The National Catholic Review
Feb 16 1991 - 12:00am | Peter Hebblethwaite
From February 16, 1991
Image

Editors note: This is an excerpt from article that was included in a special issue devoted to Father Pedro Arrupe on the occasion of his death in 1991. "This issue...has been in safe-keeping as in a reliquary," Father George Hunt, America's editor at the time, wrote in the "Of Many Things" column for February 16, 1991. "I suspect all of us on the staff felt a bit ghoulish as we plotted out the issue in anticipation, but we assured ourself that Father Arrupe himself would have approved." Father Arrupe suffered a stroke in 1981, and died ten years later, on February 5, 1991.

Don Pedro--as Pedro Arrupe was called--was the first post-conciliar Praepositus Generalis of the Society of Jesus. Perhaps he should be described more accurately as a conciliar general, since he was elected in May 1965 and took part in the fourth and final session of the Second Vatican Council. The 31st General Congregation, which elected him, was unique: No previous congregation had required two sessions, and none had produced documents of such far-reaching scope and character. It was like a second founding of the Society of Jesus.

Though the Society, restored in 1814, could claim moral continuity with the dissolved Society, some aspects of the restoration were less faithful to its spirit. The Dutchman Johann Roothaan, S.J., the first General after the restoration (he served from 1829-53), was the dominating figure. He presented the Spiritual Exercises in a rather wooden way; Jesuits tended to be Ultramontane in theology and, as educators, to be the props of reactionary regimes.

The authentic Jesuit tradition was rediscovered starting in the 1930s, when the Spaniards founded their review Manresa. In the 1950s, the French gave it great impetus with the founding of Christus, which Father Arrupe followed from Japan.

It was appropriate that another Basque, with an astonishing physical likeness to St. Ignatius, should preside over this reinvention of the Society of Jesus. In Don Pedro, two lines of force converged. Conciliar renewal was the program of the church, and the council itself urged religious congregations to greater fidelity to their charism. Don Pedro never wavered on this, despite disappointments, and was never tempted by the fashionable pessimism of the 1980s that blames the present "crisis" on the council.

In November 1974, for example, Father Arrupe held a press conference to explain why men were leaving the Society. At that date, it had declined from 36,038 in 1965 to 29,462, and worse was to come. Don Pedro said that 0.8 percent of Jesuit priests were leaving each year. Though obviously he did not relish this trend, he was completely unfazed by it. He did not blame it on the modern world, and he refused to wring his hands in impotent grief.

He learned from the departures. Some people leave to sort out personal psychological problems. They go with blessings on their head, and their departure, though sad, is not tragic. After all, there are other ways of serving God. "One mission-many ministries," as the council says. No one else in Rome was using such language. In a famous Maundy Thursday homily, for example, Pope Paul VI likened "ex-priests" to so many "Judases."

But Don Pedro said he was more worried by another kind of departure. Just as pain can be a sign of malfunctioning of the organism, so the losses of bright young men could be a warning that change must come or decline would set in irrevocably. Don Pedro always held firmly to this principle: "The voice of the young Jesuits is the voice of the modern world within the order." And he wanted to give that voice a hearing.

I did not know Don Pedros predecessor, the Belgian John Baptist Janssens, S.J., very well. He seems to have been content to stay in Rome and transmit the bans of the Holy Office on, for example, John Courtney Murray, S.J., and Karl Rahner, S.J. Most Jesuits had never set eyes on him. His letters on such topics as the media caused mirth when read out in refectories (bis sex in anno was the permitted number of films). He was always addressed as "Your Paternity." He seemed like a dry, old stick in need of much watering. When he came to recreation at Kaulbachstrasse in Munich in 1955, conversation dried up.

