The Pope's personal delegate, put in to control the Jesuits, has been the subject of wide-ranging speculation. Fr Peter Hackett SJ gives a view of the affair by an insider.
THE DISSATISFACTION expressed by recent Popes with the conduct of the Society of Jesus is easy to document, less easy to interpret. In the fifties, when smoking was for many Jesuits the expression of a machismo needed to offset emasculate piety, and when the press headlined the Pope's wish that members of the society should not smoke, clever men were already finding deep meanings. A not untypical comment was that the General. having failed himself to persuade the society, had briefed the Holy Father to act on his behalf. Whatever the truth, it was a prophetic case of no smoke with fire. fire.
The present intervention by Pope John Paul II is better interpreted by recalling two others: that associated with the 32nd General Congregation; and that communicated by Fr Arrupe to the society in 1979.
When the 32nd General Congregation (1974-5), in accordance with the instructions of the 31st and ecclesiastical documents then current, introduced the discussion whether brothers
might be admitted to full profession, it tried to confirm that such discussion was acceptable to the Holy See. The papal intervention was dramatic and humiliating. No comment was forthcoming until the matter had almost come to vote. It was given in a personal audience with Fr Arrupe as a devastating personal rebuke.
Clever men were soon at work, some commenting on the naivety of the fathers of the congregation in misinterpreting Roman silence. others on a supposed personal antipathy between Pope Paul VI and Fr Arrupe, some on the sensitivity of the Holy See to any depreciation of clerical dignity, others on the ability of conservative factions within the Society to use papal authority as a means of influencing government.
That same Congregation was remarkable, too. for a new accent on religious life in the Society of Jesus: it brought into sharper
Focus certain values, and tidied some imperfect legislation. It envisaged an order more reflectively discerning in its apostolic work, more precisely committed to the promotion of faith and justice. more aware of the human dimension in community life. closer, it believed, to the spirit of Vatican 11, and the interpretative Perfeetae Caritatis. The letters accepting and allowing promulgation of its decrees were not over enthusiastic about new insights.
In October 1979, Fr Arrupe asked the whole Society of Jesus to examine its conscience on four
matters brought to his attention by the Holy See: the danger of secularism: the austerity and discipline implicit in religious life: fidelity to the magisterium: and the priestly character of the apostolate.
The general headings and their general import were clear enough. The precise drift was more difficult to determine. Had the reflective Jesuit been able. as some commentators seemed able, to annotate the headings with precise instances ('it is known that the Holy Father is worried about . . ..) interpretation might have been easier. In fact the reflective Jesuit was forced to fall back on hints contained in many other documents all of which, though precise enough in the object of their strictures, lacked clear reference to actual cases of particular error.
It was difficult, therefore, not to conclude that the dissatisfaction expressed by the Holy Father was not so much at the activities of certain Jesuits (though such activities could well be symptomatic) as at the developing character of the society. The cliches of
matrimonial breakdown seem not inappropriate ('you are no longer the same person') though the language of the Holy See is more often that of paternity.
If this be true the remedies are difficult. A conversion of heart is being sought, a conversion that proceeds from convictions formed before Christ in prayer, a conversion that supposes a complementary loving tolerance. Affection, certainly, is always the context of the Holy See's criticism.
The more current interventions have been more direct: the refusal to allow Fr Arrupe to resign; the appointment of Fr Dezza and Fr Pittau as the Pope's personal delegates. The only certain clues that we have to the interpretation of these events are the actions themselves, the papal letter of appointment and the homily of Fr Dezza on the occasion of his first Mass as Delegate.
Pope John Paul's unusual action in appointing a personal delegate seems to recall the society to an awareness of the Pope's presence to and participation in all its decisions as a perpetual preoccupation. His letter seems to suggest that, when that preoccupation is assured, the society is unlikely to go far astray in fidelity to its charisma.
Fr Dezza's homily reflects that attitude introducing, by its reference to the new code of canon law, one further nuance.
The Society of Jesus, far from leading the Church through its own deliberative General Con
gregations, must be content to he led, in as much as it must take account of the new code in the next congregation. The preparation of this is to be leisurely, even protracted. It should give time for that reflective change of heart that the Popes' interventions seem to suggest.
To this observer, then, doctrinal indiscretion, political involvement and wayward versions of religious life are symptoms only. The ground of the society's relationship with the Holy See is little affected by liberation theology, occasional denials of standard doctrines, sporadic protests, and some unqualified commitment to secular purpose, except in so far as these manifest a deeper disloyalty, an unacceptable attitude to papal authority and the structure of the Church, an inauthentic interpretation of religious life. Authentic vision, however, comes from within as well as from without. is a process rather than an achievement. No doubt the meeting of Provincials called for February will .further that process.