What lies at the heart of such tensions is the Jesuit tendency to combine
loyalty with independence of mind. Father Arrupe, for example, had
enthusiastically embraced liberation theology – the “preferential option for
the poor” widely adopted by the Latin American church in the 1970s – but
back in Rome John Paul and his enforcer, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later
Pope Benedict XVI, regarded this approach with enormous suspicion, seeing it
as tainted with Marxism. Parachuting in Father Dezza was just one part of a
campaign to show the Jesuits who was in charge.
This unhappy episode is so recent that it makes Pope Francis’s election all
the more remarkable. The Jesuits have often appeared to operate as a church
within a church, and, occasionally, as an intellectually arrogant one at
that. In Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, still popular to this day, they have
their own manual, to supplement the Gospels. Like all other religious
orders, they operate outside the formal diocesan structures that otherwise
bind the 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide to the Vatican, but the Jesuits are
distinctive in having a flexible devolved model that allows them to respond
to regional differences and circumstances. That is the antithesis of the
papacy’s claim to govern all Catholics, wherever they are, by the same rules.
And then the Jesuits also have the temerity to refer (admittedly colloquially)
to their leader, chosen by a democratic vote of all members, as “the black
pope”. It is a description that contrasts their traditional simple black
cassock with the pope’s white robes.
Jesuits, then, are both at the very heart of the system and one step removed
from it. That independence may have helped Cardinal Bergoglio stand out in
the Sistine Chapel. He was, after all, the only Jesuit there. If you need a
new broom to sort out warring bureaucrats in the Curia (as most recently
revealed by the Vatileaks scandal), who better than someone from the
insider/outsider Society of Jesus? If you need someone sufficiently removed
from the fray to take a long, hard look at where the Church has been getting
it wrong of late (notably over the paedophile priests scandal), who better
than a member of a religious order famed for its cool intelligence and
Well yes, but there is another pitfall in such analysis. It shouldn’t be
assumed that all those with the letters SJ (Society of Jesus) after their
name are cut from the same cloth. What is striking about Loyola’s legacy –
which the 20,000 Jesuits globally gather periodically in General
Congregation to consider – is that it can be interpreted in almost as many
ways as there are vibrant individuals who subscribe to it. It has been a
weather vane for developments in the wider church.
In broad terms, Loyola began by launching a reform movement in Europe in the
wake of the Reformation that harassed heretics. Then he evolved into
inspiring a missionary enterprise around the world, following in the
footsteps of another Jesuit luminary, Francis Xavier, who travelled to India
and Japan, and whose memory is as celebrated in Cardinal Bergoglio’s choice
of papal name as Francis of Assisi.
Where that global mission was originally in league with the colonial powers,
the Jesuits thereafter “went native”. Pope Francis’s mission in the slums of
Buenos Aires, travelling on buses, washing the feet of lepers, and eschewing
all other symbols of power and authority, is just the latest interpretation
of Loyola’s imperative to live out the faith with vigour.
If you then move on to considering noted recent Jesuits, the Society of Jesus
is so wide-ranging that the North American province was capable of including
Daniel Berrigan, the US peace activist jailed in 1970 for burning Vietnam
draft cards; John McLaughlin, known as “Nixon’s priest” for his work as an
apologist for the Republican president; and Robert Drinan, who sat as a
Democrat member of the House of Representatives.
That same plurality can be seen today in the 200 members of the British
province. It manages collectively to reconcile custodianship of London’s
smartest Catholic parish church (Farm Street in Mayfair, beloved of
celebrity weddings and high-profile conversions), trusteeship of Stonyhurst
boarding school, involvement in such radical groups as Jesuit Refugee
Action, and one member who works as a doctor with homeless people.
So what is it that binds them all together – beyond history and reading the
Spiritual Exercises? At its simplest, a radical social conscience that is
bigger than either Left or Right in politics, or traditional and liberal
labels in Catholicism, combined with unyielding moral postures. Pope Francis
will not be setting about dismantling the Church’s teaching on sexuality –
that is not the Jesuit way. He will uphold the ideals, but concentrate on
dealing with the realities of life.
There can be no doubting that Jorge Mario Bergoglio is steeped in Jesuit
spirituality. He joined the Society at the age of 21. His background as a
chemist is shared with many other Jesuits, who are bright enough to balance
what are often seen as the poles of religion and science. The future pope’s
training stretched over 11 years before his ordination as a priest –
compared to the standard six for diocesan vocations – after which he taught
theology at the Jesuit faculty in San Miguel, and later served as rector
there. In between, he spent seven tough years as Jesuit Provincial – the
senior Jesuit – in Argentina.
These were unhappy times – for him, the Society and Argentina at large. He
carried out a root-and-branch reform of its activities, which may count in
the eyes of the cardinal-electors as good preparation for the challenge he
now faces with the Vatican curia, but which still sticks in the throat of
many of his fellow Jesuits in the province.
His leadership coincided with the reign of terror of the military junta and
its flagrant abuse of human rights. Accusations were made subsequently that
as provincial, Pope Francis was not as outspoken as he could have been in
condemning the “disappearances” of the regime’s critics, and that he failed
adequately to defend two Jesuit priests arrested and tortured by the junta.
In El Jesuita he vehemently rejects all these charges, but there is a
lingering sense that there may have been a period of estrangement between
the former provincial and his fellow Jesuits once he stood down. Indeed, on
the website of the archdiocese of Buenos Aires – to which he was appointed
an assistant bishop in 1992, and head in 1998 – there was for many years no
mention at all that he was even a Jesuit, or of his past role as provincial.
Some reports say that he was closer for a time to Communion and Liberation –
best known as a European lay movement, most influential in Italy, where its
enthusiastic backing of social action was later tainted by being associated
with Right-wing politicians, including Silvio Berlusconi.
Whatever the truth of such rumours, his record as archbishop – “Father Jorge”,
to the poor, marginalised and dispossessed whose cause he promoted
tirelessly – was Jesuitical in the best sense of the world. His notion of
Christian liberation is not simply about being free from sin, but also from
poverty and injustice. Such sentiments are rooted broadly in Catholic social
teaching, but it is the unique mixture of contemplation and activity that is
the hallmark of the Spiritual Exercises, and which now appears set to define
the reign of Pope Francis I SJ.
a new broom sweeps into the Vatican – Telegraph.co.uk
Top Stories – Google News