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The Pope and the Jesuits: Explaining the Problem

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Feb 26, 2008

In my last Insights message I linked to an excellent Catholic World News story on Pope Benedict’s final words to the General Congregation of the Society of Jesus in Rome on February 21st (see Remember 4th vow, Pope urges Jesuits). The Pope’s message is even more striking when you consider what preceded it.

Before the Pope’s final address, the new Superior General, Fr. Adolfo Nicolás, greeted the Pope and attempted to anticipate his concerns. He stressed the Order’s “commitment to the service of the Church and of humanity” inspired and impelled by “the Gospel and the Spirit of Christ.” He assured the Holy Father that “in communion with the Church and guided by the magisterium, we seek to dedicate ourselves to profound service, to discernment, to research.” For these reasons, Fr. Nicolás lamented, “it saddens us, Holy Father, when the inevitable deficiencies and superficialities of some among us are at times used to dramatize and represent as conflicts and clashes what are only manifestations of limits and human imperfections, or inevitable tensions of everyday life.”

It is not the first time the new Superior has sounded this note. Apparently that’s his story and he’s sticking to it. But is the massive failure of the contemporary Jesuit Order to defend and explain the teachings of the Church nothing more than a human imperfection? Is the widespread Jesuit refusal to weed out candidates with homosexual tendencies only a tension of everyday life? Is the near total failure of Jesuit educational institutions to maintain a Catholic identity nothing more than an inevitable “limit” on the performance of deeply committed Catholics guided by the Magisterium?

Benedict does not appear to think so. In his response, he said in effect: “Don’t try to play this game with me.” Let’s list a few of the points he made:

  • The Jesuits must seek “that harmony with the magisterium that avoids causing confusion and uncertainty among the People of God.”
  • They must “adhere completely to the Word of God as well as to the magisterium’s charge of conserving the truth and unity of Catholic doctrine in its entirety.”
  • The Order must realize that “the option for the poor is not ideological but rather is born of the Gospel” and so the Jesuits must “fight the deep roots of evil in the very heart of the human being, the sin that separates us from God.”
  • The Order must again become “capable of challenging cultural historical adversities to bring the Gospel to all corners of the world.”
  • Its members must defend Catholic teaching on precisely the points that are “increasingly under attack from secular culture.”
  • The Order must “regain a fuller understanding of [its] distinctive ‘fourth vow’ of obedience to the Successor of Peter.”
  • And the pièce de résistance: “I well understand that this is a particularly delicate and troublesome issue for you and for many of your colleagues.”

Inevitable tensions of everyday life be damned. Granted, it is as yet unclear whether Benedict will (or can) actually enforce a reform, but he is under no illusions as to the need.

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