NY Jesuit Provincial’s Response Leaves More Questions Than Answers

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Fr. David Ciancimino, SJ, the New York Jesuit Provincial recently responded to our petition on change.org to keep Fr. Francis X. Hezel, SJ, in Micronesia where he has done so much work and continues to do so. His public response which is published on The Fourth Branch website leaves much to be desired. In fact, it seems to prove what the new Jesuit pontiff, Pope Francis has condemned about the Jesuit Order and the Catholic Church’s focus on “small minded rules” which the Pope says, is driving Catholics away.

In the current issue of the Jesuit-run America magazine in an article entitled, “A Big Heart Open to God,” Pope Francis was asked about his views of today’s Jesuit Order. His challenge to his Jesuit Order eerily resembles an admonition of the close-mindedness and self-centeredness of Jesuit Superiors who put the “good” of the Institute over the needs of God’s people. What is happening in Micronesia is a classic case of the Provincial and the local superiors choosing the Jesuit Order over the people. Here’s the Pope’s challenge to his Jesuit brothers:

“The Society of Jesus is an institution in tension, always fundamentally in tension. A Jesuit is a person who is not centered in himself. The Society itself also looks to a center outside itself; its center is Christ and his church. So if the Society centers itself in Christ and the church, it has two fundamental points of reference for its balance and for being able to live on the margins, on the frontier. If it looks too much in upon itself, it puts itself at the center as a very solid, very well ‘armed’ structure, but then it runs the risk of feeling safe and self-sufficient. The Society must always have before itself the Deus semper maior, the always-greater God, and the pursuit of the ever greater glory of God, the church as true bride of Christ our Lord, Christ the king who conquers us and to whom we offer our whole person and all our hard work, even if we are clay pots, inadequate. This tension takes us out of ourselves continuously. The tool that makes the Society of Jesus not centered in itself, really strong, is, then, the account of conscience, which is at the same time paternal and fraternal, because it helps the Society to fulfill its mission better.” – America magazine, September 30, 2013.

I want to share some of my own questions and comments on the Provincial’s official public response to our petition. For the record, I have had a number of email correspondence with the Provincial and the two leaders of the Jesuits in Micronesia (Fr. Greg Muckenhaupt, SJ and Fr. John Hagileiram, SJ). Essentially, the Provincial’s responses to me privately is the same as those he has published publicly. My email correspondence with him will remain private for now, but I want to comment on his public response which I quote verbatim below in bold. My comments are italicized.

In the past few years, a number of Jesuits have returned to the New York Province for various reasons.  Some of them have come home so that they might receive proper care in their waning years.  Some of these changes have been years in the planning. I have visited Micronesia, the Jesuits and ministries there regularly. The Regional Superior of Micronesia keeps me well informed and I have prayed over my decisions and those of our Regional Superior again and again.  And I stand by the decisions that have been made as the result of good and careful discernment.  While these Jesuits have come home, I have missioned other Jesuits to work in Micronesia, and in a short time they have done tremendous work.  

The Provincial knows that no one will argue with a medical solution to an aging Jesuit. It’s true that as the Jesuit priests get older to the point where they need regular medical and nursing care, they get sent to the best nursing home for Jesuits located at Murray-Weigal Infirmary in the Bronx, New York. There is absolutely no disagreement when it comes to the men who have been rightly sent back to New York to live out the rest of their priesthood in the company of the aged and infirmed Jesuits; they deserve the best care and no one can argue that.

It’s simply unfair for the Provincial to start his response somehow suggesting that Fr. Hezel is being recalled due to medical reasons. For the record, Fr. Hezel who is arguably the healthiest of ALL the Jesuits in Micronesia, is NOT being sent back to New York for any medical reason at all. The man regularly plays basketball and runs to stay fit. He is still a prolific author so all his mental faculties are intact too so there is no problem there. This has never been a health issue at all and the Provincial knows that. But he has somehow chosen to begin his response as though this is the reason for sending Fr. Hezel back to New York.

