The Jesuit sign on the ceiling, San Fedele church, Milan, Italy. The abbreviation of Jesus Christ in form “IHS” adopted by the order of Jesuits or Society of Jesus (Societas Iesu).

A central question for understanding what has happened to our Church must be the question of the Jesuit order. What happened to the Jesuits?” —Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, 78, in a conversation during a meeting we had in September

The mission of the Society (of Jesus) today is participation in the total evangelizing mission of the Church, which aims at the realization of the Kingdom of God in the whole of human society, not only in the life to come but also in this life… and the promotion of the justice desired by God.” —The Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, Part VII, The Mission and Ministries of the Society, Chapter 1, The Mission of the Society Today, Article 1, published in 1995 in Rome at the Curia of the Society of Jesus (link)

The German theologian Karl Rahner was able to exhort his fellow Jesuits: ‘You must remain loyal to the papacy in theology and in practice, because that is part of your heritage to a special degree, but because the actual form of the papacy remains subject, in the future too, to an historical process of change, your theology and ecclesiastical law has above all to serve the papacy as it will be in the future.’ See the move? Our current Jesuits are all loyal to the papacy, but to the future papacy—that of Pope Chelsea XII, perhaps—and their support for contraception, gay sex, and divorce proceeds from humble obedience to this conveniently protean pontiff.—American Jesuit Fr. Paul Shaughnessy, Are the Jesuits Catholic? in the Weekly Standard, June 3, 2002 — at a time when Pope John Paul II was still Pope (link)

In a typical American event, the turning point was the 1967 Land O’Lakes conference committing Catholic universities to academic freedom and establishing the principle of separate incorporation, in which lay trustees, not the religious order, owned the institution. Next, Jesuit houses of formation moved to their university campuses; novices went from two years of isolation to experiments in Latin America.—Jesuit Fr. Raymond A. Schroth, literary editor of America and author of Bob Drinan: The Controversial Life of the First Catholic Priest Elected to Congress, in the articleIn 200 years, Jesuit fear gives way to hope, National Catholic Reporter, December 5, 2014 (link)

Almost overnight the pope’s light infantry became a battalion in which every man decided for himself which war he was fighting. The result was an institutional nightmare: confusion and cowardice at the top; despair, rage, and disillusionment in the ranks. American Jesuits went from 8,400 members in 1965 to 3,500 today [in the year 2002]. Entering novices declined from a peak one-year total of 409 to a low of 38… Roughly half of the Society under the age of fifty shuffles on the borderline between declared and undeclared gayness. In 1999 the American Jesuits decided to give priority to the recruitment of gays (under the rubric of “men comfortable with their sexuality”), and the majority of American formatores, Jesuits in charge of training, are homosexual as well.” —American Jesuit Fr. Paul Shaughnessy, in the same June 3, 2002 article cited above (link)

I define as corrupt, in a sociological sense, any institution that has lost the capacity to mend itself on its own initiative and by its own resources.—the same Fr. Paul Shaughnessy, S.J., speaking of his own Jesuit order, in an article for the website, published in the year 2000 (link)

Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. —Deuteronomy, 8:2-3. In Matthew 4:4 and Luke 4:4 (yes, they are both 4:4). Jesus cites these words when the devil tempts him on the mountain to turn stones into bread in order to show that he is really the Son of God. The temptation is to limit the human horizon (and the work of the Son of God in this world) to material reality. Jesus recognized that the devil was tempting him to give a good thing (physical bread) but not the best thing (spiritual bread), which bestows eternal life

The Jesuits, Part #2

I would like in the next Letters to attempt a brief sketch of the troubled relations between the Jesuit order and four recent Popes: Pope Paul VI (1963-1978), Pope John Paul I (1978), Pope John Paul II (1978-2005) and Pope Benedict XVI (2005-2013).

During these 50 years from 1963 to 2013, these four Popes called on the Jesuits to be loyal to their great evangelizing mission: to bring the light and life of Christ to men.

But the Jesuits were restive under the admonitions of these pontiffs.

Deeply influenced by at least two centuries of a “new humanism,attracted by the task of conforming the Christian faith to the assertions of modern science, influenced by the speculations of Jesuits like Fr. Teilhard de Chardin and Fr. Karl Rahner, many Jesuits tended increasingly to regard these Popes, and their curias, as attached (regrettably) to a set of myths about Christ and his “Good News which (regrettably) prevented the Catholic Church, and the Jesuit order as the vanguard movement in the Church, from leading humanity into an era of social and political justice that would be endlessly postponed if the shackles of mysticism were not broken.

This “new course” of the Jesuits was a return, once again, in a new form, of the vision of the Calabrian abbot Joachim of Fiore (1135-1202): an “age of the Holy Spirit within history, not after history — a vision studied at length by the great French Jesuit Fr. (and later Cardinal) Henri de Lubac in his massive but unfinished work La Postérité spirituelle de Joachim de Flore. (See on this question the interesting 2015 dissertation by Patrick Gardner, link)

So it came to pass that, as when the devil tempted Christ 2,000 years ago, the fundamental question was again posed: Is the light and life of men in this physical world (that is, metaphorically, in bread), or in a realm that infinitely transcends this passing world of sight and sense (that is, literally, in the Logos of God)?

