August 24, 2017 (Steven O’Reilly) – (Note: This article has been updated. See the current version entitled Curiouser and Curiouser: Who Dispensed Jorge Bergoglio SJ from his vows?). If you have been a regular reader of this blog then you know I have long supported the Dubia Cardinals’ quest for answers, and that I support a “formal correction” of Pope Francis. In my last post I outlined both what I thought a “formal correction” might look like and the consequences it might have for a pope who would remain silent (see High Noon: Musings on a Formal Correction of a Pope). This said, it is also true I do not share the opinion of those who hold that Benedict XVI resigned against his will and is therefore still pope (NB: At some point, I will finally get around to commenting on that subject in more detail in a future post). Although I think there were those around Benedict XVI who were duplicitous in their attempts to convince him to resign (see Thoughts on Free Will and Hypothetical Papal Plots), I see no evidence he was forced against his will to surrender the See of Peter. I have also said Francis is Pope.
As a former intelligence officer, I do not like loose ends. Knowing something of Jesuits and the Jesuit order; I know Jesuits profess a number of vows (emphasis added):
The professed of the Four Vows take, in addition to these solemn perpetual vows five additional Simple Vows: not to consent to any mitigation of the Society’s observance of poverty; not to “ambition” or seek any prelacies (ecclesiastical offices) outside the Society; not to ambition any offices within the Society; a commitment to report any Jesuit who does so ambition; and, if a Jesuit does become a bishop, to permit the general to continue to provide advice to that bishop, though the vow of obedience to Jesuit superiors is not operative over matters the man undertakes as bishop. Under these vows, no Jesuit may “campaign” or even offer his name for appointment or election to any office, and if chosen for one must remind the appointing authority (even the Pope) of these Vows—if the Pope commands that the Jesuit accept ordination as a bishop anyway, the Jesuit must keep an open ear to the Jesuit general as an influence. (Jesuit Formation. Wikipedia)
Of these vows, Fr. John Hardon, S.J., wrote (emphasis added):
“The third vow besides the solemn vow is to never seek or accept unless under formal obedience and pain of mortal sin from the Pope, any dignity in the Church: we are forbidden under pain of mortal sin to become bishops. And the fourth vow to protect the third – we are bound under sin to resist every effort to advance us in the Church.” (History of Religious Life: St. Ignatius of Loyola and the Society of Jesus, by Father John A. Hardon, S.J.)
For the remainder of the article, I will only use sources who view themselves as allies of Pope Francis. Austen Ivereigh tells us that Cardinal Bergoglio was approached at the 2013 conclave by those who worked on his behalf to elect him pope. Speaking of the effort to elect Cardinal Bergoglio in 2013, Mr. Ivereigh’s account is quoted in an article in The Telegraph:
“Spotting their moment, the initiative was now seized by the European reformers who in 2005 had pushed for Bergoglio,” Mr Ivereigh, who once served as Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor’s press secretary, explains in the book.” (Pope Francis: how cardinals’ Conclave lobbying campaign paved way for Argentine pontiff, by John Bingham in The Telegraph, November 22, 2014)
The article continues with Mr. Ivereigh’s narrative (emphasis added):
“They had learnt their lessons from 2005,” Mr Ivereigh explains. “They first secured Bergoglio’s assent. Asked if he was willing, he said that he believed that at this time of crisis for the Church no cardinal could refuse if asked.
“Murphy-O’Connor knowingly warned him to ‘be careful’, and that it was his turn now, and was told ‘capisco’ – ‘I understand’.
“Then they got to work, touring the cardinals’ dinners to promote their man, arguing that his age – 76 – should no longer be considered an obstacle, given that popes could resign. Having understood from 2005 the dynamics of a conclave, they knew that votes travelled to those who made a strong showing out of the gate.” (Pope Francis: how cardinals’ Conclave lobbying campaign paved way for Argentine pontiff, by John Bingham in the Telegraph, November 22, 2014)
Now, it may be argued that Cardinal Bergoglio only gave a passive assent, but I do wonder if such passive assent – i.e., giving the wink to others to seek a dignity on ones behalf – runs afoul of the spirit of the Jesuit vow not to “ambition” or seek “any dignity.” Fr. Hardon was quoted earlier on the vow: “and the fourth vow to protect the third – we are bound under sin to resist every effort to advance us in the Church.” Did Bergoglio “resist every effort?” If we are to trust Mr. Ivereigh’s account, the answer is “no.”
Researching another potential article for this blog on the topic of Fr. James Martin, S.J., I came across an old article written by Fr. Martin dating back to March 21, 2013 – just days after the election of Pope Francis (see Is the Pope still a Jesuit, by Fr. James Martin, S.J.). The most interesting tidbit was a seeming throw-away line in the last paragraph of Fr. Martin’s article (emphasis added):
“And to answer two other questions that have come up frequently: Yes, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus is obedient to Pope Francis, not the other way around. In a few days, Father General will meet with the Pope Francis to “formally” to offer his own obedience, as Superiors General have done with every Pope. And no, I seriously doubt that Cardinal Bergoglio asked the permission of the Superior General to accept his election as pope; besides, he was locked away in the conclave.”
Now, according to Fr. Hardon, S.J., a Jesuit cannot accept any Church dignity “unless under formal obedience and pain of mortal sin from the Pope.” There may be a simple answer, and that is more than fine. However, given the Jesuit vows not to seek or accept any dignity in the Church, my question is:
There being no living pope and no Superior General of the Jesuits present in the conclave of March 2013, who dispensed Jorge Bergoglio from these vows prior to his acceptance of his election as Roman Pontiff?
Obviously, there was no pope to dispense Jorge Bergoglio, S.J., from his vow, and even Fr. Martin S.J., ‘seriously doubted’ Jorge Bergoglio, S.J., asked the Superior General of the Society of Jesus for permission to accept his election as pope. The cardinal-electors in a conclave do not command or order anyone to accept the papacy – so they do not seem to be a proper authority (such as a pope) to release someone from a vow. Note, I am not suggesting anything about the canonical validity of the election on this account, as even a broken vow would not impact the validity of the election as I understand it. My point is more narrowly focused on (1) the status of Cardinal Bergoglio relative to his vows as he entered the conclave, (2) the requirement not to seek any dignity and (3) the requirement one must be ordered to accept any dignity. If he was still subject to his vows going into the conclave of 2013, it seems we could say the following: Cardinal Bergoglio was not ordered to accept the papacy; therefore, he should not have accepted it. Again, there may be simple answers. I am just a former intelligence officer who does not like loose ends, and this seems to be one: who dispensed Jorge Bergoglio, S.J., from his Jesuit vows?
[NB: Please note a revised and updated version of the article above may be found here: Curiouser and Curiouser: Who Dispensed Jorge Bergoglio SJ from his vows?]
Steven O’Reilly is a graduate of the University of Dallas and the Georgia Institute of Technology. He lives near Atlanta with his family. He has written apologetic articles and is working on a historical-adventure trilogy, set during the time of the Arian crisis. He asks for your prayers for his intentions. He can be contacted at StevenOReilly@AOL.com (or follow on Twitter: @S_OReilly_USA).