The Rev. John Dear, a prominent peace activist and Jesuit priest, has left the Society of Jesus – the same order Pope Francis belongs to – following years of disagreements with Jesuit leaders. Photo courtesy of John Dear

The Rev. John Dear, a prominent peace activist and Jesuit priest, has left the Society of Jesus – the same order Pope Francis belongs to – following years of disagreements with Jesuit leaders. Photo courtesy of John Dear


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(RNS) The Rev. John Dear, a prominent peace activist and Jesuit priest, has left the Society of Jesus — the same order Pope Francis belongs to — after years of disagreements with Jesuit leaders.

Dear said he and the order cut ties — a highly unusual move for a Jesuit, who takes solemn, lifelong vows to the community — because the society did not support his social activism.

“I’m leaving because the Society of Jesus in the U.S. has changed so much since I entered in 1982 and because my Jesuit superiors have tried so hard over the decades to stop my work for peace,” Dear wrote in a Jan. 7 column for National Catholic Reporter, the liberal weekly that he writes for.

But church sources said the two sides parted ways only after a yearslong effort to persuade him to fulfill the communal responsibilities expected of all Jesuits. They said Dear’s superiors had tried to find ways to allow him to continue his peace ministry, which is the sort of activism that Jesuits have become known for and which has been highlighted by Francis.

The termination decree signed by the head of the international order, the Rev. Adolfo Nicolas, was dated June 19 and says that Dear has been “obstinately disobedient to the lawful order of Superiors in a grave matter,” according to NCR, which first reported the dismissal.

The decree further states that Dear had been ordered to return to his community by a certain date or face dismissal. The Society of Jesus provided no further details on the circumstances surrounding the expulsion. Dear is a member of the Maryland province of the Jesuits, one of seven regions of the society in the U.S.

Dear, who has been arrested dozens of times while engaging in civil disobedience for various causes, has long been known as something of a Lone Ranger type in an order that is known for its social activism but also for its powerful communal ethos and its strict vows of obedience. That includes a special vow of obedience to the pope.

Francis is the first Jesuit to become pope; he apparently played no role in Dear’s dismissal, which followed a unanimous vote by the six members of the Jesuits’ international council. It was unclear whether Francis has or would eventually have to confirm the dismissal.

For now, Dear remains a priest, though he said he is “not sure if I will remain a priest.” He cannot function as a Catholic priest unless a bishop gives him permission to do so. Dear said he is continuing to work for peace and justice with other organizations.

Dear’s column in NCR explaining his decision provided some insights into how alienated he had become from his community.

In the essay, Dear repeatedly blasted his superiors, often by name, saying he suffered under their “authoritarianism” and that their behavior had a “debilitating effect” on his health. He accused the Jesuits of abandoning him but also their larger, historic commitment to the poor.

Several Jesuits said privately that Dear’s charges were unfounded, and they pointed to Pope Francis’ own speeches as well as to the myriad efforts for social justice that the Jesuits operate and support.

Dear acknowledged that he had been ordered to return to Baltimore from New Mexico, where he led protests against nuclear weapons development at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

His activities and preaching there had upset many Catholics who were often the target of his pointed criticisms. Three years ago, he said, Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe had withdrawn permission for Dear to work as a priest in the archdiocese.

Dear detailed a litany of other conflicts with the order but said that when he was told he would have to spend time working at a Jesuit-run high school in Maryland, he instead took a leave of absence and moved back to New Mexico. He said he finally asked to leave the society, and this week formally did so.

KRE/MG END GIBSON

7 Comments

  1. When one takes a vow of obedience, one says that one is willing to discern in the context of community WITH the community. It may be that John Dear is called to a life outside of the Jesuit community at this time. That does not mean that the Jesuits are in the wrong, however. Asking him to live in the Baltimore community is not necessarily a problematic request, or a sign of heavy-handed institutional action. It seems that it is not his personal preference at this time, though it may at the same time be a legitimate need of the Maryland Province that he do so. His choice is to go in another direction. As a vowed religious, that is always an option, though one’s personal preferences must always be balanced with the needs and discernment of the community. Unless there is a really compelling reason not to follow the discerned request of the community, one ought to do so. It’s what the vow of obedience entails, I believe. It’s not about capricious authoritarianism usually. If it is, as does occasionally happen, then that is something to take into the discernment process. It seems to me that the Maryland Province and John Dear have discerned that their paths must part. This is a hard thing, but not necessarily a sign of a problem, in other words.
    I think it’s necessary, really necessary, to understand that there are many more facets to this story than what is presented here, beginning with the fact that despite what Dear says in his disappointment, the Jesuits have most certainly not abandoned their commitment to the poor.

  2. samuel Johnston

    “Dear, who has been arrested dozens of times while engaging in civil disobedience for various causes,.”
    This man has an ego problem. Civil disobedience is an extreme tactic which can rarely be justified. When one acts out physically he/she puts the lives of the pubic, the civil servants, and the participants at risk. It’s heady stuff for an irresponsible, would be hero. In this case, the Jesuits appear to have shown excessive tolerance.

  3. These “arrests” are street theater; they’re as much liturgical acts as anything else and, like liturgy and all ceremony, they’re just as pointless.
    If this is “Progressive” Catholicism, it’s no wonder that the second largest religious group in North America is “ex-Catholic”. Why bother with this twit and his antics? Who cares?

  4. There seems to be little doubt that the J’s are in criiss. But it’s not entirely their fault. At tne end of Vatican II Paul VI gave them two tasks: fighting atheism and implementing the Council. The first led them to try and attempt an accomodation with Marxism; the second to repeat their triumphant implementation of Trent.Marxism collapsed, leaving that effort high and dry. It no longer features in Jesuit thought. Since JPII and the present Holy Father, the implementation of the Council has taken a more authentic, less ‘progressive’, form. Once more, the J’s have been left high and dry. Yet the Holy Father realises their value, notably in areas and with people the Church cannot easily reach. That’s why there were no admonitions from him at the end of the last General Congregation.I hope they continue once the dead weight of age is lessened during the next ten to twenty years. Here the winnowing blade is merciful. By then a later generation will either have come to their senses as far as the Order’s relationship with the Church is concerned, or they will slowly die. Inevitably they will become much smaller and this will affect their major apostolates at the Gregorian University, the Biblicum and the Orientale. But what will replace them in these essential institutions is far more problematical. They still remain essential to the Church and I have noticed a small, but perceptible, thaw in their policies. Not least, notice that Fr Matthew Power SJ is wearing a clerical collar during his introductory talk in this promotional dvd. Even two years ago that would have been unthinkable. But praise God they will never become tattists.

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