While the Jesuits of prior centuries, beginning with their founder, St. Ignatius, had won eternal glory for their affirmation that the life of men is finally in the transcendent realm, in that Kingdom of God which is beyond our sight — but not for that any less real — many Jesuits of our time, through various arguments which have seemed persuasive to them, increasingly concluded that they needed to engage the injustices of this life, this world, and to bring to humans the physical bread made of wheat, not the metaphysical bread consecrated and mystically transformed into the life-giving body of the Lord Jesus Christ.

These modern Jesuits had their reasons, certainly.

But the Popes of Rome told them, again and again, that they were in grave danger — in danger of erring.

That they were in danger of being deceived.

For example, St. Pope Paul VI, in 1966, addressing the Jesuit order in the second session of their 31st General Congregation, which met in 1965 and in 1966, and elected Fr. Pedro Arrupe as the order’s new Superior General, said he saw dangers in some of the changes being proposed in the Society of Jesus.

The Jesuits in the mid-1960s had carried out a survey of their 35,000 members, and had discovered that thousands of Jesuits, in that time of ferment and confusion just at the end of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), wished for profound changes in the order’s everyday spiritual disciplines and also in its overall purpose and vision.

So St. Paul VI said this:

“Do you, sons of St. Ignatius, soldiers of the Society of Jesus, want even today and tomorrow and always to be what you were from your beginnings right up to today, for the service of the Catholic Church and of this Apostolic See?

“There would be no reason for asking this question had not certain reports and rumors come to our attention about your Society, just as about other religious families as well, which—and We cannot remain silent on this—have caused us amazement and in some cases, sorrow.

“What strange and evil suggestions have caused a doubt to arise in certain parts of your widespread Society whether it should continue to be the Society conceived and founded by that holy man, and built on very wise and very firm norms?

“The tradition of several centuries ripened by most careful experience and confirmed by authoritative approvals has shaped the Society for the glory of God, the defense of the Church and the admiration of men.

“In the minds of some of your members, has the opinion really prevailed to the effect that all human things, which are generated in time and inexorably used up in time, are subject to an absolute law of history as though in Catholicism there were no charism of permanent truth and of invincible stability?

“This rock of the Apostolic See is the symbol and foundation of this charism.

“Did it appear to the apostolic ardor which animates the whole Society that your activities could be made more effective by renouncing many praiseworthy customs pertaining to spiritual, ascetical and disciplinary matters, as though they no longer helped but rather impeded you in expressing your pastoral zeal more freely and with more personal involvement?

“And so it seemed that the austere and manly obedience which had always characterized your Society, which made its structure evangelical, exemplary and very strong, should be relaxed as though opposed to the human person and an obstacle to alacrity of action.

“This is to forget what Christ, the Church, and your own school of spirituality have taught in so outstanding a way about this virtue.

“And so there might have been someone who judged that it was no longer necessary to impose spiritual practices on his own soul, that is, the assiduous and intense practice of prayer, a humble and fervent discipline of the interior life, examination of conscience, intimate conversation with Christ, as though the exterior action were enough to keep the soul wise, strong and pure, and as though such activity could achieve by itself a union of the mind with God. It would be as though this abundance of spiritual resources were fitting only for the monk and not rather the indispensable armor for the soldier of Christ.

“Perhaps some have been deceived into thinking that in order to spread the Gospel of Christ they must take on the ways of the world, its manner of thinking and acting, and its worldly view of life. On the basis of naturalistic norms they judged the customs of this age and thus forgot that the rightful and apostolic approach of the herald of Christ to men, who brings God’s message to men, cannot be such an assimilation as to make the salt lose its tang and the apostle his own virtue.

Still, despite these passionate calls of St. Paul VI, at the very summit of the Jesuit order, the order’s leaders came to believe, it would appear, that they had understood the call of God more clearly than had Pope Paul VI.

And the same thing occurred with each of Paul’s successors.

So the long contention, the 50-year confrontation between two views of human existence and the meaning of human life — two views of the Christian faith — continued right through this past half century, coming to an end only in 2013.

In 2013, six and half years ago, a Jesuit, for the first time in history, came to the throne of Peter: Pope Francis.

Thus, the relationship between the Jesuit order and the Pope of Rome has been different under Francis than under the four prior pontificates.

Each of these four Popes prior to Francis struggled mightily with the Jesuit order. Francis has not so struggled.


Each of the four previous Popes found it difficult to obtain the obedience of the Jesuits, sometimes facing outright disobedience, almost always facing hidden disobedience.

Since the Jesuits take a special 4th vow of obedience to the Pope in what regards his will for their work in the missions, such disobedience may seem at first glance surprising.

The situation can perhaps be explained by postulating that the leaders of the Jesuit order, and many — arguably, over time, a majority — of the Jesuits, came to an inner conviction that their vision for the Church and the order was more compelling than the Pope’s vision for the Church and the order.

