St. Joe's Professor and Priest Reflects On First Jesuit Pope
Rev. William Byron shares his thoughts on what the election of Pope Francis, the first Jesuit and non-European pope, means for Catholicism.
The world watched Wednesday as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the former Archbishop of Buenos Aires, was elected as the new leader of the Catholic Church. The cardinal, who is now known as Pope Francis, is the first non-European pope as well as the first Jesuit pope.
Jesuit priest and Saint Joseph’s University professor Rev. William Byron spoke with Patch on Thursday about what a Jesuit pope means for the faith, as well as what challenges Pope Francis may face.
What sets Jesuits apart? Jesuits are a religious order, founded by a charismatic leader, Saint Ignatius, that left a mark on the order and set the style.
Jesuits are "contemplatives in action," Byron said. "They leave the monastery to go out and do work ... they put a big premium on the intellectual development of their members and are widely regarded as intellectuals."
Most have advanced academic degrees, he added.
What could a Jesuit pope mean for outlook and policy? A Jesuit's outlook is shaped by the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius, which focus on poverty, a willingness to accept criticism, and humility.
"That is a clearly counter-cultural ideology, and a Jesuit internalizes that and sees it as a strategy for the good life," Byron said.
Jesuits typically handle titles and authority in a different way than those in a "promotion culture" or military culture. A Jesuit ordinarily does not seek honors, so "It’s highly unusual to see a Jesuit bishop," he added.
What does a non-European pope mean for Catholicism? "It means we’re looking at the Southern Hemisphere, and it’s the beginning of a new era. It’s a recognition of poverty," Byron said.
Twenty to 30 years ago, Jesuits elected to make the service of faith and promotion of justice the twin guidelines for their work. "That involves social justice and advocating for the rights of the disenfranchised."
What’s the biggest issue facing Pope Francis? The reform of the Roman Curia, the Vatican bureaucracy.
"Just like how here in Washington we have a president in the Oval Office, in Rome there’s a pope in the Vatican. And just as we have the Secretary of State, Secretary of Education, the pope has congregations—we’d call them cabinet departments," Byron explained. "Those departments are populated by clergy who are in effect civil servants, and tend to be heavily Italian and bureaucratic. There needs to be renewal there ... as well as transparency in the operations of the Vatican bank."
What other issues does he face? "There are a lot of other issues, and they’re all major," Byron said.
One is the question of how to recruit candidates for ordination, and another is the controversial topic of ordination of women. "We won’t see anything happen on those fronts now. … Social change takes time and is gradual, and it’s really a question of reform, not revolution," he explained.
"Part of the reform is going to be getting new structures in place, so he’s got a big job," Byron added. "I don’t know how well he slept last night, but when he realizes the enormity of the leadership problem for 1.2 billion beings, for governance and worship—it’s a great challenge."
From the university president
Saint Joseph’s President C. Kevin Gillespie released the following statement on Thursday:
This is a time of celebration—of our faith, of our respective missions and of the Jesuit tradition. We offer congratulations to Pope Francis and look forward to a period of great community in the Church. We share the world's fascination with the new Pontiff as he embraces the enormous challenges of our times in the humble spirit of Ignatius.