By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
Speaking out of what he called “sadness and anxiety,” the Vatican’s top official for religious life has called upon the Jesuit order to obey the hierarchy, to defend church teaching and to deepen its commitment to “think with the church.”
Slovenian Cardinal Franc Rodé specifically urged the Jesuits to greater fidelity in theological work as well as in “your magazines and publications,” both areas of tension between the Jesuits and the Vatican in recent years.
The comments came in Rodé’s homily for the opening Mass this morning in Rome of the 35th General Congregation of the Jesuits. The gathering of 225 Jesuits representing the entire order, which is expected to last at least a month, will elect a new leader to replace Dutch Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach and set policy for the next couple of decades.
In effect, Rodé’s homily represents the Vatican’s attempt to help frame the agenda for the Jesuits’ deliberations.
Noting that the Jesuits exercise wide influence through their seminaries, colleges and universities, Rodé said he wanted to share both his “joys and hopes” and his “sorrows and anguishes” as the General Congregation gets underway.
After praising the order for “thousands of religious who generously respond to the Lord’s call,” Rodé cited several areas of concern.
First, he warned of a waning sense of sentire cum ecclesia, meaning “to think with the church.” Love for the church, Rodé argued, was central to the vision of St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits in the 16th century.
“It is with sorrow and anxiety that I see that the sentire cum ecclesia of which your founder frequently spoke is diminishing even in some members of religious families,” Rodé said. “The Church is waiting for a light from you to restore the sensus ecclesiae.”
Rodé also bluntly called for greater obedience to the hierarchy.
“With sadness and anxiety, I also see a growing distancing from the hierarchy,” he told the Jesuits. “The Ignatian spirituality of apostolic service ‘under the Roman Pontiff’ does not allow for this separation.”
“The fundamental nucleus of Ignatian spirituality consists in uniting the love for God with love for the hierarchical Church,” Rodé said.
Uniquely among Catholic religious orders, Jesuits have traditionally taken a fourth vow alongside poverty, chastity and obedience, promising special obedience to the pope in missionary matters.
Rodé also asked the Jesuits to defend church teaching, saying contemporary culture creates the “need to present to the faithful and to the world the authentic truth revealed in Scripture and Tradition.”
Rodé appeared to suggest that the wide variety of theological positions espoused by Jesuits can feed what Pope Benedict XVI has called a “dictatorship of relativism.”
“The doctrinal diversity of those who, at all levels, by vocation and mission, are called to announce the Kingdom of truth and love, disorients the faithful and leads to a relativism without limits,” Rodé said.
In that regard, he said, the official teaching authority of the church is “the voucher for revealed truth.”
“May those who, according to your legislation, have to oversee the doctrine of your magazines and publications do so in the light of and according to the ‘rules for sentire cum ecclesia’, with love and respect,” Rodé said.
He also urged the Jesuits to place themselves “at the crossroads between Church and society, between faith and culture, between religion and secularism.”
Finally, Rodé urged contemporary Jesuits to follow “the same path trodden by Ignatius from Loyola to Rome, a path of generosity, of penance, of discernment, of prayer, of apostolic zeal of obedience, of charity, of fidelity to and love for the hierarchical Church.”
Rodé’s emphasis on relations with the hierarchy reflects a troubled recent history between the Jesuits and the Vatican.
Several theologians censured under both John Paul II and Benedict XVI have been Jesuits, including writers on religious pluralism such as the late Belgian Fr. Jacques Dupuis and American Fr. Roger Haight, in addition to the El Salvadoran liberation theologian Fr. Jon Sobrino.
Jesuit-run media have likewise been a source of tension. American Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese was forced to step down as editor of America magazine in 2005 under pressure from the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Vatican has expressed similar concerns about the German Jesuit journal, Stimmen der Zeit.
Rodé, 73, is a Vincentian appointed as Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life under John Paul II, and made a cardinal by Benedict XVI in March 2006.