CONJECTURE AND CONTROVERSY
FROM ALAN McELWAIN ROME—Pope Paul's speech last week to the Society of Jesus has caused more comment, conjecture and controversy—not to say misunderstanding and puzzlement to the experts — than any other during his three-year pontificate. The Pope sternly warned the Jesuits against doing anything that would undermine their traditions as the Church's front-line troops. He not unnaturally emphasised the need for a continuation of their unfailing obedience both to Church and Pope.
He obviously addressed himself in the first place to progressives, who, during the General Congregation just ended in Rome, had advocated unprecedented alterations to the entire structure of the 36,000-member Order.
These included doing away with present distinctions or "grades" of members of the society. There is, for instance, an "elite" corps of priests which, in addition to taking the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, take a fourth "solemn" vow which is peculiar to the Society of Jesus—to go wherever the Pope sends them, unquestioningly, at any time.
St. Ignatius, their founder, laid down that the "four vow" men were to be the "heart" of the society and only these men could be eligible for election as Superior-General, provincials and the like. Some Jesuits at the General Congregation wanted this sort of "class distinction" eliminated following a lead given by the Ecumenical Council, and for everyone to be on the same level.
More Democratic Bodies
After a debate, the General Congregation referred the question to a special commission, which is to report within three years.
Decentralisation of the present highly-centralised administration, vested in the Superior-General and his curia of personal assistants, representing Jesuit provinces throughout the world, was also proposed. The idea was that the elections of administrators, not only on the curia but also provincial and other regional bodies, should be more "democratic".
There were Jesuits, too, who advocated modification of the present rules on prayer which require members to do an hour of mental prayer and two examinations of conscience daily. Those who suggested changes did not want to minimise the power of prayer. They suggested modifications in what they called the too-formalistic regulations about prayer.
Other members apparently suggested that instead of displaying so much "outward" obedience to their Order, Church and Pope, they should cultivate more "inward" obedience, meaning to their own consciences. This would permit them to interpret for themselves doctrines and regulations and at least modify some spiritual, ascetic and disciplinary practices which have marked Jesuit life for centuries.
Pope Paul, in admonishing the Jesuits, referred to "information and rumours" which had reached him, and to "strange and sinister suggestions which have sprung from some corners of your vast society". Obviously, what he meant was that people around him had taken the trouble to hint that odd things were taking Continued on Page 3
CONTROVERSY OVER SPEECH
place in the Jesuit congregation's secret sessions. In view of the line being taken by some delegates and the free and frank discussion on proposals, it would not be difficult for the Pope's "informers" to build up an atmosphere and suggest that the Jesuits were out to weaken their traditional structure.
The Pope would, above all, fear any breakdown in obedience or any decentralisation that would not only affect the historical Papal-Jesuit liaison but also set a bad example to other religious orders, now "updating" themselves in accordance with Vatican Council wishes, and for the Church and Catholics in general.
It is now plain that what Pope Paul was saying was not confined to the Jesuits. He was using the society as a springboard to restress to the entire Church his repeated warnings against, to him and others, an alarming tendency in some quarters to push the Church into new reforms and concepts too far and too fast. He is asking the Jesuits to help him put the brake on this.
"RENEWAL" In other words, while the Pope is constantly stressing the need for a "new sense of renewal" in the Church, he is just as constantly afraid about whether renewal is being properly approached, especially by so-called "extremists".
It is worth noting that on the same day that he addressed the Jesuits, Pope Paul made another speech, stressing the need for going ahead with renewal, urging all to be "active workers in the Church" — and then warning against temptations to adopt "novelties" or to put too liberal an interpretation on Council decrees or methods for implementing them.
"We cannot demolish the Church of yesterday to build the new Church of today", he said. "You cannot attack the old doctrines in order to impose new personal and arbitrary conceptions of what is needed." The echo of all this ran through his speech to the Jesu its.
"THE HERITAGE" Previously, he had made similar points in addressing theologians in Rome, when he charged them to maintain intact "the heritage of doctrine that the Church has kept immutable in time".
He made them again through the head of the doctrinal congregation, Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani, who in a letter to the bishops last September. "deplored dangerous abuses attacking the very foundation of the Church's doctrine", and alerted them to the "strange, audacious opinions arising here and there which are more than slightly disturbing the souls of many of the faithful".
Jesuits here were shocked that the Pope referred to "rumours" and the rest as the reason for his speaking to them as he did last week. Apart from the oddity of using "rumours" as the basis for a long, important speech, the Jesuits point out that he could easily have cleared up the matter by summoning the Superior-General Fr. Pedro Arrupe.
BUILDING A MOOD?
As it was, Pope Paul, having asked a series of accusatory question about the society, answered them himself—and in favour of the Jesuits. He told them the conclusion reached by the General Congregation had "dispersed most of the clouds obscuring the sky"; that they had decided to remain faithful to their fundamental constitution, without forsaking their tradition; that they "did not inflict any wound on the sacred laws" that made them Jesuits. But rather, had tried to remedy the wear and tear these had suffered through the passing of time and to strengthen them for any trial to which the future might subject them,
"We continue to have faith in you", the Pope assured the Jesuits.
In Rome, it is widely accepted that in his various "too far and too fast" post-conciliar warnings, climaxed so startlingly in his address to the Jesuits, Pope Paul is building up a "mood" or atmosphere to condition the whole Church for future important statements, including that on "the pill". which he has to make, and some of which will undoubtedly fall short of expectations in many quarters.
Likewise, he fears that, unless he takes action now, his own and the Church's traditional "teaching authority," already questioned by some theologians and others, will be progressively weakened.