ROME – As the General Congregation of the Society of Jesus discusses and deliberates the order’s present and future, one of the big questions faced by the 225 Jesuit delegates is how best to respond to the encouragements and concerns of Pope Benedict XVI.
“The warmth and enthusiasm and trust that is coming from Pope Benedict now is inviting a renewed and enthusiastic response from the society,” said Jesuit Father David Smolira.
The priest, former head of the Jesuits’ British province and current director of the Jesuit Institute in Johannesburg, South Africa, met reporters Feb. 1 to explain how the General Congregation was working.
After the delegates elected Father Adolfo Nicolas to be the new Jesuit superior general Jan. 19, they began discussing issues of concern that would impact the more than 19,000 Jesuits worldwide.
Included in the discussion, he said, was the need to respond to the letter Pope Benedict sent to the outgoing superior general, Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, praising the Jesuits’ contributions to evangelization and urging them to reaffirm their fidelity to contested points of church doctrine, particularly regarding sexual morality and relations with other religions.
Father Smolira said the pope’s “expression of confidence and trust” in the Jesuits “requires a responsible and enthusiastic response.”
The congregation delegates “have taken a considerable amount of time to read and reflect among ourselves and to decide how best to respond to that letter,” he said.
As of Feb. 1 they had not decided whether the response would take the form of a letter to the pope or if it would be included in the decrees issued by the congregation, he said.
The decrees, addressed to all the Jesuits, set the agenda for the Society of Jesus and are documents intended to guide the work of the superior general.
The pope had asked the Jesuits to reaffirm their “total adhesion to Catholic doctrine, in particular on those neuralgic points which today are strongly attacked by secular culture.”
As examples the pope cited 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.”
Father Smolira said it is obvious that among Jesuits, as among Catholics at large, there are a diversity of views on “those neuralgic issues,” and that challenges Jesuits, particularly theologians, to continue seeking the truth “in a way that is faithful to church teaching.”
“There are always tensions there and I think we need to find ways to manage that tension appropriately,” the priest said. The Jesuits must “develop and use the intellectual apostolate in the service of the church.”
Father Smolira said the first two weeks after Father Nicolas’ election were devoted to small-group discussions on four main themes: Jesuit identity and mission; obedience and how it is lived in the modern world; Jesuit structures of governance; and collaboration with others, including laypeople.