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Emphasizing the Black in “Black Pope”

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Jan 22, 2008

I had mentioned in one of my recent messages to users that the Prefect for the Congregation for Religious had been pretty pointed in his demand that the Jesuits take advantage of the retirement of their Superior General to recommit themselves to faithful theology and faithful service to the Holy See. Some readers expressed the view that such exhortations are normal, and did not reflect any criticism of the Society.

Such a benign view is untenable. A few days later, Pope Benedict XVI himself called the Jesuits to a “renewed ascetic and apostolic impulse”, stressing that:

it could prove extremely useful that the general congregation reaffirm, in the spirit of St. Ignatius, its own total adhesion to Catholic doctrine, in particular on those neuralgic points which today are strongly attacked by secular culture, as for example the relationship between Christ and religions; some aspects of the theology of liberation; and various points of sexual morality, especially as regards the indissolubility of marriage and pastoral care of homosexual persons.

Now this is nothing but a laundry list of all the things the Jesuits as a group have been repeatedly, insistently and increasingly wrong about for the past generation and more. “I heartily hope,” he stated, “that the present Congregation affirms with clarity the authentic charism of the founder so as to encourage all Jesuits to promote true and healthy Catholic doctrine.” The Pope also reminded the General Congregation of the Jesuit vow of immediate obedience to the successor of Peter.

Unfortunately, the Jesuits are an aging order, and a great many of those present at the 35th General Congregation represent precisely the problems the Pope attempted to address. Unsurprisingly, they elected one of their aging number, the 71-year-old Adolfo Nicolas who, as far as anyone can tell, has been influenced by both secularism and Asian spirituality to the point of becoming uncomfortable with the concrete and specifically Christian teachings of the Catholic Church. Indeed, in 1999 when Fr. Nicolas failed to gain the post of rector of Rome’s Gregorian University, it was widely understood that the Vatican was concerned about his inability to express Catholic doctrine in clear and unambiguous ways.

Because of his power and the color of his habit, the Superior General of the Jesuits is called “the Black Pope”. That nickname is gradually taking on another, more sinister meaning. I pray that I am wrong, and I certainly recognize the ever-present possibility of extraordinary grace. Nonetheless, speaking purely in human terms, I would not expect a change for the better anytime soon.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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