This week, we’ve looked at how certain diseased elements within the Catholic Church: looking specifically at parts of the American Catholic Church and at the Jesuits. What’s most striking about this latter example is that the Jesuits, the religious order most openly in dissent from Rome, is also the religious order which takes a special fourth vow. In addition to the normal vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, the Jesuits take a special vow of loyalty to the pope. And this has been one of the primary ways in which Pope Benedict XVI has reached out to the Jesuits to guide them back into fuller orthodoxy.
We’ve seen this numerous times. For example, in 2006, early in his pontificate, Pope Benedict reached out to them by reminding them both of their special vow of obedience, and of the example of their founder, St. Ignatius Loyola, a passionately orthodox Catholic. In the same speech, Benedict made clear the need for the Jesuits to turn their attention towards fighting the major threats facing the Church today — “scientism, positivism, and materialism.” Of course, to combat these heresies without, the Society of Jesus must also confront them within. So Benedict, rather than simply scolding the Jesuits for their failure to live up to their oaths, lays out something of a positive direction – how it is that he believes the Order should move forward. Additionally, the pope prayed for the Virgin Mary’s intercession to help guide the Jesuits.
In 2008, when the Jesuits met for their 35th General Convention, Pope Benedict called them to a “renewed ascetic and apostolic impulse,” and suggested that:
… it could prove extremely useful that the general congregation reaffirm, in the spirit of St. Ignatius, its own total adhesion to Catholic doctrine, in particular on those neuralgic points which today are strongly attacked by secular culture, as for example the relationship between Christ and religions; some aspects of the theology of liberation; and various points of sexual morality, especially as regards the indissolubility of marriage and the pastoral care of homosexual persons.
He additionally reminded them of their oath of loyalty again, and its importance in preaching the Gospel message faithfully to a society “distracted by many discordant voices.” Once again, the pope is laying out the stakes: the world is hurting from a countless number of dissident voices pulling people in myriad and destructive directions. The Jesuits can either be one of the greatest forces for good, in preserving orthodoxy and helping guide people in the right direction, or they can consign themselves to becoming just another dissident, destructive influence.
A month later, the Pope continued in the same vein: once again, he reminded them of the goals of the Order’s founders, of the loyalty of Loyola in particular, and particularly of their special vow of obedience. After calling them once more towards greater loyalty, the pope said something somewhat surprising: “I well understand that this is a particularly delicate and troublesome issue for you and for many of your colleagues.” It’s a pretty blunt (and extremely public) acknowledgment that the Jesuits as presently constituted are not sufficiently orthodox. He continued:
“Precisely for this reason I have invited you [here] and I invite you to reflect on how to find the fullest sense of your ‘fourth vow’ of obedience to the successor of Peter that is so characteristic of you, it implies not only the readiness to be sent in mission to far away lands, but also– in the most genuine Ignatian spirit of ‘sensing with the Church and in the Church’ – to ‘love and serve’ the Vicar of Christ on earth with that ‘affective and effective’ devotion which must make of you valuable and irreplaceable cooperators in his service to the Universal Church.”
And while commending the Jesuits for the good in the do in service to the poor, etc., the Pope emphasized that:
“As you work as members of an apostolic body you have to also remain attentive that your works and institutions always maintain a clear and explicit identity so that the goal of your apostolic activity is neither ambiguous nor obscure and so that many others might share your ideals and might effectively and enthusiastically join with you, collaborating in your vow of service to God and to human beings.”
So it seems that the Pope’s primary outreach to the Jesuits has consisted of the following:
- Praying for them, and calling on the saints and the Virgin Mary to do the same.
- Reminding them of their oath of loyalty to himself. After all, even if they disagree on certain issues, an honorable man will respect a vow he has taken in as far as conscience will allow.
- Reminding them of the example of the early Jesuits, especially St. Ignatius Loyola.
- Emphasizing the import of orthodoxy – that is, that it is orthodoxy that is so badly needed amongst people right now.
- Emphasizing the unique role that the Jesuits can play — that is, that there are lots of people and places to which only the Jesuits have access. The Society of Jesus has been particularly successful in its outreach to the poor, for example. This last point is important – it explains, for example, why the pope doesn’t just suppress the Order. They do a lot of good, good which is unfortunately tainted by their dissident views. The capacity for them to do even greater good shows both why the pope suffers their heresies (for now), and why it’s all the more important to defeat these dissident voices within the Society.