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 CNS Story:

JESUITS-SUPERIOR Feb-3-2006 (510 words) xxxi

Jesuit superior to step down, calls 2008 meeting to elect successor

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

ROME (CNS) -- The superior general of the Jesuits, Dutch Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, has informed members of the society that he intends to step down in 2008, the year he will turn 80.

In a Feb. 2 letter addressed to all members of the Society of Jesus, Father Kolvenbach said a general congregation to elect his successor and to discuss other important matters would begin Jan. 5, 2008, in Rome.

Each of the 91 Jesuit provinces in the world will hold a provincial congregation by March 1, 2007, to prepare for the Rome gathering.

While the Jesuit superior general is elected for life, the order's constitutions allow a superior to step down.

Catholic News Service in Rome obtained a copy of Father Kolvenbach's letter in Italian; each Jesuit provincial is charged with ensuring that every member of the Jesuits receive a copy.

Father Kolvenbach, who was elected superior in 1983, told the Jesuits that before making his decision he obtained "the consent of His Holiness Benedict XVI" and had listened to the opinions of his assistants at the Jesuit headquarters and of all the provincials.

U.S. Jesuit Father Frank Case, Rome-based secretary of the Jesuits, told Catholic News Service that Father Kolvenbach had sought Pope Benedict's opinion and consent in view of his advancing age and the challenges facing the world's almost 21,000 Jesuits.

Unlike most religious orders, which hold general chapters on a regular basis, the Society of Jesus does not have a fixed schedule for the convocation of general congregations. They are called to elect a new superior or to discuss issues that cannot be resolved by the society's ordinary governing procedures.

The last general congregation was held in 1995 and the one before that was the 1983 congregation that elected Father Kolvenbach.

Father Case said the 2008 general congregation is expected to include about 200 participants, most elected to provide a proportional representation of Jesuits in various regions and provinces.

Congregation members will determine how long their meeting will run, he said, although it is expected to last about two months.

"Early in the congregation, there is a prayerful, retreat-like time of reflection and discernment, a time when people can talk to each other, then they proceed to vote," he said.

The Jesuits have no process of nominating candidates and there is no campaigning, Father Case said. The first Jesuit to garner a majority of the votes is elected superior.

In his letter, Father Kolvenbach said he was convoking the general congregation under the conditions foreseen by the Jesuit constitutions to deal with "questions of lasting and serious consequences" for the entire order.

He also said the pope and the Jesuits he consulted unanimously approved of his plan to convoke the meeting "to decide on the governance of the society at the highest level."

Father Kolvenbach closed the letter by expressing his hope that preparations for the congregation would be "guided only by the desire to serve Our Lord God" in the hope that he would make use of it.


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