“The attacks against Pope Francis in the church today” are “a fight between those who want the church dreamed of by the Second Vatican Council and those who do not want this,” Arturo Sosa, the Superior General of the Jesuits, stated at the Foreign Press Association in Rome on Sept. 16.
Speaking to the press in Italian, he said, “There is no doubt, there is a political fight [going on] in the church today.” But, he added, “I am convinced that it is not only an attack against this pope. Francis is convinced of what he is doing, ever since he was elected pope. He will not change.” And his critics “know he will not change,” said Father Sosa, adding, “In reality, these [attacks] are a way to influence the election of the next pope.”
Father Sosa was responding to questions about attacks against Pope Francis from a minority of church leaders with the support of some corners of the Catholic media.
“Francis is not a young man,” Father Sosa said, “and, because of his age, his will not be the longest pontificate in history. They are aiming at the succession because they know that it takes a long time, more than 50 years, to really implement the Second Vatican Council.”
He explained that “in this fight there is an element that Pope Francis always mentions, which is clericalism, that is a way of understanding the exercise of power in the church.” He said, “Francis is fighting against clericalism and this exercise of power” and so “proposes a synodal church,” which encourages greater collegiality and participation in decision making.
His critics know Pope Francis "will not change,” said Father Sosa, adding, “In reality, these [attacks] are a way to influence the election of the next pope.”
“Pope Francis is a son of the Second Vatican Council,” Father Sosa told the international press. Indeed, he said, “as a responsible son of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Francis puts all his energy and capacity to incarnate it and to make a reality all that this event has dreamed for the church, and it seems to me that this is a great contribution to the church.” He explained that he believes the church shows “true reform” the “closer it comes to the design of the Second Vatican Council.”
He added that “just as happened over the past 50 years” so too today “there are those who are more favorable to the Second Vatican Council and those who are more resistant to it.” But, he commented, “50 years is not so much” in terms of implementing a council in the church.
Some have attacked the working document for the synod on the Amazon and alleged that there is heresy in that text. Father Sosa, the first Latin American to be elected as superior general of the Jesuits, noted that the same people who attacked the two synods on the family and the synod on young people are now attacking the Amazon synod.
He disagrees with them and said he believes the synodal process introduced by Pope Francis “creates unity.” He said he witnessed this at the synod on young people, and he is now seeing it also in the process of preparation for the synod on the Amazon region where he sees “great unity within Repam,” or Red Eclesial Panamazónica, the network of church leaders responsible for organizing the upcoming synod.
Asked about the pope’s decision to make three new Jesuit cardinals in the consistory on Oct. 5, Father Sosa said that Pope Francis consulted no one, not even the new cardinal-designates, but his choices sent “messages.” He said that the nomination of Michael Czerny, S.J., a man with experience in different continents, is a strong “affirmation” that migrants and refugees are a priority for this pontificate and the church today.
The pope’s decision to give the red hat to Jean-Claude Hollerich, S.J., archbishop of Luxembourg, who spent many years of his life in Japan until his appointment by Pope Benedict XVI, is an endorsement of the idea of the European unity, according to Father Sosa. He added that the pope’s decision to make the Lithuanian archbishop, Sigitas Tamkevičius, a cardinal reflected his recognition of the persecution of Christians in today’s world. The archbishop was arrested in 1983 and spent 10 years in the prison work camps of Perm and Mordovia.
Asked about the accord signed by the Holy See with China on the nomination of bishops, Father Sosa said the agreement is “very important” and offers a “serious hope” for the reconciliation of the church in China. It was not an “improvised” agreement, he said, but the result of a long process that started in the early years of the pontificate of John Paul II, was continued under Benedict XVI and was finalized under Francis.
He told journalists that just as Pope Paul III approved and confirmed the formula that St. Ignatius and his ten companions had “discerned” for the Society of Jesus, so too Pope Francis “confirmed” the four universal apostolic preferences which the Jesuits had discerned over some years as the way forward for the Society of Jesus at this moment in history.
Pope Francis some years ago had asked the religious orders in Rome to open their homes to migrants and refugees. Father Sosa confirmed that many Jesuit houses had done so. In Palermo and in Rome Jesuits have taken in 30 families, and they have added new capacity for migrants and refugees at the Jesuit-run Centro Astalli. At the Jesuit curia, they have opened a dormitory for those who have nowhere to sleep. Other religious orders have done the same.
Father Sosa told the press that the axis of Jesuit vocations has shifted from Europe to Latin America and Africa, with a big number also emerging in India. He expects the numbers to decrease from a total of about 15,000 Jesuits currently to 10,000 in 15 year’s-time, but noted that the average age would be much younger than it is today.