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The Decline of Religious Orders
Garry Wills discusses the Jesuits.

Garry Wills in the New York Review of Books has reviewed a book called Passionate Uncertainty: Inside the American Jesuits by Peter McDonough and Eugene C. Bianchi on the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). The book states: "Membership in the Society of Jesus in the United States peaked in 1965, at 8,393 men. By 2000 it had been cut by more than half, falling to 3,635."

One of the issues discussed in the review is the importance of the role of gay men in the order as indicated in the paragraph quoted below.

It is not surprising that the numbers of heterosexuals have declined, as many left to marry and others were deterred by the celibacy requirement from entering. The remaining or arriving gays have formed protective networks— the authors call it a "lavender Mafia" —to provide the sense of community otherwise so hard to come by in the order. Of course, this works against a larger sense of community, since some of those Jesuits interviewed express resentment at being excluded by the gays. A straight young Jesuit says: "I feel quite alone when Jesuits of my generation talk about sex and sexuality. Straights complain about being in the minority in the 'younger Society' and about being held to stricter norms of conduct. Gays want shoulders to cry on as they struggle with coming out and are unduly sensitive to any detail of a response which they can interpret as nonacceptance." A man in his thirties teaching in a high school also feels stranded: "Several of my former Jesuit friends would mention the large number of gay Jesuits and the impact that had on community life as being a big reason they left. As a relatively young Jesuit who is heterosexual, I believe I am in the minority, and that raises questions." A priest in his sixties is less tolerant of the younger men: "I get annoyed with those gays who seem stuck on one note—anger." This man seeks escape from the community room by spending time with women friends outside his institution.

Religious orders have provided an alternative form of social structure to the modern individual and nuclear family. It is a question whether these orders will eventually cease to exist or transform themselves into something quite different.

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Date Added: 3/19/2002 Date Revised: 3/19/2002

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