View Full Version : Jebbies force Spitzer out, but not SU Pres.

Zag 77
05-11-2008, 07:24 PM
I will make the observation that Fr. Robert Spitzer of GU and Fr. Steve Sundborg at Seattle U. both began their terms about the same time. 11 yrs vs. 13 years. However, the Jesuit Provincial says Spitzer has to go, despite raising tons of dough, an institution in great shape and a Board that wants him to stay.

I would posit that the difference is this: Spitzer is a Catholic who has stated his goal to increase the Catholic identity of GU. Much like what Pope Benedict XVI has been pushing for. That puts him on the outs with the old-fashioned Jebbies who came of age in the 1960's. Sundborg is a traditional Jesuit liberal with liberal views on politics and religion, and he gets to stay, even if he has been nowhere near as successful as Spitzer for his school.

05-12-2008, 09:34 AM
I have no idea about how the politics in the Jesuit's Academic circles works, so I would have to rely on some source data to be able to draw any conclusion outside of what Spitzer provides.

05-12-2008, 11:02 AM
Some of the Jesuits have been trying to find a way to remove Fr. Spitzer for several years, for exactly the reasons you mention. Frankly, it was just a matter of time. They got the money the needed out of him, and it was time to get rid of him before the campus became too Catholic.

05-12-2008, 11:36 AM
There is a long standing tradition that Jesuits, who initially and ironically were known as the "watchdogs" of the church (and therefore quite orthodox), subordinate dogma to rational discourse and critical thinking. There are many great thinkers who appeared to flirt with heterodoxy who are generally considered by modern theologians to be both profound and visionary. Perhaps the most famous of these is Pierre Teilhard de Chardin who wrote the Divine Milieu. During the era when I was a young lad, we were taught to challenge all ideas, and to remain skeptical. That all orthodox dogma needed to be subjected to critical analysis, and there was not an emphasis on seeing how high one could score on the orthodoxy meter. The rationalist, so the theory goes, subjects all ideas, heterodox and orthodox alike to the same standard of careful analysis and critical thinking, and eventually the truth emerges from the process.

Things appear to be changing, and the new Holy Father is asking Catholic Universities to tow the line. I would expect nothing less from him. He is old school if ever there was. This poses a problem for independent thinking Jesuits who value critical thinking above orthodoxy.

I also understand that in the Inland Empire and Rome (the other empire), orthodoxy seems to be a virtue which trumps all else. I personally do not subscribe to this, nor would any of the Jesuits who taught me. Even the most devout, and most orthodox Jesuits of those days wouldn't have dared to insist that dogma, and current teachings get off “scot free” without a thorough consideration and analysis.

I cannot say where Father Spitzer falls on the orthodoxy spectrum. However I can say that Jesuit Universities are undergoing tremendous changes, and to a degree seem to have lost their identity. Jesuit Education in my opinion should not be based on the concept of orthodoxy uber alles. And if they become "too doctrinaire-ish" I think I will quit encouraging kids to attend them. And most especially to those Jesuit universities who have abandoned the commitment to critical thinking and have retreated to the dogma of Rome.

05-12-2008, 05:40 PM
Christian, Catholic, Jesuit. That is the order of emphasis that every Jesuit school needs to place upon their mission. Each is a subset of the higher with the Christian mission being the essential driving force of every Jesuit school. The Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola emphasize this order as they seek to guide the participant in a process of self-examination, prayer and meditation that, per the Catholic Encyclopedia, is 'to conquer oneself and regulate one's life, and to avoid coming to a determination through any inordinate affection'. It is the role of the Director who facilitates the exercises to not interfere with the Exercise, but to ensure that it is rigorously followed to allow the participants to fully explore and rationally realize their own relationships with Christ.

The purpose of a Jesuit education should not be to provide students with a bag of logical tricks to use wily-nily, but to provide a logical and rational process through which students develop their relationship with Christ and strengthen their identities as Christians.

Zag 77
05-12-2008, 09:09 PM
Unfortunately, the number of Jesuits who believe in objective truth and objective morality instead of moral relativism are few and far between. Those few who do, like Fr. Spitzer, piss off the leadership, which does not like to be reminded of their attempts to rationalize their relatvism, and will not justify their positions. Thus, they just get rid of the objectivists in order to be comfortable.

05-13-2008, 05:19 AM

They may not be a power in D-1 basketball, but they do have a message of social justice, and they do espouse walkin the talk. And I tip my hat to them.

Clarity of vision and purpose are key to any small liberal arts college. Can you fellas who espouse rigid adherence to moral absolutism, please tell me what your idea of a Cathoic University entails. And how does it differ from that espoused by Father Sundbourg over on Capitol Hill.

