A special correspondent previews the Jesuit Congregation in Rome
THE COMING election of a new Jesuit superior general resembles in many ways a conclave to elect a Pope. In the autumn of 1978, the papal conclave gathered III cardinals behind locked doors and their election of a Pope was signalled bs white smoke from a small chimney. The new Church leader took the name of Pope John Paul IL This Septemher 220 Jesuits will gather behind locked doors in Rome, a few steps from the Vatican, to elect a new superior general.
"And one of the only differences, procedurally. Is that there won't he any smoke," says a high Jesuit official. The primary purpose for the Jesuits 33rd general congregation. scheduled to open today and last throughout the month, is to elect a successor to the ailing Fr Pedro Arrupe, the Jesuits' 75-year-old superior general.
It will also mark the end of a nearls two-year term of rule by 81-year-old Fr Paolo Dezza, who was controversially appointed by Pope John Paul in October 1981 to lead the 26,000 Jesuits until a general congregation took place.
The election of a superior general is not expected to take place until a week to 10 days after the general congregation has begun.
After choosing a secretary and assistant secretary for the meeting, the Jesuits at the 1983 general congregation will have to consider a matter never before discussed at such a session: the resignation of the Jesuit superior general.
Fr Arrupe, born in the Basque region of Spain, is the first Jesuit superior general to resign. The post of superior general was formerly held until death, but the 32nd Jesuit general congregation. held in 1965, voted to allow a superior to resign for serious reasons.
Before he suffered a major stroke on August 7. 1981, Fr Arrupe had begun the process for his resignation hut then halted it at the Pope's personal request.
The Jesuit delegates will open their meeting by celebrating a Mass with Pope John Paul. The Jesuit official does not think the Pope will say anything new in his address during the Mass. "Ills position (about the Jesuits) is clear, and I don't think he'll say anything new." he said. In his last major talk to Jesuit leaders, February, 1982, Pope John Paul praised the society's past contributions to the Church but warned that "there is no longer room for deviations" from the church's prohibition on direct political involvement by priests and its demand for doctrinal fidelity.
Despite the Jesuits' special fourth vow of obedience to the Pope, the election of the new superior general will be "completely free" and Pope John Paul has no veto power over the man chosen, the Jesuit official said.
According to planned procedures, at the congregation Fr Arrupe's resignation will be accepted and the Jesuits will elect a commission to evaluate the state of the society and to report its findings to electors.
Then begins the "quatriduum," a fourday period of information gathering by the electors which has gained the uncomplimentary Italian title of the "mormorazioni," meaning whispering. grumbling, muttering or murmuring.
During that time, the electors will be able to ask one another about the background or personal characteristics of any Jesuit. But participants are not supposed to volunteer any information that has not been requested.
At the end of the four days, the electors will be locked into the voting room after a Mass of the holy Spirit. They will remain in the room until a new superior has been elected. After a 15-minute spiritual exhortation and a 45-minute period of meditation, the voting begins. No abstentions are allowed by the electors, and a majority of at least III voters is required for the election of a superior general.
Unlike Popes. the man chosen as head of the Jesuits has no right to refuse the post.
Before the announcement of the new superior general can be made to those outside the general congregation, Pope John Paul must be informed of the vote "as a courtess," the Jesuit official said.
Because the Pope may be in Austria at the time of the Jesuit election, the messenger usually sent to inform the Pope at the Vatican might have to be replaced by the modern means of a telephone call, he added.
"Don't worry," the official said. "There arc Jesuits in Vienna too."