ROME, April 1 — A highly placed source in the Society of Jesus has informed CatholicVote of a proposal for major changes to the order founded by Saints Ignatiuis Loyola, Francis Xavier, and Peter Faber. While the Benedictines, Franciscans, Dominicans, and other orders have included women for centuries, the Jesuits have maintained a male-only tradition throughout their nearly 500-year history. All that is now set to change.
Unknown to the world, secret deliberations have been taking place for many months between Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope, Cardinal Beniamino Stella, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, and the order’s Superior General, Arturo Sosa, a position sometimes jokingly referred to as “The Black Pope” as a play on the somber color of the typical plain black priestly attire of the Jesuits. Our source was also a party to some of the discussions.
Fr. James Martin, S.J., a prolific commentator well-known for his more radical leanings expressed great joy when asked about these shocking revelations concerning his order. Some time ago, he had tweeted, “The ordination of women deacons is not an idea whose time has come, but rather an historical reality that must be fully recovered.” The irony of this remark was not lost on Fr. Martin as he celebrated the long-overdue opening of his order to the fairer sex.
Of course, the discussions now taking place in the Vatican will not change the Church’s perennial teaching regarding holy orders, but they do mean that the Jesuits, at least, will now allow women to participate more fully in the life of the Church in a way that has been excluded for so long. The opening of the Jesuits to women will also likely help bolster the order’s membership which has been in decline for several decades.
On the return flight from the 2013 World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Pope Francis remarked, “The role of women in the Church is not only maternity, the mother of the family, but it’s stronger: it is, in fact, the icon of the Virgin, of Our Lady, the one who helps the Church grow!” Perhaps the Holy Father was already thinking ahead to this momentous occasion in the history of his order as he said this.
Latest plans are for the official announcement to be issued by Pope Francis on this July 31, the feast of St. Ignatius, and the 203rd anniversary of the bull Sollicitudo omnium ecclesiarum of Pope Pius VII which universally restored the Jesuits after their 40-year suppression in the late 18th century by Pope Clement XIV due to their employment of slave labor and suspected involvement in the political intrigues of the Bourbon courts of France and Spain.