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John Paul II takes a stand and the Jesuits send a message

Paul II was critically wounded by Mehmet Ali Ağca on May 13, 1981 Photo:
Paul II was critically wounded by Mehmet Ali Ağca on May 13, 1981 Photo:
Pope John Paul II was critically wounded by Mehmet Ali Ağca on May 13, 1981 Photo:

In the spring of 1981, John Paul II sounded the battle cry as a battle to the death ensued between the white and black pope.

Pope John Paul II was critically wounded by Mehmet Ali Ağca on May 13, 1981 Photo:
Pope John Paul II was critically wounded by Mehmet Ali Ağca on May 13, 1981 Photo:

Six of the most powerful cardinals in Rome attended the meeting that day, locked and loaded. Three of those cardinals, the Pope knew would support him; three, he knew, would not.

In "Jesuits," Martin refers to each of them with codes names, of sort. Their titles and responsibilities which they held, however, give a strong indication of their true identities.

To John Paul's right sat Dottrina, the cardinal responsible for preserving sacred Catholic doctrine.

A smooth-faced Bavarian, wise and by no means simple, Dottrina was a professional theologian with all the confidence of the intellectual cleric. At fifty-five he was totally white-haired, and was the youngest man present. John Paul knew the Dottrina would always give total support to the papal will. (2)

Propaganda, a Brazilian with Italian roots, was responsible for overseeing the spread of Catholicism in Africa and Asia. His demeanor was simple, yet wise, with an air of directness. His colleagues respected him for his tendency to "lob grenades into discussions with disconcerting accuracy." Wojtyla trusted him to be an ally, as well.

The last "friend" on his friend-or-foe list was Clero, the cardinal responsible for all Catholic diocesan priests.

In the challenger's corner sat three staunch proponents of the Jesuit Order.

Vescovi supervised all Catholic bishops. His power was manageable, depending on his rate of return.

Heavily jeweled, cunning, young for all his sixty-eight years, Vescovi once came within a brace of being made Pope. He knew how to extract a price for his support. He might throw his weight on the Pope's side, if he had his way in other things. (6)

Religiosi was responsible for all male and female religious orders. Religiosi was not a fan of the papacy, in general and loathed popes who "rocked their boat." He traveled in secretive circles, all of whom detested Wojtyla.

Next to Wojtyla, Stato, Cardinal Secretary of State for the Vatican, was the most powerful man in attendance. Through the years, Stato developed a close relationship with important dignitaries in the USSR. It was he and two other colleagues who requested this meeting, to determine the Pope's plans for the Jesuit Order.

Wojtyla recognized his power and feared him. To some, Stato was a powerful ally; to others, he was considered a dangerous enemy and despised.

John Paul opened the meeting with general concerns about Jesuit loyalty to the papacy and potential misrepresentation of Roman Catholic doctrine.

Religiosi was the first to respond, defending the Jesuits on the grounds that any Jesuit faux pas was no worse than those committed by other religious orders.

To drive his point home, he cited Mexican Bishop Mendez Arceo's clenched-fisted salute at the beginning of each of his Sunday sermons, proclaiming: "Soy Marxista!" ("I am Marxist!")

Cardinal Evaristo Arns of São Paolo, Brazil, was a staunch opponent of capitalism and avid defender of the redistribution of wealth.

French bishops included Karl Marx's birthday on the official Church liturgical calendar.

Stato chimed in to fortify Religiosi's argument.

He reminded Wojtyla of his recent meeting with Soviet negotiator, Anatoly Adamshin, wherein he (Wojtyla) had reaffirmed the Vatican's commitment to the Moscow-Vatican Pact of 1962.

In 1962, Nikita Khrushchev agreed (in response to John XXIII's request) to allow two members of the Russian Orthodox Church to attend the Second Vatican Council, under the condition that there be "no condemnation of Soviet Communism or of Marxism, and that the Holy see would make it a rule for the future to abstain from all such official condemnation. (9)

Stato added that he had personal knowledge of a meeting during the reign of Pius XII between Giovannia Battista Montine (later to become Paul VI) and a representative of Joseph Stalin's, in an effort to "dim Pius XII's constant fulminations against the Soviet dictator and Marxism."

