Jesuits in Denial

Well over a decade ago, while researching my first book on the Society of Jesus, I happened to be sitting in an office at Jesuit headquarters in Rome. The occupant of the office was visibly agitated. Malachi Martin’s book about the Jesuits had just appeared, and alarms were sounding up and down the curia. "No one," I said airily, "believes that crap." The regional assistant was not reassured. At stake was the damage that such propaganda could do to the Society and its operations.

Over the years I’ve collected a small number of books in the Malachi Martin mode. The titles change (one favorite is a salacious gothic number from 1853, A Night with the Jesuits in Rome) but the story, of shadowy power and preternatural iniquity, stays the same. Now my coauthor Eugene Bianchi and I find ourselves slotted in pretty much the same sinister category by James Martin in his review of Passionate Uncertainty: Inside the American Jesuits ("Societies of Jesus," Commonweal, May 3). Our book turns out to be scientifically shoddy, tendentious, and poorly written to boot.

The deficiencies James Martin attributes to the book are nonissues. One primary concern of Martin-his claim that "snowball" sampling guarantees biased results-draws on a potted social science that’s been outmoded for years. Random samples were infeasible for the population of former Jesuits, about whom virtually nothing is known. Consider trying to draw a...

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About the Author

Peter McDonough is the coauthor (with Eugene Bianchi) of Passionate Uncertainty: Inside the American Jesuits (University of California Press).