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Jesuits to elect new 'black pope' in 2008


The superior general of the Jesuits, Dutch Fr Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, has informed members of the Society that he intends to step down in 2008, the year he will turn 80.

Catholic News service reports that in a letter sent on Thursday to all members of the Society of Jesus, Fr Kolvenbach said a general congregation to elect his successor and to discuss other important matters would begin on 5 January 2008, in Rome.

Each of the 91 Jesuit provinces in the world will hold a provincial congregation by 1 March 1 2007, to prepare for the Rome gathering.

While the Jesuit superior general is elected for life, the order's constitutions allow a superior to step down.

Catholic News Service in Rome obtained a copy of Fr Kolvenbach's letter in Italian; each Jesuit provincial is charged with ensuring that every member of the Jesuits receive a copy.

Fr Kolvenbach, who was elected superior in 1983, told the Jesuits that before making his decision he obtained "the consent of His Holiness Benedict XVI" and had listened to the opinions of his assistants at the Jesuit headquarters and of all the provincials.

US Jesuit Fr Frank Case, Rome-based secretary of the Jesuits, told Catholic News Service that Fr Kolvenbach had sought Pope Benedict's opinion and consent in view of his advancing age and the challenges facing the world's almost 21,000 Jesuits.

Speaking to the National Catholic Reporter's John L. Allen, Australian Jesuit Fr Dan Madigan said that Kolvenbach "won the confidence of the Jesuits with his intelligence, wisdom and great experience," while at the same time gaining the trust of the Holy See.

Allen quoted a story told to him by Madigan, which makes the point. Kolvenbach is never seen without his black cassock, and Madigan said that one Jesuit, skeptical of clerical garb, challenged him, asking, "Why do you dress like that?"

Kolvenbach's response, as Madigan tells the story: "I dress like this so you can dress like that."

Allen says the anecdote reflects both Kolvenbach's wit, and his sense of his mission - trying to foster the creativity and diversity of the far-flung Jesuit community, while keeping them tethered to the church and its leadership.

In his letter, Fr Kolvenbach said he was convoking the general congregation under the conditions foreseen by the Jesuit constitutions to deal with "questions of lasting and serious consequences" for the entire order.

He also said the pope and the Jesuits he consulted unanimously approved of his plan to convoke the meeting "to decide on the governance of the society at the highest level."

Fr Kolvenbach closed the letter by expressing his hope that preparations for the congregation would be "guided only by the desire to serve Our Lord God" in the hope that he would make use of it.

One blogger - Alejandro Bermudez of Catholic Outsider - reports speculation that Kolvenbach's successor will be an Asian, reflecting the shift in demographics during Kolvenbach's term of office which has made India dominant within the Society in terms of numbers.

"Furthermore, given the experience with Arrupe's generalate, I would say that the delegati will be looking for someone who knows and is known by Rome, and or who would be a quick study. One of Kolvenbach's greatest achievements as General has been restoring the lines of communication between Borgo Santo Spirito (the General Curia of the Jesuits) and the (Papal) apartment."

Pictured: Fr Kolvenbach during a visit to Jesuit Social Services in Melbourne

SOURCE
Jesuit superior to step down, calls 2008 meeting to elect successor (Catholic News Service 3/2/06)
John L. Allen: Jesuits called to elect new superior (National Catholic Reporter 3/2/06)
More on the Jesuits: The future could be in South East Asia (Catholic Outsider 5/2/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Society of Jesus (International)
Australian Jesuits
Society of Jesus (Wikipedia)

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6 Feb 2006