In closing thank you for making the contrast. I did not know that Father Spitzer was philosophically different than Father Sundbourg. However, I am not certain that this difference would argue for any "moral superiority" as you seem to suggest.

Zag 77
05-13-2008, 09:31 AM
Maybe I have a preference as to Spitzer's theology vs. Sundborg, but the point here is that clearly the Oregon Provincial does not want somebody with Spitzer's theological bent heading GU. Thus, clearly there is no room to dissent from the "liberal" point of view. If you do, you get canned.

Otherwise, why get rid of Spitzer? Enrollment is up, donations are up, new buildings are going up, etc. Some faculty whining, but college faculties are always whining about something or other. Spitzer is nationally recognized as a speaker and writer of considerable repute. Spitzer does not want to go, and the Board wants him to stay.

You have an alternate thesis for his getting dumped when he has been at GU for less time than Sundborg at SU?

05-14-2008, 11:59 AM
Seattle U's emphasis on social justice is awesome. I don't think there's any argument there. The problem is where many over there stand on other Church issues. GU does all sorts of excellent social justice stuff as well, but the thing that bugs some of those in the province is Spitzer's belief/emphasis on objective truth in morality, where a number of Jesuits are far more relativistic in their approach.

The Jesuit education is meant to form the human mind, body and soul. This happens at Gonzaga, and hopefully will always to continue to happen. Part of this is the tradition of teaching proper thinking, including using logical, critical analysis. However critically analyzing the Church doesn't mean we get to just toss it's teachings out the window if we don't like them. We have to seriously discuss what the Church teaches and more importantly why it teaches them. Some Jesuits these days decide they disagree with the Church, and instead just decide to go with secular morality as the alternative, which doesn't really work.

05-16-2008, 05:06 PM
This I submit is a bit of an oversimplified view. To equate challenging dogma based on what we like or don't like, is also a form of poisoning the well. Would you have counseled Galileo to continue to insist the earth is at the center of the universe. You may recall that this was a matter of faith in the 1500s. The Ptolemaic Universe.

I am not certain that the definition of moral relativism, or situation ethics in a philosophical (as opposed to a theological sense) is traditionally based on the church's teaching alone.

As an example of how the church itself appears to engage in "situation ethics", there has been a well established tradition of sanctioning just wars.
Yet killing is clearly against the 5th Commandment. This would seem to be the absolute standard as far as I can tell. Yet St. Thomas and others, have reasoned that just wars are possible under certain conditions. Were they relativists?

Jus Ad Bellum has been the essential feature of a just war and these are specific conditions which must be met. As I have asked before on this forum. Those of you who clamor for orthodoxy, do you also consider the church's teaching on war? Are all church teachings absolute truths? And finally does the church itself ever indulge in "situation ethics/ moral relativism". If one uses tautological reasoning, by saying that it does not because it is the church, then I guess there is no way we can have an intelligent discussion on this.

Meanwhile, Seattle U deserves a lot of credit. And I think they walk the talk better than the Zags. Liberal or not.


05-19-2008, 08:54 AM
Silicon, you bring up a lot of points, and I'll do my best. The first is that you keep saying that Seattle U does a better job of walking the talk than GU, and I'm wondering where this comes from. Off the top of my head, I can think of numerous activities that GU students are involved in: Mission Possible, SMILE, Catholic Charities Evening Winter Sleep Program, Campus Kids, Behan Crisis Pregnancy Center, Relay for Life, April's Angels, Men/Women Against Rape, L'Arche, Shaw Connection, Habitat for Humanity... I'm sure other's could think of dozens more that I'm missing. I love social justice, the Catholic Church is firmly committed to it, and I believe GU has a ton of opportunities for those who are looking to serve others.

The second issue you raise is that of the Church's teaching on Just War. So far as I know, the Church (and Jewish tradition before) has also interpreted the commandment to mean thou shalt not murder - otherwise there would be no provisions in the OT law for killing as punishment for crimes, and every battle the Jews fought would have been one of sin. However, as it applies to the Iraq war, both the US Catholic Bishops and Pope Benedict were very clear in stating that they did not believe it met the criteria for a just war. Unfortunately, an interpretation of just war teaching such as this is not binding on the conscience of Catholics, so some Catholics chose to ignore this interpretation in favor of their own beliefs about the war due to politics/whatever. I studied just war teaching in my time at GU, and am firmly convinced that a just war is possible, but that the Iraq war did not meet the requirements for jus ad bellum, much less jus in bello.

