PopeWatch: Pope Francis and the Jesuits



In an article in The Atlantic, author Paul Vallely looks at how Pope Francis changed as a result of his period of “internal exile” imposed upon him by the Jesuits:



As polarization grew between an atheist, anti-Church Left and a right wing that claimed to be acting in defense of the Church and its values, Bergoglio found that it was impossible to hold to a middle way. He cracked down on Liberation Theology inside the Jesuits. Progressives within the order accused him of de-facto collusion with the worldview of the Right, if not with its tactics. Looking back he admitted, in his first interview as pope: “I had to deal with difficult situations, and I made my decisions abruptly and by myself. My authoritarian and quick manner of making decisions led me to have serious problems and to be accused of being ultra-conservative.”

A titanic struggle for the soul of Catholicism ensued. Bergoglio had strong support within the Jesuits when he became provincial superior in 1973. But by the time he ended his leadership role as rector of Buenos Aires’s Jesuit seminary in 1986, those who loathed him had begun to outnumber those who loved him. By 1990, his support within the order had been eroded by his authoritarian style and his incorrigible inability, in the words of the Jesuit, Father Frank Brennan, “to let go the reins of office once a [Jesuit] provincial of a different hue was in the saddle.” Another senior Jesuit told me: “He drove people really crazy with his insistence that only he knew the right way to do things. Finally the other Jesuits said: ‘Enough.’”

By the time he was sent into exile, according to one senior Jesuit in Rome, around two-thirds of Argentina’s Jesuits had lost patience with him. In his first interview after becoming pope, Francis attributed this dynamic to his own “style of government as a Jesuit at the beginning. … I found myself provincial when I was still very young. I was only 36 years old. That was crazy.” As a young priest in powerful leadership positions, Bergoglio did not have the maturity he needed to cope with the competing pressures of Jesuit factions, the Vatican, and a ruthless military dictatorship.

In response to these cleavages within the Argentine Jesuit community, Jesuit leaders in Rome eventually decided to strip Bergoglio, then 50, of all responsibility. In 1990, he was sent to Cordoba to live in the Jesuit residence, pray, and work on his doctoral thesis. But he was not permitted to say Mass in public in the Jesuit church. He could only go there to hear confessions. He was not allowed to make phone calls without permission. His letters were controlled. His supporters were told not to contact him. The ostracism from his peers was to be complete.
In Cordoba, Bergoglio turned inward. His main public spiritual engagement was hearing confessions. He spent a lot of time looking out the window and walking the streets, from the Jesuit residence to the church along a road that passed through many different areas of the city. People from all walks of life—academics, students, lawyers, and ordinary folk—visited the church for the penitential sacrament. He found his interactions with the poor particularly moving.

“Cordoba was, for Bergoglio, a place of humility and humiliation,” said Father Guillermo Marco, who was later Bergoglio’s right-hand man on public affairs in the diocese of Buenos Aires. There seems to have been more to this than learning from experience. Francis later admitted to having made “hundreds of errors” in his time as leader of Argentina’s Jesuits. Cordoba was, he revealed in his first interview as pope, “a time of great interior crisis.”

In 1992, when Bergoglio returned to Buenos Aires as auxiliary bishop, he had totally remodeled his approach to being a leader. His style became delegatory and participative. And his manner was distinctly different. He developed what became one of his best-known habits: ending all encounters by asking the other person to pray for him.

For the new Bergoglio, humility was more like an intellectual stance than a personal temperament—a tool he developed in his struggle against what he had learned were the weaknesses in his own personality, with its rigid, authoritarian, and egotistical streaks. In Cordoba, Bergoglio had had two long years to reflect on his divisive leadership of the Jesuits in Argentina, and on what he had done wrong or inadequately during the Dirty War.

But the change came from more than that: History was also a major factor. The world has shifted around him. Bergoglio’s early politics were formed in the era of the Cold War, amid the fear that atheistic, Soviet-style communism would supplant both capitalism and Catholicism in Latin America, with Cuba as its toehold. But then the Berlin Wall came down. The Soviet Union and its empire collapsed. Mainstream Catholic teaching absorbed key insights from Liberation Theology—like the idea that sin does not just reside in the bad acts of individuals but can also become embedded in unbalanced economic structures. Globalization only internationalized that injustice. And this truth was brought home to Bergoglio most forcefully during the seismic economic crisis that seized Argentina in 2001, when half the population was plunged below the poverty line. Macroeconomic solutions engineered in Washington by the International Monetary Fund ratcheted up austerity policies that made life harder for the poorest. Bergoglio began to be highly critical of the economic formulas of modern capitalism; he was particularly critical of speculative financial markets for their ability to damage the real economy.

Go here to read the rest.  PopeWatch agrees with Mr. Vallely that Pope Francis learned some important lessons from his period of “internal exile” by the Jesuits but disagrees as to what those lessons were.

1.  Humility as  a pose.- For all of the Pope’s talk about humility he really isn’t a humble person.  His attitude as a leader is still, “My way or the highway”, and he doesn’t suffer opposition gladly.  (Cardinal Burke nods.)  However, being an abrasive type of leader is softened in the religion biz by appearing to be humble, and talking about your humility all the time.  (Watch me kiss the feet of this filthy beggar.  Is this a good angle for the video cams?)