That is, the Jesuits came to believe that their vision of their Christian witness for social justice was more in harmony with the will of Christ and the vision of St. Ignatius than was the vision of the Popes to whom they had, admittedly, given a special “fourth vow” of obedience.

So, paradoxically, in the very act of disobeying the requests and commands of these four Popes, many Jesuits (seemingly) were persuaded that they were actually serving the true interest of Christ and the Church.

The perversion, it seems, was this: that disobedience came to be seen and justified as a more profound obedience.

In this way, it seems, the Jesuits could say — with a clear conscience? — that, when they were directly disobeying the Pope, they were still being loyal to him(!).

(A Vatican official, in different circumstances, once told me that he would make slight changes in the speeches of Pope Benedict XVI, to soften them a bit, to make the speeches “better,” in order “to save him (Benedict) from himself” — so the official put it.)

This explains the quotation cited above from Fr. Karl Rahner, who urged his fellow Jesuits to serve “the papacy as it will be in the future.”

The Jesuits of the past half century were doing what they believed each of these four Popes should have been ordering them to do, even when the four Popes were ordering and pleading with them to do precisely the opposite…

It is a riveting story, filled with passion, much courage, but it is ultimately the story of a betrayal delivered with… the gentleness of a kiss.

Because what this meant, of course, was that the Jesuits were arrogating to themselves the authority and prophetic role always in past Church history seen as the prerogative of the Pope of Rome.

To recapitulate: from 1963 to 2013, the relationship between the Jesuit order and the Popes of Rome passed through five decades of tension and turmoil.

This ended in 2013 when, for the first time in history, a Jesuit was elected to the See of Peter.

And under this present Jesuit Pope, Francis, the vision of the Jesuit mission that four previous Popes had found problematic — sometimes even pleading with the Jesuits not to follow it, as it seemed to all four Popes to contradict on essential points the mission of the Catholic Church and faith — in the end became papal policy, because this vision was woven into the very fiber of this Jesuit Pope’s soul.

And so the Jesuits, the leading order of the longest-living human institution, have over the past 50 years come to reject a central guiding principle of the institution they had sworn to defend — a central guiding principle of the teaching of Scripture and of Jesus himself, expressed during his temptation in the desert: that “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”


The Jesuits and Pope Paul VI

The Jesuits, according to the statutes of their order, come together in Rome at approximately 10-year interviews to hold General Congregations.

At these General Congregations, the Jesuits conduct necessary business to govern their global order, and they listen to the urgings of the Pope of the time, who addresses all the Jesuits in a special discourse.

The order of these General Congregations over the past 56 years has been as follows:

Under Pope Paul VI (1963-1978):

(1) 31st General Congregation — in two sessions, May 7 – July 15, 1965 and September 8 – Nov. 17, 1966

(2) 32nd General Congregation — Dec. 2, 1974 – March 2, 1975

Under Pope John Paul I (1978)

The brief 33-day pontificate of Pope (1978) John Paul I lasted from August 26 to September 28, 1978, the day he died. There was no Jesuit General Congregation, but he did prepare an address to the Jesuits that he did not live to read.

Under Pope John Paul II (1978-2005):

(3) 33rd General Congregation — September 1 – October 25, 1983

(4) 34th General Congregation — January 5 – March 22, 1995

Under Pope Benedict XVI (2005-2013 resigned)

(5) 35th General Congregation, January 7 – March 6, 2008

Under Pope Francis (2013-present)

(6) 36th General Congregation — October 2 – November 12, 2016

The 31st General Congregation, 1965-66

The 31st General Congregation of the Society of Jesus was the first in Jesuit history to meet over two independent sessions, meeting first from May 7, 1965 until July 15, 1965, and then again from September 8, 1966 until November 17, 1966. The delegates in attendance (224 in all) represented roughly 36,000 of their Jesuit brethren during the 141 days the Congregation was in session.

The Congregation took place following the death of Father Jean-Baptist Janssens, on October 5, 1964, the 27th Superior General of the Society of Jesus. As his successor, the delegates of the 31st congregation elected Father Pedro Arrupe, making him the Jesuits’ first Superior General from the Basque region of Spain since the order’s first general, Ignatius of Loyola. (At the time of his election, Arrupe was the provincial of the Japanese province.) Arrupe would serve until the 33rd General Congregation of the Society of Jesus accepted his resignation on September 3, 1983.

By later standards the actions of that body seem moderate, even conservative.

However, even then Pope Paul VI called the Jesuits’ attention to certain reports about the Society which caused him “amazement” and “sorrow.”

Reminding the Jesuits of their particular fidelity to the papacy, he asked rhetorically whether there was any longer any “charism of permanent truth and invincible stability.”

He warned against a decline in the spirit of obedience and the adoption of worldly ways.

So, in these two speeches, we see the first signs of the conflict which will ripen in the succeeding years.

1st Speech: Paul VI to the Jesuit Order, May 7, 1965 (link)

2nd Speech, Paul VI to the Jesuit Order, November 16, 1966 (link)

(to be continued)



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