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Thursday, February 28, 2013

Of Popes and Jesuits: Australia's Province Express

Of Popes and Jesuits

Depending upon the times or one’s prejudices, Jesuits have been portrayed across a whole gamut of descriptors, from ‘the Pope’s storm troopers’ to ‘His Majesty’s loyal opposition’. And the General of the Jesuits has long been styled ‘The Black Pope’—an ambiguous epithet suggesting either the leader of the largest body of religious priests and brothers, or something more sinister. It is true that the Society’s relationship with the Papacy has been a long and sometimes very testing one.

The Popes in Ignatius’ time

Ignatius, of course, was the Pope’s man. It comes through unambiguously in his Exercises, theConstitutions, his autobiography and huge correspondence. In the formation of his men, he introduced a fourth vow at the final profession of a Jesuit. Often misunderstood, it is not a special vow of loyalty to the Pope or his teachings; all religious have that in their vow of obedience. No, it is a vow 'for mission' by the Pope, a ready availability to go wherever the Pope might send an individual or a group of Jesuits to meet a particular need.

The early years of the Society, a time of great missionary outreach to an expanding globe, saw the Pope making many requests of Fr General for such missions. In more recent times, the late Pope Paul VI asked the General for a special mission, not to a place but to a challenge. It was to respond to the rise of atheism in intellectual and practical ways. Many Jesuits immediately took up that call and began a new and quite different mission of the mind.

When Ignatius founded the Jesuits, his order had significantly different characteristics and many people, Roman cardinals especially, were skeptical (at least) or suspicious (at worst). One such was Cardinal Gian Pietro Carafa. Ignatius disagreed with him on many occasions. Carafa had founded the order of Theatines and wanted Ignatius’ Society of Jesus to merge with them. Ignatius, of course, resisted.

Carafa was a harsh, intolerant autocrat, given to nepotism and hated anyone or anything Spanish. So imagine Ignatius’ perturbation when he learned that the Cardinal had been elected Pope Paul IV. A witness (and later Ignatius’ biographer, Luis da Câmara) reported that when Ignatius heard of Carafa’s election, ‘he shook in every bone in his body’. Sadly, relations did not improve with any ‘grace of office’—even to the point of the Pope suspecting Spanish treachery and having Ignatius’ quarters searched for arms and weapons. Of course, none were found. There was an uneasy truce.

Ignatius was well aware of the suspicions people had of his Society. He was scrupulous in gathering documents in its support, many judgements vindicating it after false accusations brought before Church authorities, and testimonials by others of note. Being the man of deep interiority that he was, Ignatius always knew that ultimately the hand of God was in whatever transpired. When once asked what he would do if the Pope were to suppress the Jesuits, he quietly and confidently replied that he would need fifteen minutes of prayer and he ‘should think no more about it’!

The suppression of the Jesuits

That hypothetical question became a reality some two centuries later when Pope Clement XIV suppressed the Society in 1773. Clement was a weak Pope who bowed to the pressures of the inter-related royal houses of Europe, the Bourbons. Admittedly, the Jesuits were moving in powerful and influential circles in the courts and were making many and powerful enemies. Kings and princes were threatening to break away from the Church and also threatening the Papal States. Clement yielded, ‘in the name of peace of the Church and to avoid a secession in Europe’. Our General, Fr Lorenzo Ricci, was jailed in Castel Sant’ Angelo, poorly treated and humiliated, and even prevented from celebrating Mass. He died two years later.

But four decades on, in 1814, Pius VII (himself a captive of Napoleon and exiled in France) made his way back to Rome and restored the Jesuits, affirming that he ‘would be guilty of a capital crime if he neglected to employ the skilled rowers for the storm-tossed barque of Peter which the Society could provide’. Additionally, he endorsed the restoration of schools and colleges as a key ministry of the Society.

Fr Arrupe and the Vatican

In more recent times, Paul VI was a strong supporter of the Society and its works. In an address to Jesuits gathered in Rome for a General Congregation in 1974 he said:

Wherever in the Church, even in the most difficult and extreme fields, in the crossroads of ideologies, in the front line of social conflict, there has been and there is confrontation between thedeepest desires of humankind and the perennial message of the Gospel, there also there have been, and there are, Jesuits.