The regular consultations with the Regional Superior do happen. In fact, they probably happen a lot more than usual, because the Provincial is very close friends with both Fr. Hagileiram and Fr. Muckenhaupt (the superior and socious…first and second in charge). But that is part of the problem; the three of them are making decisions that have alienated a lot of the Jesuits in Micronesia. There seems to be a trend of returning perfectly healthy men back to New York and draining the region of Jesuits who might be too successful individually. Perhaps they see these men like Fr. Hezel, Fr. Croghan, Fr. Cavanaugh as taking too much attention away from the Society of Jesus due to their personal success in working with people.

In the past few years, the assistance of Jesuits from other provinces has been sought to assist with our commitment to Micronesia. The Jesuit Volunteer Corps remains an essential component of our ministry in Micronesia. We would be able to do little in Micronesia if not for the support of the local church and the women and men of Micronesia with whom we share our ministry.  I encourage you to familiarize yourself with our ministries to see that it is not, and never has been, the intention of the Society of Jesus to compromise our commitment to Micronesia.

The assistance of other Jesuit provinces in the work in Micronesia dates back to the 70’s with Indonesian scholastics teaching at Xavier High School. The Jesuit Volunteers have been teaching in Micronesia, Palau, Guam, and the Marshall Islands since the early 80’s. All of these efforts pre-dated the Provincial so it’s nothing that he has done since taking the role being head of the New York Province of the Society of Jesus (which includes the region of Micronesia) from the relative comfort of his office in New York.

It’s simply unfair to suggest that the decision to remove Fr. Hezel from Micronesia occurred because somehow we Micronesians have asked to take over the work that he has done so effectively. The only people who want Fr. Hezel out of Micronesia are the two local superiors because his personal effectiveness is somehow not reflecting well on the Jesuit work…that he was taking too much credit and not the Jesuits. This obviously is not an enlightened thinking because Fr. Hezel is first and foremost a Jesuit priest. Micronesians are smart enough to know that his personal success as an educator, author, counselor, priest, principal, advisor to government leaders, educational consultant, social scientist, recipient of numerous honorary doctorates, fundraiser…and maybe even his outside perimeter shooting skills (and that nasty elbow of his) on the basketball court are associated with him as a Jesuit…not just Fran the man. There is no question that the people of Micronesia can make that connection for ourselves; we’re grateful to the Jesuits for all the years of enabling their brother Fr. Hezel the freedom to serve the region.

In 2008, when I began my service as provincial, there were 416 Jesuit members of the New York Province.  Today, there are 310.  About 50% of these 310 Jesuits in the province are over 70 and 26% are over 80 years of age.  81 of our 310 members continue to work outside the territorial New York Province.  With regard to our ministries, the province has embraced collaboration with our partners in ministry as an effective and grace-filled way of proceeding:  three of our four colleges and universities, all of our middle schools; two of our secondary schools, our retreat house, and the social center we sponsor for recent immigrants, all have non-Jesuit leadership.

The Provincial cited the diminishing number of Jesuits in the New York Province as though it somehow validates why Fr. Hezel is being prematurely removed from Micronesia where he is still doing great work. As if having Fr. Hezel in New York will solve the universal problem of lack of vocations to the priesthood.

The Provincial went on to cite a litany of ministries in the New York Province as though it somehow explains why Fr. Hezel is being brought back to New York. He fails to share that of the 81 Jesuits outside of New York Province, most of them are serving in other provinces in the United States, Latin America, Rome and in the African countries. Only a handful are actually in Micronesia.

So what is the greater good being achieved to solve the diminished number of Jesuits in Micronesa by removing Fr. Hezel and putting him in New York where he has no formal assignment? What is being achieved in terms of increasing vocation to the Jesuits in Micronesia by actually removing those who have highly effective with the young people?

We Jesuits have worked diligently to attract and provide formation and training for women and men to care for our ministries.  Our partners in ministry continue the good works of the Society of Jesus.  We simply do not have the Jesuit personnel that we once had.  And one of the tremendous graces we have experienced is that there are women and men of faith who joyfully and competently take responsibility for roles once held by Jesuits…and they and the ministries they care for are thriving.  The Society of Jesus continues to accompany our companions in ministry through local, regional, national and international gatherings so the relationship with the Society remains strong and sure.