Father Arrupes style was completely different. He had immense dignity without ever standing on it. He had unfailing charm. He traveled the world, forever proclaiming the essence of Jesuit identity to be an attitude of discernment fostered by the Spiritual Exercises. The Constitutions were to be read in the light of the Exercises, and not vice versa. This led to changes everywhere, with varying degrees of success. Smaller houses replaced the vast and remote rural barracks. The notion of the superior-over-the-community was experimented with. Jesuits no longer needed to blush for their General.

None of this meant that Don Pedro had abdicated the leadership of the Society, as some of his critics alleged. In one sense he did more "leading" than any of his predecessors. But the gist of his approach was that he trusted other Jesuits to behave in a Jesuit way. If they did that, they would get the right answer. He was not afraid to take the risk of trust. Those working in writing, theology, social action all benefited from this ordered liberty. One of Don Pedros crosses was listening to denunciations, which came from all over the world. The internal ones caused him most pain. But it could be said that the 32nd General Congregation dealt with them insofar as it was in a sense a plebiscite on the way he ran the Society. His mandate was confirmed.

But still the denunciations kept on rolling in. At synod after synod, bishops would come up to Father Arrupe and ask him what he was doing about the Jesuit who had joined the guerrillas or who said Mass in coveralls or who dismissed Humanae Vitae as tyrannical. Don Pedros principle in such matters was to defend his men loyally. But he asked for something in return: "Please make it easier for me to defend you!" Those writing about the Vatican at that time, as I was, were liable to get letters from the Secretariat of State charging them with "offending against Truth and the Apostolic See" (as though the two terms were synonymous). This would happen, typically, when some Asian bishop had failed to detect a stroke of irony or see a joke. I discussed this once with Don Pedro. "If I write about you," I suggested, "I would have to be free to be critical since, as Figaro said, Without the freedom to criticize, no praise has any value." Don Pedro liked that--thus effectively disarming me as a critic of him.

But such complaints were the staple of his audiences with Pope Paul VI. At both the 31st and the 32nd General Congregations, Pope Paul issued dire poetic warnings about "clouds passing over that were not entirely dissipated" (that was in 1966). In 1974 there was a serious misunderstanding about abolishing traditional distinctions between solemn and simple vows in the society. But it is false to say that Don Pedro did not get on well with Pope Paul. Though different in temperament, they were on the same spiritual wavelength. And Pope Paul did have Paolo Dezza, S.J., as his confessor.

One constant theme of Pope Paul VI, as Don Pedro told Jean-Claude Dietsch, S.J., was that he had to pay special attention to the Jesuits because their influence on religious life generally was so considerable. This was flattering, but slightly disconcerting. It recalled those who explained that Pope Pius XIIs ban on Jesuit smoking in 1957 was "really" directed against the increase in smoking among U. S. sisters. But Father Arrupe insisted: "I always felt encouraged after audiences with Paul VI, even if he had to tweak my ear."

It can now be freely admitted that relations with Pope John Paul II were not so cordial. No one quite knew where Pope John Pauls coldness, hostility even, to the Society came from. But it was an undoubted fact. He seemed to make them scapegoats for the "crisis" in the church.

As long ago as 1972, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla proposed that the synod should examine "religious life." He wrote a memo on the subject that begins with the evidence for a "crisis": "Defections, lack of vocations, infidelity in keeping the vows." Among the "remedies" was "a better insertion into the life of the church," which would naturally involve a "reexamination of the concept of exemption." These were Roman euphemisms for recovering control over a body that was behaving too independently. Though there was no specific mention of Jesuits there, when Cardinal Wojtyla became Pope, they soon found they were in his sights.

On Sept. 21, 1979, Pope John Paul II addressed Father Arrupe and his top advisers in menacing fashion: "I am not unaware--drawing on a few other sources of information--that the crisis which in recent times has troubled religious life and is still troubling it has not spared your Society, causing confusion among Christian people and concern to the church, to the hierarchy and personally to the Pope who is speaking to you." Don Pedro responded to the Popes address and bravely tried to pretend that there was nothing new here. On the Feast of the North American Martyrs, he wrote that "a call from three Popes leaves little room for doubt that it is the Lord Himself who, surely with love, expects something better of us. We cannot wait any longer."

