Father John Dear, a longtime activist for peace and nonviolence who has been dismissed from the Jesuits, is impassioned yet wayward according to a source long familiar with the Society of Jesus.
Fr. Dear was recently dismissed from the order for disobedience, after failing to respond to a request from his superior to reside in Baltimore.
“I'm not unsympathetic, but…when you join the Jesuits, or any religious order, it presupposes availability to mission…it's a very important thing in the Jesuits, and Dear isn't available for anything except what he wants to do,” a source who has been close to the society for several decades told CNA.
Fr. James Shea, head of the Maryland province of the Society, to which Fr. Dear belonged, said, “Fr. John Dear's dismissal from the Society of Jesus” was “following an extended period of dialogue between the leadership of the Maryland Province and John regarding his ministerial assignment and time he requested to discern his vocation.”
“The process was initiated in the fall of 2012 after John declined to return to his Province to live in a Jesuit community while continuing his ministry of peace and social justice, including lecturing and writing.”
Fr. Dear, who remains a priest yet has not been granted faculties by the bishop of his place of residence, entered the Society of Jesus in 1982 and was ordained a priest in 1993. He has led protests against nuclear weapons at Los Alamos, N.M., and the Jesuits' cooperation with such programs as ROTC, was involved in efforts against apartheid, and is dedicated to his vision of “the nonviolent Jesus.”
He has been arrested several times for civil disobedience in connection with his protests against weaponry and the military, and has written numerous books on nonviolence and peace.
Fr. Dear made his dismissal public in a Jan. 7 blog post at the National Catholic Reporter, weeks after it took effect on Dec. 20, 2013.
According to the Reporter, a notification of his dismissal, signed by the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Fr. Adolfo Nicolas Pachon, said the priest had been “obstinately disobedient to the lawful order of Superiors in a grave matter,” and “was duly informed ... that his failure to obey the command that he return to the specified house of the Order by a specified date would be cause for his dismissal from the Society of Jesus.”
Fr. Dear told CNA Jan. 9 that his parting of ways with the Jesuits followed a realization that “I didn't think I would be able to continue my life's work to continue to work for peace, justice” in the society, and claimed to have “always been obedient,” while saying that “the order has radically changed” since the time he entered.
“I've known other Jesuits who have been very active publicly for justice and peace who went to their deaths very bitter,” and “I didn't want to do that.”
The priest believes that to follow Jesus means “to work to end killing and poverty, and to promote peace, love, and nonviolence, and justice, as he teaches in the Sermon on the Mount.”
“Was Jesus violence or nonviolent?” he asked. “If he's nonviolent, then we have to be nonviolent, or we're not like him; we're not following him, and it's all a big game.”
Fr. Dear acknowledged that “ultimately, you could say that what happened to me is a question of theology. I'm arguing that Jesus and God are nonviolent,” he said, while “the bishops and the Jesuit leaders” hold to theories which allow for war and violence under certain circumstances.
The source who spoke with CNA said that one can suspect that Fr. Dear “has a very unique take on nonviolence, on who Christ is,” and “obsesses that Jesus is all about nothing but the notion of peace, and, as far as I can tell, the peace that the world gives; not the dynamic peace of Christ.”
The source characterized Fr. Dear as “taking something that is a truth, and trying to turn it into all truth…he's really gotten into this particular subculture” rooted in the late 1960s and the vision of Fr. Daniel Berrigan, a Jesuit who protested against the Vietnam war and destroyed draft files.
“John Dear didn't just drop from the sky, he's a creation of the 1970s of the Jesuits” and does “reflect the spirit of the 32nd General Congregation of the Jesuits…he's taken the ball and run with it to incredible lengths.”
Fr. Dear “was formed in a certain way of being a Jesuit in the 1980s, and that has all changed,” the source affirmed. “He was formed…in a different vision” in which there “was a lot of good,” yet was “defective” in some ways.
“When you join the Jesuits, or any religious order, it presupposes availability to mission … that's a key word, availability for mission. Are you available for missioning?”
Fr. Dear “made a choice,” the source said, commenting that obedience and availability for mission are in a sense identical.
“I think the big issue is one of obedience. When the provincial asks you, or tells you, to come back to province, you obey him…a lot of the Jesuit identity is to be sent on mission: and so you're missioned to whatever you're doing by the provincial.”
The source acknowledged “a certain sympathy” with Fr. Dear, calling him a man of “tremendous vision, and dedication.”
“But he lost his way.”