This spirit of collaboration with the lay people in the works of the Jesuits is actually true where there is an immense number of trained lay people to take over the work. This might be true in the US where the Jesuits operate universities and high schools, retreat houses, advocacy efforts, and there is an abundance of trained lay people to take over the leadership of those ministries. In Micronesia, that is not so true. In fact, I want to ask the Provincial who is the Micronesian (lay or Jesuit) that they had trained to take over the Micronesian Seminar? Which Micronesian is now directing the Micronesian Seminar at Xavier High School where they have elected to move the library. None!  It’s unclear what the Jesuit leadership were thinking when they decided to remove Fr. Hezel as the director and the Micronesian Seminar without putting anyone in place. Now the Provincial is making an absurd claim of attracting lay leadership to care for the Jesuit ministries.  What is the Provincial’s plan to replace Fr. Hezel on the educational reform efforts in Chuuk State, the most struggling State in Micronesia. I would venture to think that the Provincial does not even know or care to know the immensity of the harm he is causing by removing the one Jesuit who is the heart and soul of the remaining Jesuits in Micronesia. And for what purpose?

Our recent 35th General Congregation reminds us that it is our charism as Jesuits to be mobile, to go where the need is great, to do what we can, and then to move on to meet the next challenge, the next need.  While some religious orders/congregations make a commitment to one work or one abbey, ours is to move.  The world is to be our home.  Indeed, recent experience teaches us that Jesuits are often at their best when they are on mission, rejuvenated by the next mission.  Some Jesuits move with hesitancy only to find new life in their ministry in a new situation.

The mobility of Jesuits to be sent where the greater need is dated back to the close relationship between the Pope and the founding fathers of the Jesuits. Ultimately, they were ready to go anywhere in the world the Pope asks their Father General to send men. The greater need is where Jesuits will go. If this is true, then what is the need in New York that is so greater than the need in Micronesia that warrants Fr. Hezel’s return to New York to do? Is the need so great that none of the 309 other New York Jesuits can possibly solve it? Of all the competent Jesuits in the entire Province of New York, so they have to take one of the handful of effective Jesuits in Micronesia?

The real sadness of all this is that the Provincial has no work lined up for Fr. Hezel in New York and he is irreplaceable in Micronesia. Why prematurely remove a Jesuit from a needy mission like Micronesia to put him in New York where he is not going to be effectively doing what God has obviously gifted him with? Simply mind boggling.

Father General Nicolás and our recent general congregations urge us toward this kind of flexibility.  While it may be true that in recent decades that some Jesuits have stayed so long in a particular work that they have been practically identified with it, this is far from the ideal of our Institute.  As our numbers diminish, this ideal becomes all the more crucial.  Ultimately, the success of a work cannot depend on any particular Jesuit, but upon the people to whom the work is entrusted.

There are two points worth noting in the Provincial’s response here which are probably the heart of the problem. First, he is using the argument or reality in the Church of diminished vocations to the priesthood as a reason for recalling Fr. Hezel back to New York. Secondly, he is saying that the leadership of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in New York and by extension in Micronesia are practically banishing Fr. Hezel because he is too successful in what he does for the people of Micronesia. Apparently, the reputation of the Jesuit machine is threatened by the success of one Jesuit.

On the first point of sending Fr. Hezel back to New York because of diminished number of Jesuits. This is the biggest cop out for the Provincial. He is practically bidding the needs of the people of Micronesia with the people in New York. Apparently, the needs of the people in New York is much more important and crucial in these times of diminished vocation than the needs of the Church in Micronesia.  And the Provincial is apparently solving the Province-wide problem (global problem for that matter) of diminished membership by taking Fr. Hezel out of the ministry in Micronesia to do nothing on vocation promotion.  Is the hope that banishing the MOST effective Jesuits in Micronesia will miraculously lead to more vocations to the priesthood?

