Well, there are a few more ins and outs to this, but it was only this past February that Noel Barbers review appeared in The Irish Catholic, a Dublin weekly. The review opens by citing the condemnation by the Jesuit Conference and the hanky-panky at America, then notes: Such news whets ones appetite. Since Noel emailed me his review, Ive been gleefully emailing it to everyone on the planet, especially to Jesuits in authority. Total silence so far from the hierarchy.
Just remembered two pieces of artistic-literary background about Noel Barber, SJ, who wrote the favorable review for The Irish Catholic.
Hes the Caravaggio guy.
A few years back, at the Jesuit house of
writers on Leeson Street in the heart of Dublin, Noel got curious about a musty old painting on the refectory wall. (Why house of writers? Thats where most of the Jesuit journalists, etc., resided, and Noel was the rector.) It was thought to be by some minor German master. It turned out to be a long-lost Caravaggio, given to the Irish province by the widow of a British officer assassinated during the Civil War in retribution for forcing Irish prisoners to parade naked in front of nurses. Why she donated the painting to the SJ Im not sure. Anyway the discovery got written up in the NY Times and the painting went on tour to the U.S., with a big exposition in Boston.
Also, Noel is a friend of John McGahern, the publication of whose first novel cost him his job as a school teacher. The archbishop of Dublin had him fired for indecency. Im guessing, though I dont know for sure, that Noel was also a friend of Sean OFaolain, who had numerous run-ins with the clergy. So hes probably more sensitive to these literary wars than your run-of-the-mill Irishman.
Any lessons from this baroque tale? The brouhaha exploded just as the scandal over clerical sexual abuse was spreading all over the media. So its understandable that, for some Jesuits, Passionate Uncertainty (as a Jesuit friend wrote me) was just another piece of bad news to break our hearts.
Still, its clear that a handful of Jesuits have lived up to the jesuitical stereotype, just as some real-life mafiosi have been said to model themselves after Hollywood depictions of gangsters. Theres precedent for this sort of intrigue on the part of Jesuits against their own colleagues. Several studies of religious life by Joe Fichter, the late Jesuit sociologist, were put on hold or otherwise stymied by his superiors. (Fichter, by the way, is one of the Jesuits to whom the book is dedicated.)
On the other hand, a number of Jesuits have been supportive and a few have stuck their necks out in defense of Passionate Uncertainty. And at least one Jesuit provincial superior has let on that the talking points business was a bad idea, though no Jesuit in the upper echelons has condemned the overkill tactics for the record. Dishonorable, no doubt, and possibly despicable. Ethically challenged. Maybe even embarrassing. But not illegal.
The University of California Press will release the paperback edition of Passionate Uncertainty this fall.