2.  Leftists are stronger in the Church than conservatives-Pope Francis is a Jesuit, an organization dominated since Vatican II by leftists.  Under Pope John Paul II he was a conservative, but that could not save him from the wrath of his superiors in the Jesuits.  He was asked in 1992 not to reside any longer in Jesuit houses, and in fact did not visit a Jesuit house until his election as Pope.  If he had not been chosen as an auxiliary Bishop of Buenos Aires in 1992, at the request of Cardinal Antonio Quarracino of Buenos Aires who quipped that a bad Jesuit might make a good Bishop, his career within the Church would have been moribund.  This estrangement from his Order convinced the future Pope that going up against the left within the Church was not a good career move.  As Pope, conservatives within and without the Church are clearly the enemy as far as Pope Francis is concerned and rarely get anything from the Pope but the back of the papal hand.

This is not to say that Pope Francis is some sort of Machiavellian cynical ecclesiastical politician.  That is far from the truth.  He clearly believes what he says, which is both comforting and disquieting.  However, we are all shaped by what happens to us in this Vale of Tears and what lessons we draw from  our experiences.  The estrangement from the Jesuits was the major event in the life of Pope Francis, and he clearly believes that what caused his estrangement was that he took the wrong political line.  He is determined not to make that mistake again.



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  1. If true: Is humility, as an image, becoming of a pope–a shepherd–regardless of its good intentions? Doesn’t such, give an impression of at least a hint of deceit?

    I am reminded of Bill Clinton’s staged humility–fixing a cross on a beach, or wiping a tear from his eye at a funeral–halting his near-boisterous laughter a nanosecond before.

    I would ask if transparently public humility, for the sake of appearance and show (and yes, a style of teaching) doesn’t more reflect of those Pharisees Christ admonished as hypocrites?

    His advisors might remind him that such behavior could be seen by potential sheep as counterproductive.

  2. I don’t think it’s so much a pose as an over-correction, or an attempt at one.
    He knows he’s got a flaw– we’ll call it “confidence in his understanding”– but he was taught that it’s thinking he’s better than others, and that the way to correct it is to do stuff that shows he’s not a more hoity-toity person than others.
    So he throws himself into showing that no, look, he’s not stuck up or anything— he’s all around a bunch of folks who are DEFINITELY not highly respected! He doesn’t dress fancy! He ditches his escort!
    Meanwhile, the folks who are tearing their hair out because he still thinks that the way he sees things is the most accurate, and he still has a temper. (I’m guessing, there, but after spending some time with my mom when she’s worried and hurting…sometimes the Pope seems really familiar) He’s still impulsive.
    These are problems that can be adjusted for– but they’ve got to be accurately identified, first.

  3. Does this need a long analysis?
    Simply a wolf in sheep’s clothing. And by the fruits we are knowing him.

  4. The Roman Pontiff is a 20th century Latin American Jesuit. He has the typical Latin American understanding of economics – a piss-poor understanding of economics. The economic model he favors has plunged Argentina into the mess it is in and he can’t see it. Well, that and a lack of a work ethic on the part of too many Argentines.

    Our own economy, here in the USA, has been severely damaged by government policies. Clinton took campaign cash from whoever he could get it and if it meant that Los Alamos was robbed blind so be it. The entire subprime mortgage mess was caused by government coercing lenders to loan money to uncreditworthy people who would use the loan proceeds to buy homes and then abandon those homes. To top it off, GNMA and FNMA bought those mortgages, bundled them together and sold them as securities to investors. Some greedy banks dove into the water head first but the government built the pool. Obumblercare is another crimp on the economy. Astronomic corporate tax rates are another job killer.

    The Roman Pontiff will soon be visiting Philadelphia. I would not cross Pennsylvania to see him. I would not cross the street to see him. We are in a period of chastisement.

  5. Penguins Fan +3

    I’ve have the exact same response regarding the Papal visit. I don’t want to see him.
    Agree with the chastisement theory as well.
    As many commentators have mentioned in the past few years; “Prepare, Pray and Perseverance to the end.” The storm has reached us.

  6. Well said Penguins fan. Pope Francis is a disaster and a disgrace. He is a Modernist through and through, a religious opportunist, an economic ignoramus. Let us pray his reign ends soon. God help us all, specially Pope Francis.

  7. “Jesuits” by Malachi Martin S.J. is an eye opener.”

    Shawn, it should be required reading for all Catholics of high school age or better, that the sheep may not be naïve as to confuse the voice of the true “Shepherd” with the voices of the many mimicking wolves in the Church.
    The beauty of it, is that it provokes one to keep reading of the smoke of Satan in our church, in order to properly discern and admonish for the sake of our own, and other’s, souls.

  8. Right-wing Peronist’s?
    We are all Marxist enough now, 2015 A.D., to willingly and almost automatically partition ourselves off into parties or gangs. George Washington’s nightmare.
    I also agree with our friend PF.that I wouldn’t want to go to see this pope –

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