Prominent Jesuit: The Society of Jesus is in ‘profound decline’

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By Walter Sánchez Silva

Father Julio Fernández Techera, a Jesuit priest and rector of the Catholic University of Uruguay, has written a widely circulated, critical essay about the Society of Jesus warning that the order, founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola in 1534, is in “deep decline.”

The essay by the 57-year-old priest is titled “Ad Usum Nostrorum III” (“For Our Use III”) addressed to his Jesuit brothers. The document, which originally circulated within the Society of Jesus, was recently published by the Spanish journalist Francisco José Fernández de la Cigoña on his blog on Infovaticana.

This is the third document in a series that Fernández began in 2022 when he wrote his initial essay (“Ad Usum Nostrorum”), noting that for a long time he has felt dissatisfied with the situation in the Society of Jesus while making it clear that he is not going through a vocational crisis nor is he thinking about leaving.

He published the second essay a year later, in April 2023. In that text he expressed his appreciation for the many responses he received, also from young Jesuits, and even from some who didn’t agree with him but thanked him for the opportunity to debate and propose a revision of the order.

The third essay by Fernández is dated April 22. The new text has the subtitle “Some Considerations about the ‘De Statu Societatis 2023’ (‘On the State of the Society 2023’),” in reference to the general report produced by the superior general of the Society of Jesus, in this case the Venezuelan priest Arturo Sosa, in collaboration with the procurators (who assess the state of the order), who met in May of last year in Loyola, Spain.

Recent sex abuse scandals 

“The society is experiencing very worrying situations that seem not to have been addressed in the Congregation of Procurators and that do not appear clearly and are not taken up in the ‘De Statu’ report. To give some examples, in December of 2022 we learned about what an Italian Jesuit called the ‘Rupnik Tsunami,’” Fernández noted in his essay.

Marko Rupnik is a priest who was expelled from the Society of Jesus in 2023 — accused since 2018 of having committed serious sexual, spiritual, and psychological abuse against at least 20 women in the Loyola Community that he co-founded in Slovenia — and who continues to appear as a Jesuit and Vatican consultant in the 2024 Pontifical Yearbook.

Fernández then referred to the “scandal” of sexual abuse against minors “committed by some Jesuits in Bolivia, and the alleged cover-up by several provincials who were accused by the prosecutor’s office of that country. We have had to find out about everything through the press and we have not received a single statement or letter from the General Curia explaining what happened or to ask for prayers for the province of Bolivia.”

The main Jesuit accused in this case is the late Alfonso Pedrajas, known as “Padre Pica,” who kept a diary about the sexual abuse he committed against more than 80 minors in Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador.

A shrinking society

Fernández pointed out in his most recent essay that “other urgent issues that were not dealt with clearly and forcefully are: the drop in the number of admissions to the society, which in the West worsens year by year, as well as the high number of members leaving the order.”

“Recently a friend told me that 72 novices entered his province in the last 10 years. In the same period, the number of Jesuits who left the society in his province were 71,” he said, adding that “in 2023, 314 novices entered the entire society, and 319 died.”

The priest also noted that there are currently 13,995 Jesuits and lamented that “in a few years the society will have disappeared from several European countries and will become insignificant in others in Europe, America, and Oceania.” The only growth is in Africa. In 2013, there were more than 17,200 Jesuits, which means that in just over 10 years, the Society of Jesus has decreased by more than 3,000 members.

For the Uruguayan priest, “the problem is not only that many die and few enter, but also that we do not know how to retain many of those who enter.”

“The reason why we do not have vocations is not because of the secularized society, the changing times, and a thousand other excuses. The reason is that these conditions of our time have cowed us, they overwhelm us, and we do not know how to respond to today’s challenges with the drive and creativity of yesterday,” he pointed out.

Jesuits currently more akin to a ‘progressive NGO’

According to Fernández, the vision of the general report on the Society of Jesus “could perfectly be the view of the world of a secular think tank, with ties to a left-wing political party or a progressive NGO [nongovernmental organization].”

“One does not find in that [evaluation] any of the supernatural or transcendent outlook that would be expected from a religious, apostolic, and priestly order,” he lamented.

“There are many signs in the current life of Jesuit ministries, in the documents that are published and the guidelines that are given, that give the impression that we are in an NGO and not in a religious order,” Fernandez pointed out.

In ‘deep decline’ 

As Fernández sees it, the Society of Jesus “is in deep decline. It doesn’t know it, or it doesn’t want to know it, which is the same thing. It wants to believe that this is the situation of all the other realities of the Church that surround it and that therefore it is what it should be.”

In his opinion, the society’s leadership “fears that if it speaks clearly to the entire order, its members will suffer and become discouraged. The leaders “prefer to maintain the fiction that things are going well rather than risk recognizing the religious and apostolic decline of the society.”

Regarding the Jesuits’ 2023 general report, Fernández pointed out that “in this entire long document of more than 24,000 words, the word ‘priest’ never appears and only twice ‘priesthood,’ although only to make a reference distinguishing between priesthood in the society and the diocesan priesthood.”

“I think our attitude is suicidal: We want vocations for the priesthood in the society, but we don’t want to talk about being priests,” he pointed out.

Toward the end of the essay, Fernández recalls that the Jesuits “have a wonderful and necessary charism for the Church, a religious, apostolic, and priestly charism. We have to recover it and live it with passion, boldness, and generosity.”

“To achieve this it is necessary to speak more freely, express clearly what we experience and think and stop being politically correct.”

In conclusion, Fernández expresses his prayer that God “would grant us in this time a living hope to believe that if we put ourselves in his hands and are faithful, we can still rise again and once again be a great service to his Church.”

ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, contacted the General Curia of the Jesuits in Rome to request its impressions of Fernandez’s essay. As of publication of this article, no response has been received. 

History of apostolic visits

In a piece published in March 2022, the late Cardinal George Pell, under the pseudonym Demos, suggested conducting an apostolic visit or investigation into the Society of Jesus. 

The early 1980s was the last time the Jesuits were investigated. At that time, Pope John Paul II personally intervened in the governance of the society, removing Father Pedro Arrupe from his position as superior general.

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