I am of the firm belief that far too many Catholics are more committed to Republican or Democratic beliefs/ideals than to Catholics beliefs and ideals. This causes problems on both sides, because Catholic teaching clearly is in opposition to tenets of both political parties. So, for me this is not a political issue, but an issue of the teachings of the Church. I'll post more later.

05-19-2008, 11:02 AM
Great post. Thanks for the update on the activities at Gonzaga. Seattle U has many similar programs. What I meant to say, and said it badly perhaps, is that there is more of a commitment to diversity there. I also will stick with my impression that I think there is a greater emphasis on social activism at SU than GU. But it is my impression and it is not one borne of detailed comparison.

I think there is no doubt that Gonzaga has a proud tradition. And I didn't mean to imply that there is a dearth of commitment to social justice. It is my overall impression, even from the alumni magazines that both send out, that Seattle U is more active than any of the Jesuit schools I am familiar with, and furthermore, there is no doubt about their diversity being greater than most if not all Jesuit colleges.

Finally your last paragraph is a beauty. Which is something we agree on completely. Political orthodoxy sometimes gets mixed up with theology. Which is one of the reasons the world is in such a mess these days.

Again, thank you for updating me on what's happening at GU. Best, Sili

Zag 77
05-19-2008, 12:26 PM
From his new book:

“Five Pillars” offers a rich, practical guide for busy people who wish to develop a more meaningful prayer life. Based on the many retreats and seminars that Rev. Spitzer has given over the years, the book presents five essential means through which the contemplative and active aspects of people’s lives can come together to strengthen their spiritual lives. These five elements are 1) the Eucharist, 2) spontaneous prayer, 3) the Beatitudes, 4) a partnership with the Holy Spirit, and 5) the contemplative life itself.


05-19-2008, 03:22 PM
For me the concern is that while Seattle U is awesome about it's social justice, it seems to be not as concerned about other issues of Catholic theology.

I know that this is just a single issue, and I hate to bring it up, but it's a token example. I'm not saying that the University as a whole is pro-abortion, but the website does include links to Planned Parenthood and a group that calls itself Catholics for Choice - abortion is on issue that the Church is very clear on. Fr. Spitzer on the other hand is very clearly pro-life - see some of his books, and his involvement in the Life Principles group.

For me, I think the real reason that Fr. Spitzer is being asked to leave is because he has fought hard for Catholic teachings on Gonzaga's campus, against those who would like to teach that abortion is ok, and extramarital sex is ok, and perhaps Jesus wasn't really fully divine (I had a professor in Religious Studies who claimed this) and that Mary is honored too higly (there was a speaker who spoke on this topic while I was there) among other things. Fr. Spitzer fought to bring dynamic Catholic speakers like Christopher West - one of the preeminent scholars in the US on JPII's Theology of the Body.

From my position, it looks like Fr. Spitzer is being fired for "rocking the boat" by striving for Catholic teaching on as many positions as possible. Social Justice is a popular thing (for the most part) in today's society. Being against abortion, or extramarital sex, or preaching that Christ is the Lord of all creation are all things that are not popular, and yet Fr. Spitzer was adamant about these as well. It looks to me as if Fr. Spitzer is leaving because he was "too Catholic." I really don't know much about Fr. Sundborg, but I do know that I have friends who have attended Seattle U who barely even noticed that it was a Catholic university - this seems problematic to me.

05-20-2008, 10:07 AM
close enough, on occasion, to see & hear what's going on.

The near universal polarization between left and right hits the Church and the Jesuits like it does every other organization. The pendulum swings again! Some years ago the Trustees were upset with what they considered the unreasonable liberalism of then President Ed Glynn. The main voices in the Jesuit community, being pretty liberal, really backed Glynn. The Trustees had their way and Glynn didn't last long.

This time the Trustees really like Spitzer and all he has been able to do. The predominantly liberal voices of the Jesuit community, supported by the Provincial in Portland, feel that Spitzer has been too conservatively orthodox--despite his great accomplishments.

So Spitzer is on his way out from Jesuit pressure, just like Glynn went out from Trustee pressure.

Personally, I think Spitzer has done a great job, and most left/right stuff has been relatively balanced, one way or another. I hear some faculty fear that Gonzaga will lose its small-college personal touch if Spitzer keeps growing it the way he has--I can't evaluate that.

I also feel that Spitzer loses some Jesuit support because he does not mix freely and often with the community. I don't know if he has always been like this, or if it's the defensive result of strong Jesuit opposition to some of his more conservative moves.

That said, please realize these are the thoughts of an outsider who just gets glimpses of what transpires in the inner sanctum!