… Your Society is, we say, the test of the vitality of the Church throughout the centuries; it is perhaps one of the most meaningful crucibles in which are encountered the difficulties, the temptations, the efforts, the perpetuity and the successes of the whole Church.

If they were encouraging words, they were also challenging ones. And if we were indeed ‘Papal storm troopers’ then the Pope was exhorting us into the fray.

Soon after Pedro Arrupe assumed the mantle of leading the Society in 1965, he picked up the decree of the Second Vatican Council for all religious orders to go back to their roots to rediscover and renew their original charism. Arrupe soon became known as ‘the second Ignatius’.

Some more conservative Jesuits thought this was too much, too soon. The Society’s mission of ‘the service of faith and the promotion of justice’ led to a renewed ministry of service to the poor and the marginalised. Some of our critics saw the manifestation of this in so-called ‘liberation theology’ as crypto-Marxism. The then Cardinal Ratzinger, as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, condemned liberation theology in the 1980s. At the same time, Pope John Paul II had concerns regarding the direction of the Society and his relationship with the General was fractured. This was a cause of great sorrow for Arrupe because he was a son of Ignatius through and through.

Getting on in years, he asked to be allowed to resign, but the Pope refused, perhaps not wanting another General Congregation which would ensue and have the Society push the boundaries even more. Sadly Arrupe suffered a stroke while in office. But instead of his own Vicar General taking over in his place, the Pope stepped in and, in a highly unusual intervention, appointed his own man, an eighty-year-old traditionalist philosopher, Fr Paolo Dezza, as administrator until the next Congregation. The move rocked the Society, but the Jesuits accepted the Pope’s intervention, as extraordinary as it was. Some Vatican watchers remarked that the Pope was expecting unrest, but was surprisingly moved by the Society’s loyalty. His relationship with the invalid Arrupe warmed and he became a regular visitor to the invalid Pedro.

Compliments and expectations

After the long reign of John Paul II came the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as Pope. His history as Prefect of the Congregation which had investigated the teachings of a number of Jesuit theologians, and found them wanting in areas of orthodoxy, was in the minds of many Jesuits. These theologians had been called to Rome to explain themselves, or had their publications or their teachings censored. So it was that the Society was somewhat anxious about its relationship with the new Pope. At the Congregation to elect Kolvenbach’s successor, the new Pope addressed the assembled delegates. He began by saying how he had just completed his annual retreat, using the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius. This was a good omen. Then he shared how hard he found that final prayer of Ignatius, the ‘Take, Lord, receive all my liberty.’ Did not others find it so? This was an even better omen! He went on to say,

As my predecessors have often told you, the Church needs you, counts on you, and continues to turn to you with confidence, particularly to reach the geographical and spiritual places where others do not reach or find it difficult to reach.

Nowadays [...], the obstacles challenging the evangelisers are not so much the seas or the long distances as the frontiers that, due to a mistaken or superficial vision of God and of man, are raised between faith and human knowledge, faith and modern science, faith and the fight for justice. This is why the Church is in urgent need of people of solid and deep faith, of a serious culture and a genuine human and social sensitivity, of religious priests who devote their lives to standing on those frontiers in order to witness and help to understand that there is in fact a profound harmony between faith and reason, between evangelical spirit, thirst for justice and action for peace. […] At the same time I encourage you to continue and renew your mission among the poor and for the poor. [...] For us the choice of the poor is not ideological but is born from the Gospel.

Once more, from the Papacy, a compliment, but also a weighty expectation; an enormous mission. And may we be graced to fulfill it.

Interestingly, our previous General, Fr Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, had asked Pope John Paul II if he could resign from office, but was refused. When Pope Benedict XVI was elected, the General once again asked, and was given, permission. Now the Pope himself has followed suit. Soon our Society will have another Pope to serve in our special way. Like all healthy relationships, it will have its bruisings, but also its blessings.

Currently there are six Jesuit cardinals world-wide. Four of them are over the voting age of eighty, so unable to join the conclave to elect the new Pope. But the Jesuit Cardinal Archbishops of Buenos Aires and Djakarta will be voting. We wait prayerfully for the graced workings of the Holy Spirit.

And (in case you are wondering) there has never been a Jesuit Pope.

Fr Ross Jones SJ, Rector, St Ignatius’ College Riverview. First published in Viewpoint newsletter.