On the second point of the need to remove individual Jesuits who are too successful in their ministry because it somehow threatens the Jesuit Order. This is out of place in a changing Church led by a Jesuit pope. Today, Pope Francis criticized his predecessors for caring more about the Vatican, than about the people of God.  Isn’t this what the Provincial is claiming by caring more about the Jesuit Order than the care of the people of God in Micronesia? It is sad because it puts into focus the question on what exactly is now the role of the Society of Jesus in these islands if they are silencing people like Fr. Hezel who challenges the status quo and helps Micronesians make sense of the changes occurring in our midst. In a way, the Provincial and his fellow superiors care more about how the Jesuit Order appears to the public, than the care of the people.

 It makes absolutely no sense that the Provincial would actually remove one successful Jesuit out an already diminished number in Micronesia to do nothing in New York. The saddest part of that argument which the Provincial is not forthcoming on is that Fr. Hezel is not coming back to New York for a re-assignment. In fact, it appears they have no assignment for him, no plans for using his wealth of information on Micronesia for the greater glory of God and to further the cause of the social justice in Micronesia…something that Fr. Hezel has been doing so successfully.

It’s very clear that there is more to the agenda of draining the heart and soul of the Jesuit mission in Micronesia especially if those individual Jesuits are more successful than the sum of all the Jesuit mission. It’s plain and simple…shut up the successful voice of justice because it’s putting the local leadership of the Jesuits looking like they are not doing anything significant for the entire regions. What is the magis the Jesuits are seeking by sending able bodied and effective Jesuits like Fr. Hezel to do nothing in New York?

Our former Father General, Peter Hans Kolvenbach, wisely said “a missionary gives two gifts to his people; the first is his envoi, the second his renvoi.”  This spirit of sending or being sent and returning is often a challenge for a Jesuit and for those whom he serves.  We Jesuits lend our hearts freely and lovingly and we do so with such a generous spirit and desire to serve that leaving is sometimes hard and especially after we have been some place for many years.  But, for us, these two gifts lie at the heart of mission and who we are as Jesuits.  Finally, when our mission draws to a close, it is the responsibility of each Jesuit to help those whom he serves to understand these two gifts and our Jesuit charism.

Obviously, the Provincial has decided that this particular quote from Fr. Kolvenbach, the former General of the Jesuits, provides the best rationale for his personnel decision. What he failed to acknowledge is the fact that Fr. Kolvenbach has contributed much to the need of the Jesuits to listen to the local people to whom they are sent to serve or their local companions in their ministry.  Could the General’s choice of the French word “renvoi” which in legal terms refers to the “process by which a court adopts the rules of a foreign jurisdiction with respect to any conflict of laws that arises” to respect the voices of the people to whom Jesuit missionaries are sent to serve? It calls into focus the question of who the Provincial listened to make his decision. In Fr. Hezel’s case, the voices are those of the, you guessed right, the Jesuit leadership in Micronesia whose leadership are questionable to begin with.

Even if the “renvoi” is not about the foreign laws of the land, one certainly wonders how the Provincial respects the voices of the people. How does a Jesuit superior consult with the people of Micronesia for whom Fr. Hezel was sent to serve? Did he consult widely with former students who are prominent leaders in Micronesia? Did he consult with the scholars, the researchers, the educators, the alumni of Xavier High School, the people who depend on the foundation of social justice that the Micronesian Seminar stood for? Do the people have a voice in the Provincial’s decision-making process?  Or was his consultation from his personal friends who happen to be the top two leaders of the Jesuits in Micronesia; namely, Fr. Greg Muckenhaupt and Fr. John Hagileiram? Can a Jesuit superior like the Provincial who has lived in New York for 99.8 % of his Jesuit life competent enough to lay claim to understanding what the people of Micronesia need?

Enough about the voice of the people of Micronesia. Let’s ask about the Jesuit ideal of the “cura personalis” (the care of the person) for Fr. Hezel himself.  How is the Provincial honoring Fr. Hezel’s own prayerful discernment, emboldened by the people’s support, to continue working in Micronesia as the ad majorem dei gloriam (for the greater glory of God)? Do the people have any input into when a Jesuit’s work has to be closed?

