From Desmond O'Grady in Rome AN UNEXPECTED boost for the man chosen by the Pope to take temporary control of the Jesuits in his efforts to gain acceptance came last week when students at the Gesu in Rome gave him a standing ovation at his first visit.
Fr Paolo Dezza, 79, went to the Gesu, the Jesuits' international centre for theological students, in the first of a series of visits to Jesuit institutions in Rome.
Fr Dezza, accompanied by Fr Giuseppe Pittau who John Paul II appointed as his assistant. concelebrated Mass and later fielded questions from approximately 60 Jesuit scholastics.
According to a Jesuit source, during the homily Fr Dezza said that for 60 years he had been a Jesuit at the service of the Lord. the Church and the Vicar of Christ and that the scholastics were all challenged to the same service.
The same source said Fr Dezza's answer to a student's query as to why he had been John Paul's choice as Vicar was simply "The Holy Father knows and trusts me".
His responses and Fr Pittati's created such a good impression that they received a standing ovation from all but two students who are from Latin America.
Fr Dezza has full powers over the order from the Pope but must build up support among Jesuits. He is in a difficult situation for, if he does not make. substantial changes, his appointment will seem an unnecessary break with tradition. But if he does make them he can arouse opposition from those attached to the policies and person of the elected superior Father Pedro Arrupe.
It has been confirmed that a meeting of all Jesuit provincials is to be held in Rome on February 24.
If Fr Dezza wants to make changes he has to work through the Jesuit Provincials or regional leaders. But presumably the Provincials, who are appointed by the Superior General from three names submitted from the Jesuit provinces, are committed to the Arrupe line.
If Pope John Paul were satisfied with this, he would have allowed convocation of the General Congregation to elect Fr Arrupe's successor when the Spaniard submitted his resignation last year.
Or, on Fr Arrupe falling ill, Pope John Paul could have entrusted his Vicar, Fr Vincent O'Keefe, with preparation of the General Congregation.
Instead he appointed Fr Dezza to bring the Jesuits to the point where the Pope is prepared to convoke a General Congregation.
Vatican sources say the reasoning behind this is that Jesuit leadership has not only been lax in enforcing discipline but has encouraged disaffection. the flaunting or the criticism of the institutional Church.
Obviously Fr Dezza has to take the pulse of the Provincials before any decision about the next General Congregation.
At the homily during his Mass at the Jesuit Curia when he began to function as the Pope's delegate, he, said the Congregation would not be called until the new code of Canon Law is promulgated. This is not expected before Pentecost next year, if then. He told the Curia: The difficulty of the delay in the General Congregation remains. Reflecting on this delay recently, it seemed to me that even if it is not without difficulty, it is not without usefulness. In these days, we have seen reunited in Rome for the final time the Commission for the Revision of the Code of Canon Law.
"In conformity with the observations approved in the course of that meeting, the text that was prepared must be looked over. in order to be presented in the near future to the Holy Father, who will be expected to examine it. approve it and promulgate it. It is true that there are not foreseen in the new code norms which will require great changes in our legal action, but there could be norms which offers us the possibility of opportune adaptations. the decision on which awaits the general congregation."
Time is on Fr Dezza's side as the Congregation is unlikely to assemble for about a year after its convocation. it is unlikely to begin before 1983.
By that time, many Provincials will have completed their three year terms which began under Fr Arrupe and their successors will have been appointed by Fr Dezza.
• Fr Jean-Yves Calvez, General Assistant of the Society of Jesus has denied a report in the Catholic Her that he had said the appointrAnt of Fr Dezza implied a "radical change in the Jesuit line and programme."
He wishes it to be known that he did not make the statement or meet any press correspondents in the period in question.