Jesuits Misbehaving Yet Again

A well-known Jesuit's public rejection of transubstantiation raises a number of serious concerns about both the state of the Church and the validity of his Masses.

If there’s one thing that’s true of today’s Catholic Church, it’s that Jesuits gonna Jesuit.

Fr. Thomas Reese, S.J., America’s second-worst Jesuit, has a history of undermining Church teaching while maintaining plausible deniability. It’s the modern Jesuit way. So while he typically won’t outright deny Catholic teaching on the pelvic issues the Catholic Left is so obsessed with—contraception, abortion, homosexuality—he will call it into question at every opportunity. 

But recently, like Fr. James Martin, Reese appears to be getting bolder in his dissent from Catholic teaching. In a recent article for National Catholic Reporter, he wrote, 

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Since my critics often accuse me of heresy, before I go further, let me affirm that I believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I just don’t believe in transubstantiation because I don’t believe in prime matter, substantial forms and accidents that are part of Aristotelian metaphysics.

First, this is like saying, “Since my critics often accuse me of theft, before I go further, let me show you this beautiful diamond necklace I recently stole.” If you don’t want to be accused of heresy, Father, perhaps don’t say heretical things.

And make no mistake: Reese’s rejection of transubstantiation is heretical. The Church has dogmatically defined that a Catholic must believe in transubstantiation. Now, it’s hypothetically possible for one to believe that another explanation of how the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ is superior, based on another (again hypothetical) philosophical framework, but even in that far-out case a Catholic must still accept that transubstantiation itself is true. In other words, he has to “believe” in it.

(And note, saying one believes in the “real presence” isn’t sufficient for a Catholic: Lutherans claim to believe in the “real presence” while rejecting transubstantiation.) 

Further, Reese’s reason for rejecting transubstantiation rests on false premises. He bases his unbelief on his claim that transubstantiation is founded on “prime matter, substantial forms and accidents that are part of Aristotelian metaphysics.” What’s interesting is that the Fourth Lateran Council defined the doctrine of transubstantiation in 1215, before most of Aristotle’s corpus was even known in the West, having not yet been translated into Latin. (St. Thomas Aquinas—today’s great boogeyman of the Left who often incorporated Aristotelian metaphysics—wasn’t even born until 10 years later.) The term “transubstantiation” itself, in fact, was used as early as 1079 by Hildebert of Tours.

Reese’s reasoning isn’t unique to him or even very new. Back in 1950 Pope Pius XII explicitly condemned those who wish to deny the doctrine of transubstantiation due to it being “based on an antiquated philosophic notion of substance.”

Of course, writing about a Jesuit flirting with or accepting heresy can be a “dog bites man” story. Been there, done that, got the crappy St. Louis Jesuits soundtrack. But I find two things particularly troubling about this specific incident.

First is the boldness of Reese’s assertion that he doesn’t believe in transubstantiation. As I noted, modern Jesuits are usually known for their genius in undermining Catholic doctrine without actually explicitly rejecting it. Yet here Reese feels comfortable simply rejecting the Church’s teaching with no fear of being disciplined by Church authorities.  Modern Jesuits are known for their genius in undermining Catholic doctrine without explicitly rejecting it. Yet Reese feels comfortable simply rejecting the Church’s teaching with no fear of being disciplined by Church authorities. Tweet This

And can you blame him? It’s become clear that Church discipline only applies to clerics who use the wrong “tone” or support the wrong politics (i.e., conservatism). Reese knows he won’t get in trouble, and that’s far more concerning than one priest’s rejection of a fundamental Church teaching.

And let’s explore another significant problem with Reese’s pronouncement. 

It’s Catholic teaching that the efficacy of the Sacraments are not dependent upon the holiness or the orthodoxy of the minister. If, for example, a priest rejects the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, his Masses would still be valid, as well as any other Sacraments he celebrates, such as Confession. To think otherwise would be to subscribe to the Donatist heresy, which was rejected by the Church centuries ago. 

Yet I think there is a legitimate reason to at least question the validity of Reese’s Masses. When a Sacrament is celebrated, the minister must intend to do what the Church intends. Throughout history the Church has always interpreted this in a liberal fashion, lest she fall into Donatism. An atheist, for example, can validly baptize someone even if he doesn’t himself believe in the power of baptism. He just needs to think something to the effect, “This person asked to be baptized, so I’m going to do it as the Church intends, even though I don’t believe it myself.”

The question, however, is if Reese actually intends to do what the Church intends. By rejecting transubstantiation, Reese doesn’t believe that what is happening at the consecration is really happening (that alone wouldn’t invalidate the consecration), but does he even intend to change the substance of the bread and wine into the substance of the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ? Why would he intend something he does not believe ever happens?

Many Catholics might dismiss this concern for fear of putting doubt into the minds of faithful Catholics about the validity of Sacraments. While I understand that sentiment, I don’t think we can so easily dismiss it in this particular case (and remember it is Reese who is fostering doubt, not those who challenge him). Reese’s rejection of transubstantiation strikes at the heart of the Church’s intention for this particular sacrament—does he then also reject that intention?

Again, a priest can be a heretic and still offer valid Sacraments. I see no reason, for example, to question the validity of Fr. James Martin’s Masses or confessions, even though he clearly rejects Church teaching on the issue of homosexuality. And the same applies to confessions heard by Fr. Reese. Yet to reject the underlying doctrine of what is happening at the moment of consecration at least should put some doubt into our minds as to the act’s validity. And doubt is the last thing that should enter a Catholic’s mind at the Mass.

By this author:

Needless to say, the fact that these questions are even raised demonstrates the mess we’re in right now. We currently have few, if any, Church authorities willing to actually exercise their authority (unless it comes to crushing the few faithful elements left in the Church today). Even if Fr. Reese’s Masses are completely valid, he should be quickly stripped of any public ministry. A priest who publicly denies core Catholic doctrine has no place being a public representative of the Church. Yet we all know this is as likely to happen as Cardinal Cupich celebrating a traditional Latin Mass.

Sadly, Jesuits gonna Jesuit, and that’s definitely not going to change as long as one of their own is at the top calling the shots.

[Image: The Mass at Bolsena by Raphael depicts a Eucharistic miracle that took place in 1263 at the church of Santa Cristina in Bolsena. A Bohemian priest who doubted the doctrine of transubstantiation was celebrating mass at Bolsena, when the Eucharist began to bleed. Pope Julius II is included kneeling to the right of the altar, as symbolically witnessing the miracle.]


  • Eric Sammons

    Eric Sammons is the editor-in-chief of Crisis Magazine.

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