Is the Society obligated to provide an equally competent, knowledgeable, respected, loved Jesuit to succeed the one being sent back to do nothing? Who have you commissioned to research and write the books that have served the people? Who have you appointed to succeed Fran on the Advisory Group that is providing help to the Chuuk State Department of Education in their educational reform efforts? Doesn’t the Society have the obligation to ensure continuity in the people’s lives when making personnel decisions? Who is directing the Micronesian Seminar that you moved to Xavier High School with the same level of competence, time, experience, and is respected in the national and state governments and in academia?

Perhaps things have changed, but when I was a Jesuit, I’ve always understood the “greater needs” as referring to the people of God. That was the center of St. Ignatius’ missionary assignments for the Jesuits. It’s not for the self-aggrandizement and the personal desires of the Jesuit superiors.  When Jesuits talk about sending men to where “the greater need” is that meant the needs of the people not of the superiors.  In Fr. Hezel’s case, I’m sad to say that the Provincial and the local superiors in Micronesia have moved away from focusing on the desires and needs of the people and of the Jesuit himself (Fr. Hezel) to exercise their delusions of power and authority over their obedient men.

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If you want to add your name and comments to the petition on change.org, please click on the image.

I pray what I have written here helps to understand better the Society of Jesus, our charism, mission and ministries today. 

I think the Provincial has done an OK job of explaining the “charism, mission and ministries” of the Society of Jesus in the global community. What he has failed miserably to explain is the issue at hand…Fr. Francis X. Hezel, SJ and the people’s desire to keep him longer in Micronesia where he is most useful. We will continue to share our viewpoints of Fr. Hezel with the hope of a change of your heart.

Thank you for your care and concern.  Please pray for the Society of Jesus and for those Jesuits who continue to labor generously and faithfully in Micronesia.

You can rest assured, Fr. Provincial, that the people of God in Micronesia continue to pray for the Good Spirit to guide you and the leadership of the Society in Micronesia. We pray for a change of heart which focuses on the needs of the Church rather than the “small-minded rules” of the Jesuit Order. We pray that you read through the 1,245 (and growing) good people who support Fr. Hezel’s retention / return to Micronesia. We pray that you value your brother Jesuit, the Pope’s wisdom in encouraging the Jesuits to look outward rather than inward. The petition has been a very respectful attempt of our people and friends of the Church to share their support of your brother Jesuit, Fr. Francis X. Hezel, SJ.

Be assured of my prayers and best wishes.

And of mine, sir.

David S. Ciancimino, S.J.
Provincial Superior

Vid Raatior
Chuukese

Comments

  1. Joe Enlet says:

    Well put Vid. Kinisou chapur.

    Joe

  2. Mitchell Hagerstrom says:

    Tears in my eyes. But somehow I expected such from the Jesuit hierarchy. This business as usual is a big part of why I am a non-catholic.
    Mitchell

  3. Richard Bourner says:

    Well said Vid.
    The Provincial’s response was gobbledegook and in no way addressed the issues raised in the petition.

  4. Lonnie Fread says:

    As I am an atheist, “Fran the Man” is the man I respect and admire. Fr. Hezel is unknowable to me but even I can recognize his religious, educational and social leadership as well as his inspiration to the faithful. I think the solution is simple. If Fr. Hezel is wanting to continue his work in Micronesia, I think he should be allowed to. If not allowed, I encourage him to stay regardless. After all Fr. David Ciancimino, SJ, you should really be asking yourself… “What would Jesus do?”… I’m sure HE is watching.

  5. I am so very sorry that the efforts were not fruitful—the best and most productive force in Micronesian academia. I do not find any clarity in the Jesuit responses satisfying at all. And of course–losing the physical MicSem in Pohnpei is a real crushing matter here at COM-FSM—The logic–other than Father Fran was no here also escapes me. Thank you sir–for trying