The "third Pope," by the way, was Pope John Paul I, who had prepared a critical address that death prevented him delivering.

But it was in truth difficult to "do something" about such imprecise charges. The Pope said he was worried by secularizing tendencies and a lack of austerity in community life, and exhorted the Jesuits to greater "fidelity to the magisterium of the church and to the priestly character of your apostolic work." There was some evidence that fidelity to the magisterium was from now on going to require not only a resolute defense of Humanae Vitae but also not bringing up questions--like the ordination of women--which the Curia did not like.

This concealed rather than revealed the real point of conflict. It was simply that the Jesuits under Father Arrupe worked with an analysis of the present state of the church that was at odds with the papal analysis. Don Pedro had addressed the German Katholikentag in 1972 and declared: "For hundreds of millions of Catholics the real crisis of faith comes not from materialism or from unrestricted theological discussion, but from the brutal misery of their existence." Those who believed that the crisis was caused by "materialism and unrestricted theological discussion" took exception to such statements and bided their time.... The first anniversary of Archbishop Romeros death, ignored by LOsservatore Romano, was celebrated in March 1981 in the Church of Sts. Cosmas and Damian. The Union of Major Religious Superiors, led by Father Arrupe, organized the event. The choirs of the Mexican and North American Colleges combined to make it memorable. But it was regarded as provocative by Cardinal Sebastiano Baggio, then prefect of the Congregation of Bishops and president of the decisive Pontifical Commission for Latin America (C. A. L. ). Don Pedro was among the concelebrants. That put a bad mark against his name.

But a much graver crisis was already looming. At the 1977 Synod, Don Pedro had remarked that silence could not be an answer to the problems posed by Marxism: "Today, when catechesis includes, and quite legitimately includes, the political dimension of Christian duty and Christian existence, it is impossible to leave Marxism out of account." One would have expected this to be a platitude. For Latin America, it was more like firing a time-bomb.

In 1979 Don Pedro went to Lima, Peru, to discuss with the Latin American provincials what to do about Marxism. For Puebla had denied that it was possible to separate out various aspects of Marxism, notably its philosophy from its analysis. This matter needed studying in depth. It could not be solved by repeating slogans. So a widespread consultation was organized by Jean-Yves Calvez, S.J., one of Father Arrupes general assistants. After this meeting and after widespread consultation within the Society, Don Pedro produced his letter "On Marxist Analysis," dated Dec. 8, 1980. It was a letter of considerable subtlety, which put in all the necessary caveats. The following passage, for example, seemed like a mere truism: "It seems to me that in our analysis of society, we can accept a certain number of methodological viewpoints which, to a greater or lesser extent, arise from Marxist analysis, so long as we do not attribute an exclusive character to them. For instance, an attention to economic factors, to property structures, to economic interests that motivate this or that group; or again, a sensitivity to the exploitation that victimizes entire classes, attention to the role of class struggle in history (at least, of many societies), attention to ideologies that can camouflage for vested interests and even for injustice."

To deny the use of Marxist concepts, in this sense, would be to ban serious political discourse altogether. But of course it did not mean that Don Pedro or the Society of Jesus had suddenly "gone Marxist." On the contrary, the rejection of Marxism as a whole package deal was clear and unhesitating, as was the rejection of the exclusive use of Marxist analysis.

But perhaps the passage that most annoyed the critics in the Vatican was that which exposed the fraudulence of much anti-Communism: "Finally, we should also firmly oppose the efforts of anyone who wishes to take advantage of our reservations about Marxist analysis in order to condemn as Marxist or Communist, or at least to minimize esteem for, a commitment to justice and the cause of the poor, the defense of their rights against those who exploit them, the urging of legitimate claims."

