last 18 years I have been, well, part of the book, as an administrator and professor at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.

The book seems to single out (implicitly) an astonishing cultural as well as institutional change, crisis, decline, etc., inside the Jesuit organization. To prove this hypothesis, the authors have certainly done their homework! Large numbers who left the order, crisis of identity, pelvic theology, eclecticism and other internal or ecclesial tensions and traumas are presented as more than enough evidence in favor of the title of the book.

My reflection: These cultural changes, the massive exodus from monasteries and convents, these identity crises, these religious and moral upheavals have been taking place in every single human institution since the 1960’s. Nothing new, unusual or subtle. Reasons? Family breakdown, moral eclecticism, lack of religious education, post-Vatican II adjustments to religious life, etc. These and other allied social, moral and political freedoms have reduced the size of the family, the practice of religion and the obvious disappearance of religious life as a career option or vocation for youth. This is true in the United States, India, Spain and the rest of the developed and free world. I do not see the subtleness element in trying to discover anything new or unique within the Jesuit order that we couldn’t say and write about any other religious order. The Second Vatican Council did contribute to the tensions and transition happenings and the exodus from the post-60’s religious structures. Many other religious orders suffered much greater losses, and a few are heading for extinction. Reasons? All of the above!

I have also been surprised by the extensive and exaggerated attention given to the discussion regarding the gay and sexual-identity tensions within the Society. Where was I all these 52 years, hopping between three continents and pretty much alert to what people do, say and think about superiors, community life, individual personalities, the Vatican and the communion of saints? I certainly did not perceive the sizeable amount of evidence that the authors have put together: too much of pelvic problems and too little of matters of the heart.

A final and brief remark regarding the use of numbers and statistics, and the context in which they are used. The authors write that only in India does membership appear to be growing steadily. I beg to disagree. That was three or even two decades ago! At present, the growth is minimal and certainly declining very fast. I have with me the latest catalogs of the western Jesuit provinces in India. The average of all four provinces is zero growth. Crisis within the Society of Jesus in India? No. It’s just the same story everywhere you look. I feel compassionately certain about it!

Joseph A. Arroyo, S.J.
Philadelphia, Pa.

Beyond the Control

I read with great interest Sister Katarina Schuth’s sociologically authoritative review of the book Passionate Uncertainty, by Peter McDonough and Eugene Bianchi (3/25). She clearly made the case that this is not a scientific sociological study. There are no charts or statistics to prove the allegations and assumptions of the authors.

But nowhere in the book do the co-authors suggest that this was their intention. They simply set out to tell what some present-day Jesuits and ex-Jesuits thought. Here and there they quoted an excessive statement of an individual that was in no way representative of a widespread attitude, such as the one who called Roman authorities thugs. But most were worthy of consideration.

St. Ignatius urged his men to listen to the views of others, even critics, and possibly learn from them. In the light of this, many of us in the hinterland believe that the basic position of the authors should be addressed: namely that the loss of a common apostolate in education has greatly affected the spirit of members of the order and the vision of the Society of Jesus among prospective members.

Father General Pedro Arrupe himself asked, at the time of the separation of community and colleges: How can one call a university Jesuit if the superior general has no say whatever in its operation? The reviewer admitted that the authors spoke of a condition in the Society beyond the control of its members. This situation has to be faced.

All the while, the co-authors point out that many Jesuits are doing their own thing in a variety of rewarding apostolates, especially in the area of spiritual direction, and generally are happier than those who left the order. But the sense of a common apostolate is no more.

William Barnaby Faherty, S.J.
St. Louis, Mo.

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