Pope John Paul II today told leaders of the powerful Roman Catholic Jesuit order they must put aside political and social concerns and concentrate on spiritual matters.
A priest's job "is not that of a doctor, a social worker, a politician or a union leader," John Paul said, quoting from a speech made during his 1980 visit to Brazil.
"The priest's service, if it is to remain truly faithful to itself, is above all and essentially a spiritual service," he added. Addressing a gathering of more than 100 Jesuit leaders from around the globe, the 61-year-old pontiff criticized recent liberal trends in the Society of Jesus, as the order is called, saying that "the necessary concern for justice must be exercised in conformity with your vocation as priests and brothers."
Unlike other Roman Catholic religious orders, fully professed Jesuits take a special vow of loyalty to the pope, and the thrust of his 18-page speech today was a repeated call for obedience.
Praising the order's ailing Spanish superior general, the Rev. Pedro Arrupe, 74, for his devotion, the pope spoke of "filial obedience that every Jesuit must demonstrate to the vicar of Christ." Last fall the liberal-tending Arrupe was effectively pushed aside when John Paul unexpectedly appointed the Rev. Paolo Dezza, 80, a conservative theologian, to run the order temporarily.
The pope's comments came midway through an unprecedented meeting of Jesuit leaders called to discuss the future of the controversial order, which in recent years has been castigated by the pope more than once for excessive political and social involvement.
The Jesuits, who run high schools and universities throughout the world as well as the Vatican Radio, are today the largest and most influential Roman Catholic order.
Although they were once considered the custodians of Catholic orthodoxy, in recent years many Jesuits have been active in theological reform.
In some areas of the world--particularly Latin America--they have also taken a practical role in left-leaning social and political causes, sometimes even adopting Marxism.
In September 1979 these activities prompted stern words from the pope, who criticized the 26,000-member order for "secularizing tendencies."
Under the supervision of Dezza, 86 Jesuit provincials and more than 20 assistants began meeting last Tuesday in a secluded villa in the Alban Hills outside Rome to consider the pope's suggestions for correcting what he has termed their "regrettable shortcomings." This morning they returned briefly to Rome for a concelebrated mass at the Jesuit Curia, or administrative headquarters, followed by the papal audience.
In a brief homily, Arrupe, who in August suffered a crippling stroke, urged the order to accept the wishes of the pope.
"In the Roman pontiff we recognize and love the vicar of Christ on earth under whom we serve only the Lord and the church," he said.
In today's speech, the pope said that the order's current role was to implement the results of the 1962-1965 Vatican Council, which he described as "a question of working for ecclesiastical renewal and listening to the Holy Spirit."
Tonight the Jesuits return to the cloistered villa where they will reflect on the pontiff's directives, including his wish that they choose a new leader by the end of this year.