The passage ended with the rhetorical question: "Have we not often seen forms of anti-Communism that are nothing but means for concealing injustice?" The answer was: Yes, we have seen that in the Philippines, in South Africa, Argentina, El Salvador, Brazil and elsewhere. In the spring of 1981, as Father Arrupes letter on Marxist analysis began to be known and studied, Roman dicasteries began their countercampaign. It was hinted that the General of the Jesuits had no business to pronounce on such matters of universal importance and interest. With his earlier letter on priest-workers and now this on Marxist analysis, he was arrogating to himself the functions of the magisterium. He was setting up a rival or parallel magisterium....

One cannot know what would have happened if Don Pedro had not been felled by a stroke on Aug. 7, 1981, just two months after these events. It may be that the idea of imposing a "personal delegate of the Holy Father" was already being toyed with. The stroke and his paralysis made it easier to accomplish and less personally offensive to Don Pedro. Strangely enough, in that same June 1981 he had written a few comments after reading Jesuit Jean-Claude Dietschs book about him. He was already living with the thought of death--not a leap into a void, but being "flung into the arms of the Lord." His mind was already on "the last amen of my life, and the first alleluia of my eternity."

Instead of dying, he was gravely incapacitated, placed in that worst of states where his mind remained alert but he could no longer express himself. It was a final purification. He had been very hurt. A negative judgment had been passed on his stewardship. That was the plain meaning of the imposition of a "personal delegate." He and the team he had gathered were not to be trusted....

Oct. 31, 1981, was the date of the official takeover by Paolo Dezza, S.J., as the Popes delegate. There was a concelebrated Mass in the Curia. After the homily, in which Father Dezza stressed how the Society had suffered in the past "even in lifes darkest and most difficult moments," Don Pedro, seated in the corner in his wheelchair, made a sudden gesture that was not at first understood. He called Father Dezza over and embraced him in front of the whole community--a visible sign of his and the Societys obedient acceptance....

In the fall of 1981, Father Dezza had other things on his mind. While some zealots expected a purge, Father Dezza kept the Jesuit curial team together, left all superiors in place, and continued all of Father Arrupes policies, while making reassuring noises from time to time.

After a time, the absurdity of the suspension of ordinary government became apparent. For if the Jesuits really were the politically minded, semi-Marxist, dissident secularists they were imagined to be, then they ought to have risen in revolt, led demonstrations or resigned en masse. None of this happened. Nothing happened. The silence was profound. Father Dezza summoned an unprecedented meeting of provincials. Pope John Paul II assured them that the Jesuits had "passed the test" (prova). So that was what it was all about.

Successfully passing the test prepared the way for normal government to be resumed. The 33rd General Congregation, meeting in September 1983, did something no previous congregation had done: It accepted the formal resignation of a Father General, Pedro Arrupe. All Jesuits in Rome at the time were invited to this unique event.

Father Arrupe had written a few words, which were read for him by Father Ignacio Iglesias, provincial of Spain: "How I wish I were in better condition for this meeting with you. More than ever, I find myself in the hands of God. This is what I have wanted all my life, from my youth. But now there is a difference: The initiative is entirely with God. It is indeed a profound spiritual experience to know oneself totally in His hands."

One of the simultaneous translators nearly broke down at this point, and some strong men could not fight back the tears. Don Pedros farewell went on: "It is to the Society at large, and to each of my brother Jesuits, that I want to express my gratitude. had they not been obedient in faith to this poor Superior General, nothing would have been accomplished. To each one of you in particular I would love to say tantas cosas--so much, really. I am full of hope, seeing the Society at the service of the one Lord and the church, under the Roman Pontiff, the Vicar of Christ on earth. May she keep going along this path, and may God bless us with many good vocations of priests and brothers; for this I offer to the Lord what is left of my life, my prayers and the sufferings imposed by my ailments."

This he did for nearly eight more years.

Peter Hebblethwaite was a correspondent for the (London) Tablet, and author of Paul VI: The First Modern Pope, and other books.