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Best Wishes to Robert Araujo--and to Jesuits Everywhere!
January 5, 2008
Defining Moment for the Jesuits
The meeting in Rome this month to elect a new Superior General is the most important gathering of the Society of Jesus for 25 years. It could signal new approaches to both mission and governance
On 7 August 1981 Fr Pedro Arrupe, the popular and charismatic Superior General of the Society of Jesus, suffered a stroke at Rome's Leonardo da Vinci airport as he returned from the Philippines. He was never again capable of governing the order. Unable to speak, he indicated that his American assistant, Vincent O'Keefe, should take over as Vicar General until a General Congregation could be called to elect a successor.
Then the Pope stepped in. In place of Fr O'Keefe, John Paul II simply appointed Fr Paolo Dezza as his own papal delegate/Vicar General. Fr Dezza, known to generations of Jesuits and other seminarians for a singularly tedious Latin tome on metaphysics, was nearly 80 and almost blind. He was therefore to be assisted by Fr Giuseppe Pittau, once rector of Sophia University in Tokyo and at the time provincial superior in Japan. What John Paul II hoped to gain by this is unclear. Jesuits around the globe protested, but obeyed. The surprisingly feisty Fr Dezza governed for a couple of years, and the Society continued much as it had before, until a Congregation was called for September 1983 to accept Fr Arrupe's resignation and elect the present Superior General, Peter-Hans Kolvenbach. In 1991 the Pope rather sportingly made Fr Dezza a cardinal.
Fr Kolvenbach is Dutch, but spent much of his life in the Lebanon - his beard marks the fact that he belonged to one of the Eastern rites - and before his election had moved to Rome to take charge of the Oriental Institute. Whereas Fr Arrupe had been charismatic, Fr Kolvenbach is often described as pragmatic. Fr Michael Holman, the British provincial, told me he was a conscientious administrator, which sounds faint praise but in the circumstances is not. He has helped to rebuild confidence between the papacy and the Society, whose members continue to work in education, missions, social justice and interfaith dialogue.
But his period of office, said Fr Holman, has taken the Society "to new geographical frontiers, to Albania, for example, to Kosovo, Russia and to many other places by promoting the Jesuit Refugee Service ... he has encouraged us in whatever ministry to meet the challenge of secularism and unbelief with a witness to the Gospel made credible by our witness to the poor, to use effectively the tools of technology and the media, to adopt new forms of ministry with young people and young adults".
After 25 years in office, and at the age of nearly 80, Fr Kolvenbach wants to retire and return to the Middle East. Alone among Superiors of Religious orders, the Jesuit General is elected for life, so the forthcoming General Congregation, the 35th in the Society's 468-year history, will first have to accept his resignation before choosing a successor. When I asked Fr Holman about possible Vatican influence on the voting, he diplomatically restricted himself to saying that the Prefect for the Congregation for Consecrated Life would preside at the opening Mass on 7 January and that the Pope, whom delegates are to meet in February, will be the first to be informed of the name of the new General.
There is, however, rather more to it than that. After the problems of the early 1980s, the Jesuit powers-that-be hope that the person selected will be acceptable to the Pope. It is said that a long list of some 60 names of likely candidates has already been submitted to the Vatican, just in case there are problems. And there is another issue where Pope Benedict has had an input. The Society's various provinces send in postulata, or topics they would like to be debated at the Congregation. Several provinces made the suggestion that in future the General should retire, perhaps at 80. Discussion on this, which would be a major change to the Society's Constitution, has been vetoed by the Holy See. Benedict XVI, a Rome-based Jesuit suggested to me, was alarmed by the thought that if the "black pope" was obliged to retire at 80, people might start to expect the same of the "white" one.
[To read the rest, click here.]
From Mirror of Justice posted 2008-01-04.