The First Jesuit Pope
Some have noted that Pope Francis is the first Jesuit pope but few understand what this actually means.
Who are the Jesuits?
- The Society of Jesus is a male order of the Catholic Church, with 19,000 members worldwide.
- The society was birthed through the work and mission of Ignatius Loyola.
- The order was established in sixteenth century Europe as a missionary order and Jesuits promise to keep vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.
- The order became so powerful by the eighteenth century that it was suppressed at the end of the century but then later restored.
- The Jesuits are often highly educated and have a reputation as expert communicators, which is why many Jesuits in America are college professors, teachers, writers and journalists.
Modern, especially American, Jesuits are often on the more “progressive” side of Catholic debates about theological and moral reforms. Pope Francis has clearly been a more conservative Jesuit. Under Pope John Paul II Jesuits lost some of their influence as the pope encouraged the rising star of Opus Dei, a much misunderstood and frequently criticized order.
The choice of a name for the new pope is always significant. Some wondered if Francis also wanted to make a reference to St. Francis Xavier, another great member of the Society of Jesus who served as an evangelist to Asia. I have not seen clear confirmation that the new pope also had St. Francis Xavier in mind when he chose his name (we know he had St. Francis of Assisi in mind since he said so) but this would be appropriate since Jorge Mario Bergoglio is, as I will demonstrate later, a strong “evangelist.” This is clearly how numerous evangelicals see him based upon his public and private ministry in Argentina. (I get ahead of myself so please keep reading.)
Francis Cardinal George
Readers of this blog know that I am privileged to call Francis Cardinal George, the archbishop of Chicago, my friend. The way we met was something that God did. I was surprised to receive an invitation from him to visit his home several years ago. He had read my book, Your Church Is Too Small, and seemed to like it. Having had the joy of meeting him in private, of praying with him and enjoying his keen mind, tender heart and unusually dry humor, I found him to be a most interesting person. Out of our relationship as brothers and friends I invited him to a public dialogue with me on unity and mission at Wheaton College. This was held on March 26 last year. You can see the entire dialogue on the web. Since then we have continued to have conversation and enjoyed another face-to-face visit at Mundelein Seminary just a few months ago. God willing we will be together again in four weeks time.
I have watched and listened to Cardinal George’s comments very carefully during the entirety of the last four weeks. Living in Chicago he has been particularly accessible to our media. He is a no-nonsense man who speaks his mind. At times he offends the more progressive parts of his flock. He has been known to speak to congregations as a bishop who “tells it like it is.” I do not always agree with him, and in fact have a different view of the church and culture for sure, but I listen to him with great respect and deep interest.
Cardinal George, commenting on the choice of Bergoglio to become pope, told the Chicago Tribune several days ago, “I think it all came together in an extraordinary fashion.” The cardinal said Bergoglio’s name had not surfaced as an option in the week of closed-door discussions before the conclave. Based on what we were told in advance this was likely when the names of the best candidates would begin to surface. (Bergoglio had also dropped off the radar of most journalists. He was 76, and many cardinals had indicated that they would not likely vote for someone older than 70.)
Cardinal George further said to the Chicago Tribune:
I wouldn’t have expected it to happen this fast or even the way it developed in terms of the choices available to us. I believe the Holy Spirit makes clear which way we should go. And we went that way very quickly.
Cardinal George is again helpful to our understanding of this story when the Chicago Tribune reports him as saying:
You don’t ask why they changed their votes. Nor do you know who changed their votes. But it became fairly clear as we voted that perhaps it was going to go in some other unexpected way, but more quickly also. There are surprises. That’s a sign of the Holy Spirit, I think.
Indeed, a “sign of the Holy Spirit.” With Catholics the world over I prayed for this to be so. I am now quite optimistic that it is so. Time will tell but the sovereign God who rules in all affairs has spoken, this we know.
According to one reporter the field was considered fairly open, with two main camps each looking for a champion. There were those who wanted a pope who would reform the Roman Curia, the papal bureaucracy–and preferably someone from outside Europe to represent the church’s demographic shift to the Southern Hemisphere. Then there were the electors who wanted to defend the Curia, and they were joined by some who also hoped to keep the papacy in Europe, or even return it to an Italian.
The “reform” camp had no clear champion but a dozen or more possibilities. They reportedly wanted someone from outside Europe, in particular a Latin American, but weren’t sure who.
The Roman camp apparently leaned toward Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer, who was born of German immigrant parents and had a long experience inside the Curia. That made him a plausible Southern Hemisphere candidate, but one with strong European and curial ties.
We are now conclude that in the dialogues before the conclave many believed Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan had emerged as an apparent front-runner because he was seen as an Italian who could fix the Vatican, a combination some believed could attract crossover votes.
Throughout Cardinal Bergoglio seems to have possessed a very low profile, which is in fact consistent with what we know about his reputation for humility and holiness. It seems, now that these reports have come out in several ways, that many electors found the alternative of Begoglio refreshing. Moreover, Bergoglio had a fierce pastoral dedication to the poor. While he is 76 he is reported to be in excellent health.
Reporter David Gibson concludes that, “All those elements made for an appealing combination.”
French Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois said: “He is not part of the Italian system, but also at the same time, because of his culture and background, he was Italo-compatible. If there was a chance that someone could intervene with justice in this situation” – reforming the Curia – “he was the man who could do it best.”
What an amazing statement. It does not require creative journalism, or gossip, to catch the drift. We can be fairly certain that in the first round of voting Bergoglio did surprisingly well. Other candidates (apparently) did not do as well as expected. Again, Cardinal George’s comment strikes me as most helpful when he referred to the Holy Spirit’s leading, something more secular reporters do not credit at all, seeing this as “mere” religious politics.
The Argentine cardinal continued to gain strength during two more ballots that were taken on Wednesday morning. At lunch, he “seemed very weighed down by what was happening,” according to Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley. O’Malley reports that he sat next to him. (Notice again, an American speaking more freely to the press.)
La Repubblica, an Italian daily with supposedly good sources in the Vatican, says that Washington’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl played a key role in rallying the Americans to vote for Bergoglio. Then European bishops such as Vingt-Trois came to the same point of view.
Through the accounts that have seeped out of the highly “secretive” meeting we now know that on the fourth ballot on Wednesday, the fifth since the conclave had begun, Bergoglio had more votes than the required 77. Reports suggest that he had upward of 90 votes out of 115. It was just before 7 p.m. in Rome, a little more than 24 hours since they had begun this historic meeting, that the world saw the “white smoke” and knew that the Catholic Church had a new pope.
“I was surprised that consensus among the cardinals was reached so soon,” said Ireland’s Cardinal Sean Brady. He is not the only person who had this same sense of surprise. The surprise is now mixed with a sense of delight, a delight I share for reasons I will explain in ensuing blogs.