Questions for Father General

Last month, the 35th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus elected Father Adolfo Nicolas, a Spaniard, as General of the order. A few days later, Father Nicolas gently chided Roman journalists for running some “not so helpful” stories about alleged problems between the Jesuits and Pope Benedict XVI; any notion of a rift with the Vatican, he said, was “an artificial tension” created by outsiders unaware that “the Society of Jesus from the very beginning has always been in communion with the Holy Father…” The Jesuits “want to collaborate with the Holy See and to obey the Holy Father,” Father Nicolas averred. “That has not changed and it will not change.”

About which, some questions:

What will Father Nicolas do about Jesuits who are manifestly not obedient to the Pope or to the teaching authority of the Church? Take, for example, the case of Father James Keenan, S.J., of Boston College. Several years ago, Father Keenan testified before the Massachusetts Legislature, arguing that the principles of Catholic social doctrine did not merely tolerate “gay marriage,” they demanded it.  That position is manifestly not “in communion” with the teaching of popes past and present on the nature of marriage; now what?

Father Nicolas cannot be unaware of Jesuit colleges and universities whose Catholicism — measured by curriculum, faculty, and mode-of-life on campus — is vestigial at best. Does he think it appropriate for Jesuit institutions to honor Jesuits who taught the precise opposite of what the popes have taught about abortion, and distorted the meaning of papal teaching in counseling others? Georgetown University’s Law School has an endowed chair in international human rights law named after the late Father Robert Drinan, S.J., who did more than anyone else to convince Catholic legislators that the settled teaching of the Church on the grave immorality of abortion had no bearing on their legislative work. Father Drinan gave Catholic legislators a pass on the great civil rights issue of our time, yet a Jesuit university hosts a human rights chair named for him; how does this square with the Society’s commitment to social justice and with the obedient fidelity St. Ignatius bade his followers to observe in their relationship to the Church’s magisterium and to the Bishop of Rome?

Then there is the third-rail issue in religious orders today: homosexuality. In a letter to the General Congregation, Pope Benedict suggested that there were serious problems with how some Jesuits undertook the pastoral care of persons with homosexual desires. He could have gone farther and addressed this problem within the Society of Jesus itself; it was not that long ago, after all, that the Web site of the Jesuits’ California Province featured photos of “Pretty Boy” and “Jabba the Slut” in gay drag at a novices’ party. Will Father Nicolas demand that Jesuits observe their vows of chastity, whatever their sexual preferences? Will there be consequences for those who violate those vows, or cover for those who do? Will Jesuit vocations offices and novitiates obey the 2005 Vatican instruction which states that “those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called ‘gay culture’” must not be admitted to seminaries or to holy orders?

A fourth point: the tendency among some Jesuit theologians to minimize the unique salvific role of Christ. That problem is most apparent in Asia, where Father Nicolas has lived for decades; the Holy See has addressed it in recent disciplinary actions against Jesuit theologians. Does Ignatian communion with the Pope still require Jesuits to affirm the Nicene Creed, the Council of Chalcedon’s teaching on the hypostatic union, and the teaching of Dominus Iesus on Christ as unique savior of the world?

The Long Lent of 2002, which revealed the disastrous consequences of sexual corruption and malfeasant leadership in the Church, should have hammered home to every Catholic the dangers of euphemism, and of winking-and-nodding. When the future of a great religious congregation is at stake, there is no room for anything but the unvarnished truth. I pray that Father Nicolas provides it.

COMING UP: Team Samaritan cyclist goes ‘Everesting’ for the homeless and hungry

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When it comes to the daily sufferings of those who are homeless, there’s nothing like a 29,029-foot bike ride to keep things in perspective.

That’s exactly what Corbin Clement will be doing this Saturday, June 19, with a couple of his riding buddies as they attempt an “Everesting” ride to raise money for the Samaritan House homeless shelter in Denver. Starting at Witter Gulch Road in Evergreen, the three riders will climb Squaw Pass Road to a point in Clear Creek County and ride back down the hill for over eight laps, which amounts to roughly 190 miles in distance and the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing – hence the name “Everesting.” Their goal is to complete the feat in 20 hours or less.

Oh, and they can’t sleep. It is, indeed, just as crazy as it sounds. Those who aren’t avid cyclists might be wondering, “How in the world do you train for something like this?” 
“For training, it’s been just more or less ride as much as possible,” Clement told the Denver Catholic. “The training is structured around endurance, and that’s of course what Everesting is. It’s just a lot of peddling. So, a lot of my training so far has just been trying to ride as much as possible and ride longer high elevation rides.” 

In March, an Irish cyclist set the world record for Everesting when he completed the feat in six hours and 40 minutes. Clement isn’t trying to set a record, but regardless, it’s quite a feat to undertake, even for a seasoned athlete like him, whose pedigree includes snowboarding and rock climbing. 

“Our ride will be the same thing, but it’ll be pretty different,” Clement said. “We don’t have any sort of special bikes or super focused diet or a really regimented plan or a crew that’s very well-instructed on how we’re going to tackle this. I’ve read a couple of things to just kind of make it into a party — have friends come out to support you, get people to join you on certain laps…that’s kind of the approach we’re taking.” 

Clement has already raised $5,200 for Samaritan House, with a current goal of $8,000. This is Clement’s first year riding for Team Samaritan, but his dad, Kevin, has ridden for the team for several years. When his dad offered to give him an extra kit and uniform, Clement accepted, but didn’t want to take it without doing something help the cause. He could’ve simply opted for a nice ride in the countryside, but he chose to do something a bit more challenging.  

Corbin Clement used to experience the challenges that homeless people face on a daily basis when commuting through downtown Denver to work on his bike. This Saturday, he will raise money for Samaritan House homeless shelter by “Everesting,” a 190-mile bike ride that is the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing. (Photo provided)

“For some reason, the Everesting idea popped into my head,” he explained. “I think it’s one of those things that has a little bit of shock value for people who hear about it. It’s certainly something that’s gained more popularity and visibility in the last couple of years with endurance athletes. I wanted to choose something that would actually be a challenge for myself and something that I’d have to work towards.” 

Clement currently resides in Utah, but he used to live in Denver and commute by bike to work every day. During those rides to his office, which was located near Samaritan House, he would pass many homeless people and have conversations with them. This experience was also a motivating factor for his Everesting attempt for Team Samaritan. 

“It’s very different when you’re on a bike versus in a car because you’re right there,” Clement said. “If you stop at a stoplight and a homeless person is on the corner, whether or not they’re panhandling or something like that, you hear the conversations, or you’ll have a conversation with them. There are things you smell or you hear or you see that you just never would if you were in a car. So, it kind of made sense, too, with the biking aspect. It’s part of my community that I’ve lived and worked in for a very long time.” 

Clement’s Everesting attempt is one event in a series of endurance event’s he’s doing over the summer that culminates with the Leadville 100, a single-day mountain bike race across the Colorado Rockies. In that race, he will be riding to support young adults diagnosed with cancer by raising funds for First Descents.  

Both causes are near to Clement’s heart, and he said that while his Everesting attempt will be a form of “suffering,” it pales in comparison to what the homeless face day in and day out. This is ultimately why he’s riding and raising funds for Team Samaritan. 

“Any time we see a homeless person or people who have to live on the streets,” Clement said, “That is true suffering — true endurance — with no end in sight.” 

To learn more about Corbin’s fundraising efforts or to donate, click here.