  6. Wayner M. Louis says:

    I am not a catholic. Actually, my father was a Minister for the United Church of Christ in Pohnpei (UCCP). His name is Rev. Minoru P. Louis. He was the secretariat of the Micronesia Bible Society at one point in his life time. He passed away in 1979. I was only 17 years old at that time.
    He had good relationship with the Catholic Priest such as Fr. Paulino Cantero and other Priests whom I cant remember their names.
    As I grew up and begin playing basketball when I was in high school. I do not know anything about Fr. Hezel. I was one of the All Star basketball player from Pohnpei back in the 80s. That was when I came across Fr. Hezel.
    Right there on the basketball court, I begin to like this new guy I just met. As days go by, and every evening, as we the local boys sit and wait for more players to show up so we can start playing, here comes Fr. Hezel. He will come and make jokes about some of us boys and make us laugh but when we start playing, we will be shouting OUCH!!! from his nasty elbow but at the end of the day, everybody is happy.
    What I’m trying to say here is, how a much matured, knowledgeable and down to earth person such as Fr. Hezel can bring himself way down to our level. Just by playing with us on the basketball court and talking to us or giving us advises and answers to our questions regarding to what we were facing in our daily lives has given us a clear massage which changed some us the young boys lives, especially our visions of our future. We used to get together and play just because there was nothing better to do other then getting drunk and committing crimes such as stilling, domestic violence, smoking marijuana which leads to some of us ending up in jail.
    Fr. Hezel showed us that there are better reasons for sports. Its good for our body to be fit just like him, it makes our brains function better, it keeps us busy so we do not have time to go still money to buy us liquor and commit crimes, but instead, it makes us become resourceful member of our communities.
    Like I said, I’m not a Catholic but I took part in a lot of the work that Fr. Hezel started in Pohnpei. You can see me acting in many of the documentary shows that were released by MicSem.
    I can say with no doubt that Fr. Hezel is a tremendous ambassador of the Society of Jesus to the people here in Micronesia.
    Bring Fr. Hezel back to us. We’re like lost sheeps without him.

  7. Steve Hayden says:

    Thank you, Vid, for the petition and for this very thoughtful and respectful response to the “explanation” for Fr. Hezel’s reassignment to the New York Gulag. I would suggest that the decision serves more than the few small-minded Jesuits who are threatened by Fran’s clear and relentless speaking of truth to power. I refer to the power wielded by all those, Chuukese and non Chuukese, who profit from the ignorance and misunderstanding of, and even contempt for the historical and cultural roots of the problems we face here today. Fran seeks to liberate us from these prejudices, to empower the PEOPLE of Micronesia, not their masters. The Provincial has revealed the long-standing, but unholy alliance with the masters which Francis has rejected.

  8. Fil Killy says:

    Vid,
    Thank you. You know, it’s funny because yesterday we just did our presentation (power point) on “Visual Impairment” and students were just amazed at the graphic images of distorted eyes, pop-out eyeballs from their sockets, etc. I think this whole “Provincial” deal is more distorted than anything I’ve known. I normally consider myself as a “Jesuit Catholic” because I’m a big fan of the order; and they do things very differently from everyone else. But this? Unbelievable. If I had read this before yesterday, I would’ve included it in my presentation and say: “This is true blindness at its core”.

  9. Don Rubinstein says:

    Thanks, Vid, for all your efforts. The response from the Jesuit Provincial is disappointing but not surprising. Indeed, the response epitomizes “jesuitical” (meaning ‘dissembling or equivocating’) and “provincial” (meaning ‘ limited in perspective; narrow and self-centered’) thinking.

  10. Nelsin Iriarte says:

    Way to go Vid!! We tried, but I’m sure this is not the end of the line! We’re still with you, and as a wise man once said. “Our glory is not in never failing, but in rising everytime we fail.” God works in mysterious ways and his goodness shall prevail in our cause and good intentions. It is our indegenous right to voice our needs on the matter and it is their alien responsibility not to grant us!!!

  11. Stan Sablan says:

    Thank you Vid for shedding some light on the reasoning behind Fr. Fran’s forced departure from our region. I had my suspicions, but to see it in black & white, sure was an eye-opener if not down-right appalling. It is clear to me now that politics & jealousy are involved here. It’s now high time to appeal to higher order, namely the Vatican & Pope Francis himself. Thanks again, Vid. Keep up the good work !!! Stan

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