Holy Father as a Jesuit

| Father Kenneth Doyle | July 16, 2014 | 0 Comments

Q. Is Pope Francis still bound by the religious vows he professed as a Jesuit? I would imagine that Ignatian spirituality still plays a large role in his daily life, but is he still technically a member of the religious order? As pope, would he no longer be subject in obedience to the Jesuit Superior General?

A. The question you raise — whether Pope Francis is still a Jesuit — is an interesting one and is, in fact, disputed by canonists. Some say that years ago, when he became a bishop, he was dispensed from his vows of poverty and obedience and therefore exited the Jesuits. I think that’s being over-technical.

He was dispensed from poverty because, canonically, a bishop owns diocesan property, and from obedience, because from episcopal ordination on, a bishop is subject

to the pope rather than to his religious superior. I consider Francis to be still a Jesuit, and I think that he does, too.

Just a few days after his election to the papacy, Francis wrote a letter to the Jesuit Superior General in which the pope referred to the Jesuits as “our beloved order”, and his papal coat of arms contains the official seal of the Jesuit order.

I would hold that Francis remains a Jesuit and is still bound by his Jesuit vows, but with an asterisk — and I would quote Code of Canon Law No. 705 in defense of that position. Nothing is said directly in the Church’s code about a religious who has been be elected pope, but Canon No. 705 does state that, “A religious raised to the episcopate remains a member of his institute but is subject only to the Roman Pontiff by virtue of the vow of obedience….”

So, Francis, I would conclude, continues to be bound by the vows of chastity and poverty (simplicity of lifestyle) but not by obedience. Father Ladislas M. Orsy, a Jesuit canon lawyer who teaches at Georgetown University Law Center, said recently of the pope, “His vow of obedience . . . loses its meaning because he has no Superior to obey.”

Jesuit Father James Martin pointed out recently that Pope Francis has more than once invited his hearers to picture themselves present at a Gospel scene and to consider how they would have responded to Jesus — a meditation technique favored by Ignatius in his spiritual exercises.

Father Doyle writes for Catholic News Service. A priest of the Diocese of Albany, N.Y., he previously served as director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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