Jesuits Affirm Obedience to Pope

General Congregation Approves 5 Decrees, Declaration

ROME, MARCH 9, 2008 ( Obedience to the Pope and the magisterium of the Church is just one of the themes of the five decrees approved by the Jesuits upon concluding its 35th General Congregation.

The two-month meeting of 225 members of the Society of Jesus ended Thursday in Rome. The congregation closed the meeting with a Mass of thanksgiving at the tomb of its founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola, in the Church of the Gesù.

The congregation approved five decrees on 15 themes, and a declaration that affirms adherence to the letter Benedict XVI sent to then superior general Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach in January.

In the letter the Pope urged the congregation to reaffirm “its own total adhesion to Catholic doctrine” in areas such as interreligious dialogue, liberation theology and sexual morality.

The declaration titled “With New Fervor and Dynamism, the Society of Jesus Responds to the Call of Benedict XVI,” was approved by a large majority, reported L’Osservatore Romano.

Father Adolfo Nicolás, elected Jan. 19 to succeed Fr. Kolvenbach, 79, as superior general, said to reporters Friday that the Jesuits’ tradition of fidelity and obedience never stopped them “in their theological research or in their way of living the Christian faith.”

“At the same time,” he noted, “we understood that we need more humility because conflicts and difficulties are what make us grow.”

On the traditional obedience of the order, Father Carlo Casalone, the Jesuit superior in Italy, explained that it is always accompanied by “many commonplaces” and is interpreted “in militaristic terms.”

“In reality, obedience understood as uncritical obedience to the will of another is not a virtue,” he observed, emphasizing that in reality it is a matter of “seeking the will of God together with another person, that is, seeking the good to be done.”

Father Nicolás, 71, also touched on the question of the resignation of Father Kolvenbach, who presented his resignation for reasons of age after having led the order since 1983.

“The Holy Father was near to Father Kolvenbach in his decision to step down,” Father Nicolás said, “so I think I will also have the same support when circumstances lead me to ask to resign.”


One of the five decrees addressed the topic of obedience to the Pope and the special relationship that unites the Jesuits to the Successor of Peter.

Jesuit Father Tom Feely wrote on the Web page of the 35th Congregation: “Anyone who looks at the history of the Society will see that we have always understood our role of service in the Church in relation to the papacy.

“Therefore, the decree goes on to offer some reflections on living our relationship of obedience to the papacy today, especially with regard to our mission in the broadest sense.”

The other decrees are dedicated to missions, the Jesuit identity, working with the laity and people of various faiths and the governance of the society.

L’Osservatore Romano explained that the decrees answer the 15 questions analyzed by the General Congregation, addressing missions and the internal life of the order.

With regard to missions, the Society identified several areas where the society would focus its attention, including Africa, China, the intellectual apostolate, international houses in Rome, and migrants and refugees.

With respect to the internal life of the order, particular attention was given to vocations — especially in Europe and North America — and to the formation of priests and brothers.

Other issues that were dealt with during the congregation included youth, indigenous populations, religious fundamentalism, communication in the Internet age and ecology.

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