Talking with Peter McDonough (page 3)
Talking with Peter McDonough
page 1, page 2, page 3, page 4
  You have met some amazing men in the order. Looking back, who were the men of genius, sainthood, and character that influenced or impressed you?
  Several stand out. I knew Dan Berrigan before he became Dan Berrigan the activist. He taught me Latin and French at Brooklyn Prep, and I still have an inscribed copy of his first book of poetry, that won the Lamont Poetry Award.
     John Culkin was a scholastic (Jesuit in training) who taught me Greek at Brooklyn Prep and went on after ordination to Fordham University, where he arranged for a one-year stay on the part of Marshall McLuhan. He left the Jesuits in the ’70s and continued his media activities in New York; he died of cancer in the ’80s. He is one of three men to whose memory the book is dedicated.
     Walter Ong, former president of the Modern Language Association, taught me English at Saint Louis University. “Nine out of ten of Walter’s ideas are crap,” his colleagues used to say about him, “but the tenth is a humdinger.” An extremely imaginative scholar who set very high standards.
     Finally, there’s Joe Fichter, the pioneer Jesuit sociologist who passed away about five years ago. We never met, but we corresponded a bit. He had to confront a good deal of censorship from Jesuit and other church authorities, but he persisted, paving the way for another priest-sociologist (not a Jesuit) Andy Greeley.
  What's the future for the order in the United States, and in the world?
  There are fewer than 4,000 Jesuits left in the U.S., down from over 8,500, and their average age is in the low 60s. The projection is for American membership in the order to fall to about 2,000 in ten years. Globally, the Jesuits are down from their peak of over 35,000 in the late ’60s to a little over 20,000.
     The big transition is toward lay-leadership of the schools and other operations, with an attempt to preserve the Catholic identity of “the works.” Even in India, where the Society is growing, the long-term forecast is for decline. There, most recruits to the order come from tribal areas, rural zones, and marginal regions (somewhat as happened in the U.S. during the first part of the 20th century, with applicants to the priesthood coming from poorer Catholic enclaves.) As countries modernize, recruits to “the vowed life” tend to fall off.
     Still, there’s a serious gap between the authority structure of Catholicism, run by clerics, and the “apostolic” structure, that is, the various ministries, run and staffed largely by lay people. This creates tensions, though it doesn’t dictate the utter collapse of the priesthood.
How do you see the Catholic Church changing over the next 100 years? Will the Church be dominated by Latin American politics, for example? Will it become more active, or retreat? Will it survive? And who will be the next Pope?
  The internationalization of Catholicism, its spread in countries outside Europe and the U.S., including religious vocations from these former mission territories, is the most significant trend since Vatican II. But the programmatic and ideological implications of this sea change are not self-evident. It’s not clear, for example, whether it will help promote some of the positions favored by American Catholics, such as the ordination of women. The variety of Catholicism prevalent in advanced industrial societies tends to be more progressive than the “third world church”on intramural issues like these.
     Another thing to watch out for is the importance of concentrated funding in a sprawling hierarchy like the Catholic Church. While progressives, including progressive Jesuits, outnumber conservatives on many issues, neo-conservative resources are often more focused, supporting the restorationist program of the papacy. Tight organization has a way of offsetting individualized dissent.
     The next pope? If there’s any smart money on such a bet, it would be on a conservative candidate from outside Europe (and certainly outside the U.S.) To complicate things further, there’s the Nixon or John XXIII factor. It was the conservative Nixon who initiated the grand opening to China. Similarly, it was the presumably doddering John XXIII who inaugurated Vatican II. Given the highly orthodox composition of the College of Cardinals, we’re likely to get a pope with conservative credentials. But once he assumes power, who knows?
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