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Was it a media blitz in the last few days, the coverage of the Wheeling Jesuit University president-firing and the aftermath? 

Not quite, but the WJU board and its acting president did come out of hiding, smoked out by mass-medium coverage of slam-bang accusations by a high-profile West Virginian whom the mediums all know about.  (He’s in the clips.)

The bishop didn’t do it, the acting president and board spokeswoman trumpeted, speaking for themselves and for the Jesuit provincial superior, Rev. James M. Shea, SJ, of Towson, MD.

MD Prov Shea

Indeed, Fr. Shea has approved the behavior of his three fellow Jesuits — the local superior, the president of another Jesuit university, and the operator of a Pennsylvania retreat house, each a “trustee” of WJU — pretty much since they gave a fourth Jesuit, also a trustee, the boot in absentia as WJU president while apparently keeping a fifth out of the loop lest he veto the ouster.

To be kept in mind is the first rule of home-office-based executives, not to second-guess operators in the field.  They are home-office appointees, for one thing, and are on the scene, for another, while executives are not.  To top it off, the executive in this case has neither interest in nor (probably) stomach for an independent investigation.

If there’s something rotten in the state of West Virginia, he relies on local authorities to tell him.  It takes more than indignation expressed and accusations made by local non-Jesuits to get him, the provincial, off a dime.

Besides, in this case he is a lifelong chaplain and pastor, most recently pastor of the Jesuits’ Georgetown (DC) parish.  He’s a pastor, with all the one-on-one impulses and expertise that implies — with a doctorate in pastoral care from Southern Methodist, no less.  It’s his specialty.

He ran a parish in a sophisticated neighborhood — no small thing — but university administration and politics he probably knows from rec-room chatter and the like, to judge by his resume.

It should never have been in doubt, therefore, that he would endorse the WJU ouster, as sloppily as it was conducted, if not deceitfully.  On the other hand, when anguished cries from West Virginia arrived by U.S. mail, it might have been hoped, if not expected, that he would revert to a tried and true pastoral approach and write back; but he did not.

It’s a jungle out here, true.  SNAP and their lawyers wait to haul him before a civil court.  Money is at stake.  Oregon Province has declared bankruptcy.  In Seattle the Jesuit university president, a former provincial, is being sued for keeping under his hat the abuse of hundreds of Eskimos by dozens of Jesuits. 

The Maryland Provincial can be like the Huron Indians of 400 years ago who took it on the chin for Jesus’ sake and went out of business, destroyed by the un-Jesus-like Iroquois, as the movie “Black Robe” would have it.  Or he can be very, very careful, giving nothing his enemies might use against him.

He can sit on letters and say nothing, not even when he has something to say, leaving it to non-Jesuit officialdom to pass on his approval of the mysterious WJU firing.  He himself stays out of it — or did until today, when he presided at the St. Joseph Pignatelli liturgy on campus.  Perhaps more later about that pregnant appearance . . .

Later: If pregnant, not yet delivered, is the word from Wheeling.  Shea did nothing of note in this context at the Pignatelli mass but is staying in Wheeling for a few days.  It’s his annual “visitation” of the Jesuit community there, when he has one-on-one conferences with each, after which he will have the low-down.  Icing on the cake, one may assume: how could he in the past have been so sure of the wisdom of what transpired if he didn’t have it?

Indeed, as an astute observer noted to Blithe Spirit, the removal of Giulietti had to be a Jesuit thing, for that matter a provincial’s decision.  Civil legality has no room for three Jesuits in a conference call removing a university president.  It was the religious superior that did it.  Giulietti was remanded back to his own province, New England, case closed.  He served in Maryland (province) at sufferance of the Maryland provincial.  Sufferance withdrawn, Giulietti withdrew.

So it’s a fool’s errand to ask Shea to save the day, no matter who you are, including Giulietti’s sole trustee-supporter, Rev. Ed Glynn SJ, a former Maryland provincial and successively president of three Jesuit universities.  This is as much religious-community politics as university politics.