Robert Blair KAISER. Inside the Jesuits: How Pope Francis Is Changing the Church and the World. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2014. Pp. 224. $32.00 hb; $31.99 ebook. ISBN 978-1-4422-2901-3. Reviewed by James T. BRETZKE, S.J., Boston College School of Theology & Ministry, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467
Pope Francis clearly has shown he is far more than a brief flash in the media pan and so it is now to be expected that we have a plethora of books that seek to probe this remarkable pontiff. This particular offering departs considerably from the expected genre, and employs what Kaiser’s journalistic alter ego Bill O’Reilly, speaking from the opposite end of the ideological spectrum, might term a “fair and balanced” look at the subject matter. Kaiser’s work includes chapters not just on Pope Francis, but a good deal of autobiographical material on Kaiser and his decision to leave the Jesuits, his friends and contemporaries in the Jesuits, as well as some previously published material on biopic type interviews with various Jesuits, Liberation Theology and Inter-religious Dialogue. Generally Kaiser is quite complimentary to ex-Jesuits, except of course for his bete-noir Malachi Martin whose “skullduggery” of operating as a “secret, paid lobbyist at Vatican II for the American Jewish Committee” [p. 30] Kaiser had exposed in greater detail in previous works.
Kaiser’s central “thesis” is that there is essentially a metaphorical “Jesuit DNA” that is integrated into all Jesuits, including those who have left the Order, and that this same Jesuit DNA can be seen to be clearly operative in Pope Francis and accounts for much of the Pope’s transformative innovation in the Church and the world. Ultimately though it seems to this otherwise sympathetic reader that perhaps this metaphor is over-indulged in an uncritical manner. If there were indeed such a thing, even metaphorically, as a “Jesuit DNA,” then how would we account for the vast number of genetic mutations that one finds in Our Least Company of Jesus? Wouldn’t Daniel Berrigan (who is applauded by Kaiser) seem to be in closer correspondence to an Avery Dulles, a Joesph Fessio, or even Paul Mankowski and Archbishop Cyril Vasil, the two Jesuit collaborators with Cardinals Burke, Mueller et al. in the anti-Kasper Remaining in the Truth of Christ: Marriage and Communion in the Catholic Church that appeared at the time of the October Extraordinary Synod on the Family (which unfortunately Kaiser could not treat since his book came out a couple of months earlier).
Kaiser’s understanding and listing of individuals such as the recently departed John Dear as “quintessential” Jesuits (p. 175) may leave many others still in the apostolic trenches scratching their heads. Apparently to be counted among this more select group one has to break out of mainstream works such as schools and parishes gain notoriety by marching to a drummer of one’s own discernment, even if that should take the person well beyond the boundaries of the Company. Here again, in Kaiser’s view, is the “Jesuit DNA” that helps former Jesuits “act with more freedom (and speak out with more freedom) than many of our fellow Jesuits, still so tied to institutional concerns. (They have all these schools to run, you see)” [p. 178].
The final chapter finally turns its primary focus to “The Man in the White Suit” (evoking the eponymous character in a 1951 movie about a research chemist who comes up with a secret formula for a miracle fiber that never wears out or gets dirty, but only comes in white.) The chapter begins though with a critical look not at Francis but his 19th century predecessor, Pius IX, and then dispatches the next three popes of that name in half a sentence before spending a bit more time appreciatively with John XIII. Paul VI and his three successors remained for the next thirty-two years “stuck on the birth control thing, and also stuck in their view of the world, divided between the Church that prayed and the world that sinned” [p. 182]. Moving on to Francis we are reminded of many of the quotable quotes (“Who am I to judge?”) and a fairly extensive treatment of the post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium before coming to the concluding re-statement of Kaiser’s “thesis”: “Pope Francis hardly a choice. His Jesuit DNA has driven him to rediscover, redefine, and set out on new frontiers and new boundaries with a holy boldness” [p. 194].Kaiser gives us some interesting and otherwise under-reported information on Papa Bergolio, but the bulk of the tome confirms the author’s own ecclesiological and political perspectives on the Church in our modern world—certainly a Church with much gaudium et spes, but still a good deal of luctus et angor.