Associated Press – January 26, 2008
ROME – The new leader of the Jesuits met Saturday with Pope Benedict XVI and told him the religious order would study the pontiff’s invitation to confirm their “total” adhesion to Catholic teaching, including on divorce, homosexuality and liberation theology.
The Jesuits have had a tense relationship with the Vatican on issues of doctrine and obedience. The Vatican occasionally disciplines Jesuit theologians and issues reminders of the their vows of obedience to the pontiff.
The Rev. Adolfo Nicolas, a Spanish missionary and theologian with extensive Asian experience who was elected as superior general Jan. 19, had a “warm and friendly conversation” with the pontiff, the Jesuits said on their Web site.
Shortly before Nicolas’ predecessor, Dutch priest Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, handed in his resignation for reasons of age, he received a letter from Benedict in which the pope said it could be “extremely useful” if the Jesuits reaffirm “total adhesion to Catholic doctrine.”
The pope wrote Kolvenbach that he was particularly concerned about “those neuralgic points which today are strongly attacked by secular culture,” according to the text released by the Jesuits.
The pope cited “aspects of the theology of liberation, and various points of sexual morality, especially … the indissolubility of marriage and the pastoral care of homosexual persons,” the letter said. Church teaching forbids divorce. It also says homosexual acts are sinful.
In past decades, some of the Jesuits’ work with the poor in Latin America left the Vatican worried that some Jesuits were embracing liberation theology and Marxist political movements.
Kolvenbach, elected leader in 1983, was widely credited with improving the Jesuits’ tense relations with the Vatican.
The Jesuits said Benedict was pleased to hear from Nicolas that Jesuits had formed a committee to study his letter to Kolvenbach.
The meeting was also an opportunity for Nicolas to “reaffirm his personal respect” for the pope “as well as the esteem of the whole Society of Jesus,” as the Jesuit order is formally known.
The Vatican announced that Benedict and Nicolas had met in a private audience but gave no details of their talks.
Benedict and Nicolas also discussed Japan, where the Jesuit had served for 33 years. Nicolas has said the West doesn’t have a monopoly on meaning and spirituality and that Asia has much to offer the Church.
The pope “encouraged the Jesuit leader to continue with dialogue with culture and evangelization and to ensure a thorough formation of young Jesuits,” said the religious order, which is one of the largest in the Church.
Founded in the 16th century by St. Ignatius Loyola, the Jesuit order has been dedicated to missionary work and education, and runs universities throughout the world.
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