Viewpoint: Pope Francis, Jesuit Spirituality and Reform of the Roman Curia

Pope Francis was elected during the afternoon of Wednesday, 13 March 2013, by the Cardinal-Electors during the fifth ballot of the Conclave in the Sistine Chapel. He is the 265th Successor of St Peter, the Supreme Pontiff, the Bishop of Rome, the Head of State of the Vatican City, and the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.

A thorough reform of the Curia, which has become preoccupied with rules, regulations and ritual, is seen as a top priority on the agenda for Pope Francis.

Interestingly, instead of reappointing the Heads and members of the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia, as well as their Secretaries, within 24 hours of his election, Pope Francis had decided, as the Holy See announced on Saturday, 16 March, that they should all continue, provisionally, in their respective positions.

The Vatican statement added: “The Holy Father wishes to reserve time for reflection, prayer, and dialogue before any final appointments or confirmation.”

Pope Francis is the first Pope from Latin America. He is the first non-European Pope since the 8th Century. He is the first Jesuit Pope. He is the first Pope to take the name Francis, after StFrancis of Assisi, who identified with the poor. He was ordained a Jesuit priest on 13 December 1969.

To understand something of the thinking and strategy of Pope Francis it is necessary to understand Ignatian spirituality and the Jesuit way of doing things. During mid-April I met with Fr Gregory Brenninkmeijer, SJ, Socius (assistant) to the Director of Novices, based at Manresa House in the Harborne area of Birmingham, and asked him to explain.

St Ignatius of Loyola, 1491-1556, a Spaniard of Basque origin, founded the religious Order, known as the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, of which he was the first Superior General, in September 1540. 

Fr Gregory, a delightful Dutchman now in his mid-70’s, explained succinctly that the Jesuits draw inspiration from the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola and the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus which its founder wrote during the last 15 years of his life.

St Ignatius of Loyola died on 31 July 1556, aged 65. He was Beatified on 27 July 1609 and canonized by Pope Gregory XV on 12 March 1622 together with St Francis Xavier. His Feast Day is kept by the universal Church and by the Jesuits on 31 July.

Fr Gregory emphasised that the Apostolic Mission of the Society of Jesus is to draw people to God. To be able to do that Jesuits have to be men who are in contact with God themselves. He explained that every Jesuit will “examine” twice a day, at the end of the morning and in the evening where he experienced God during the previous hours. He will ask himself: what did I experience, how do I feel, and what did I do? How can I through prayer discern the will of God? How do I proceed? Then he will seek advice from competent advisors. This in turn leads to decisive action and change.

Pope Francis, who has never been a member of the Roman Curia or been based in Rome, revealed the first part of his strategy on Saturday, 13 April 2013, a month to the day since his election as Pope.  The Vatican announced that Pope Francis had appointed a group of senior Cardinals to advise him on Church government and a revision plan of the Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia. This news-breaking story received a significant amount of media coverage throughout the world

The statement from the Vatican Secretariat of State, read: “The Holy Father Francis, taking up a suggestion that emerged during the General Congregations preceding the Conclave, has established a group of Cardinals to advise him in the government of the universal Church and to study a plan for revising the Apostolic Constitution on the Roman Curia, Pastor Bonus.

“The group consists of: Cardinal Giuseppe Bertello, President of the Governorate of Vatican City State; Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz Ossa, Archbishop Emeritus of Santiago de Chile, Chile; Cardinal Oswald Gracias, Archbishop of Bombay, India; Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of Munich and Freising, Germany; Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya, Archbishop of Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo; Cardinal Sean Patrick O’Malley OFM, Archbishop of Boston, USA; Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, Australia; Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, SDB, Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in the role of Co-ordinator; Bishop Marcello Semeraro of Albano, Italy, in the role of Secretary.”

The statement concluded: “The group’s first meeting has been scheduled for 1-3 October 2013. His Holiness is, however, currently in contact with the aforementioned Cardinals.”

Fr Gregory said: “Most religious orders fit certain characteristics, e.g., some were founded with a specific mission to teach boys, others girls, while others were founded to look after the sick and the poor. Being a Franciscan or a contemplative Benedictine does not suit everyone.

“St Francis of Assisi reflects a particular way of life that is humble, uncomplicated, direct, concrete and down to earth.”

Fr Gregory said: “After the Second Vatican Council, 1962-1965, the Society of Jesus opted for the poor and took on board and embraced the Council’s teaching. The Jesuits try to change the structures that make the poverty. We have a passion for education and social justice. We reach out to the poorest and least in society.”

Fr Gregory stressed that: “The Jesuits go all out – for example as teachers, they will give their very best. We are always living in tension.”  He added: “If we do not have the right men to undertake a particular task then we do not take on the work.”

Fr Gregory said that: “In Argentina, Fr Jorge Mario Bergoglio, SJ, showed great leadership talent and was appointed as the Jesuit Provincial, 1973-1979.” Fr Gregory agreed that as Jesuit Provincial in Argentina Fr Jorge Bergoglio, SJ, was critical of Liberation Theology.

Fr Bergoglio was appointed Bishop of Auca and Auxiliary Bishop of Buenos Aires, by Pope, now Blessed John Paul II, on 20 May 1992. He was appointed Coadjutor Archbishop of Buenos Aires and succeeded Cardinal Antonio Quarracino on 28 February 1998. He was created a Cardinal by Pope John Paul II in the Consistory of 21 February 2001.

Fr Gregory recalled that as Archbishop of Buenos Aires the new Pope had lived a simple life and identified with the poor and the marginalised. He said: “The Society of Jesus moves with trends in the Catholic Church and since the Second Vatican Council it has moved more towards poverty. Therefore there is no conflict in Pope Francis following the Jesuit spirituality of St Ignatius of Loyola, or the Franciscan spirituality of St Francis of Assisi.”

Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio used public transport and travelled on buses rather than using taxis or a chauffeured car. He lived in a small flat and cooked his own meals rather than occupying his luxurious official residence. He served as President of the Bishops’ Conference of Argentina from November 2005 until November 2011.

A news story, “Eyes on the Conclave”, published in “SJ”, the Newsletter of the British Province of the Society of Jesus, Issue 63, March 2013, included the following paragraph: “There are currently six Jesuit Cardinals, but only one of them will participate in the Conclave: Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Archbishop of Buenos Aires. The other Jesuit Cardinal entitled to vote, Cardinal Julius Riyadi Darmaatmadja of Indonesia, is unable to attend due to ill-health.”

Towards the end of our conversation, Fr Gregory Brenninkmeijer, SJ, said: “Blessed John Paul II taught what the Catholic Church is. Pope Benedict XVI (who resigned the Papacy on 28 February 2013) taught why the Catholic Church is and that Pope Francis is now showing how the Catholic Church is.”

Fr Gregory added: “Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI was at heart a professor, a great academic and theologian. He was not an administrator; hence he did not reform the Roman Curia. The Jesuit Pope Francis has a different way of looking at things.”

Since the surprise election of Pope Francis the Catholic Church has entered an exciting new era under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It will be most interesting to see whom Pope Francis appoints as his Secretary of State, the number-two man in the Vatican. It is likely that he will be a Cardinal from a country in the Southern Hemisphere, a part of the world where the Catholic Church is flourishing!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *