Loyola Jesuits Respond to Pope’s Statements on American Catholicism

Loyola Jesuits reflect on a comment Pope Francis made in August.

Pope Francis recently spoke at a Jesuit school in Portugal Aug. 15 and responded to a Jesuit disappointed in American bishops who had criticized Francis’ leadership.

“You have seen that in the United States the situation is not easy,” Francis said. “There is a very strong reactionary attitude.”

Francis said that he believes backwards-looking is useless and Catholics should instead welcome change.  

Brother Mark Mackey, a professor in the School of Environmental Sustainability since 2021, and Rev. Dan Hartnett, a retired professor who continues to work in ministry, said they don’t think this statement from the pope has been correctly interpreted by the general public. 

Mackey and Hartnett said they don’t see Francis’s statement as an attack but as an understandable criticism.

“It’s not surprising,” Mackey said. “There is a group of Catholics who are quite reactionary and, as he said, backwards-looking.”

Harnett said he believes although the pope’s comment was significant, he wasn’t describing the collective group of American Catholics but rather a specific phenomenon. 

“We must recall the context of these remarks — they were made informally,” Harnett said. “This fact does not erase the significance of these remarks, but it suggests that we must put them in proper perspective. By no means did he suggest this was the majority.”

During his statement, Francis said he believes a growth in understanding over time is critical to Catholicism. He compared this growth in the Church to biological human development.

“The view of Church doctrine as monolithic is erroneous,” Francis said. “When you go backward, you make something closed off, disconnected from the roots of the church.”

Mackey and Hartnett said they stand behind the pope in this statement, both citing the Gospel in their agreement.

“Our understanding of the Gospel grows, expands and consolidates with time,” Hartnett said. 

Mackey said some people struggle with accepting these changes, but he believes the Gospel should be used as a guide for actions and beliefs.

“For a lot of people who are backwards-looking and afraid of change, the Gospel disrupts you from that,” Mackey said.

The Jesuits go through a synodal process in order to implement aspects of Vatican II, a worldwide council that brings the church up to date, that remain incomplete, according to Hartnett. 

According to Hartnett, this involves listening prayerfully to how the Holy Spirit is guiding the Catholic Church today through each community.

“We must constantly look back to Jesus and the way he lived, but also trust that the Spirit will help us live like disciples of Jesus today in these new circumstances,” Hartnett said. “We want to be the community of disciples that Christ calls us to be today. This means doing our best to make the world a home for all.”

Mackey said he mirrors the same type of discipleship through his work as an environmental scientist. He said he believes in the undistinguishable relationship between his faith and his work.

“In my classes here at Loyola we talk about the imperative we have to be part of environmental stewardship,” Mackey said.

Mackey said he believes his faith is a part of his identity and guides his actions in the world. He also acknowledged an unhealthy mixture between Christianity and American politics.

Mackey and Hartnett both said it is important not to allow ideology to replace genuine faith.

“When it is being used as a political chip or a way to get voters,” Mackey said, “That’s problematic.”

Hartnett said every Jesuit institution follows the same four universal apostolic preferences as they grow and develop. 

“I think Loyola tries to orient itself to those four preferences,” Hartnett said. “One is to show the way to God, so that all of our efforts somehow are meant to help people find God in all things. The second one is to find ways to work more closely with the people on the margins. Thirdly, is to help young people find hope in the world today. Fourthly, to make our world a home for all this planet, coming home.”

This story was written by Julia Pentasuglio and Alicia Jones

Featured image by Ava Fultz / The Phoenix

The Phoenix Staff

The Phoenix Staff