In light of the Vatican's continued show of support for Marxism, Stato then questioned whether a chastisement of the Jesuits who support Marxism would violate that pact.

John Paul asked Stato if Pius XII had been aware of those conversations and agreements at the time.

No, Stato admitted; then he dropped the bomb.

Reminding everyone that as Secretary of State, it was of utmost importance that he (Stato) maintain a solid relationship with officials of the USSR and Eastern bloc. If the Holy See should make any statements that endanger that relationship, it would be necessary for Stato to resign.

Propaganda attempted to redirect the conversation back to the initial focus of the meeting. As head of the Congregation for Oriental Churches, he had prepared a report summarizing the doctrinal errors that the Jesuits were promoting.

The reason for this falling away of the Order, he explained, was solely due to their following of one man: Jesuit Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. (10)The Jesuits had become infatuated with de Chardin's liberal philosophy 40 years ago and despite the papacy's condemnation of de Chardin's writings in 1960, continued to spread his ideology wherever and whenever possible.

A discussion much resembling a tennis match ensued. Clero and Dottrina lobbed balls over the net, citing examples of why the Jesuits needed to be put in their place. Stato and Religiosi waited calmly for each new serve, and then fired back with an equally powerful and determined backhand of excuses and threats.

An unnerving hush fell over the room as everyone waited for John Paul's response. Instead, he rose from his chair and exited the room with a bewildering reply. "Well, it took my cardinals eight ballots to elect me Pope. So!"

No one knew the next step in Wojtyla's battle plan but one thing was sure: Arrupe had to go.

Three weeks before John Paul was to make his move, he was struck down from two bullets of a Browning semiautomatic pistol. Wojtyla was not taken to the special hospital unit that existed exclusively for the Pope. Rather, he ended up in a hospital in Gemelli where, instead of receiving the special blood that was kept on hand just for him, he was given blood from the public blood bank and eventually contracted a severe case of hepatitis.

Stato, as Secretary of State, hurried back to Rome to take charge. Taking full advantage of Wojtyla's absence both he and Arrupe set to work, violating the Pope's instructions. Both sent congratulatory messages to Archbishop Paul Poupard on the upcoming celebration of Teilhard's birth.


John Paul's lengthy convalescence did not deter him from moving forward with his agenda, however. Adversaries in the Curia and Latin American church were unwavering in their conviction that Arrupe had to go. At the very front of enemy lines stood Vescovi, Dottrina, Propaganda, Clero, and powerful Latin American churchmen such as Archbishop Alonzo Lopen Trujillo of Medellin, Colombia.

Wojtyla kept his plan to himself, revealing nothing to Religiosi. This was a direct slap in the face to Religiosi as it was he, alone, who was answerable for the behavior of all religious priests.

John Paul took his attack even further. He demanded that the press office of the Vatican print a retraction to Stato's praise of de Chardin and reaffirm the 1960 condemnation, publicly humiliating Stato.

Then John Paul went for the jugular. He ordered Stato to begin the process of removing Arrupe from the office of the Jesuit General.

Whether it was divine intervention or just an extremely odd coincidence, before Stato could implement his orders, Arrupe suffered a brain hemorrhage, leaving him paralyzed on his right side and unable to speak.

The General Assistants of the Jesuit Order went straight to work to appoint Vincent O'Keefe as temporary Vicar-General. O'Keefe fit comfortably into the Jesuit agenda. Not only was he Arrupe's personal choice as a replacement, but he had already gained himself a reputation as a rebel.

But John Paul was not finished. Reasserting his authority as pope, his final move was cunning and deadly; vengeance was his and it was sweet. It was one of Arrupe's greatest allies who would inflict the final wound. John Paul commanded that Stato, himself, deliver the final blow.

Early on October 5, 1981, Stato carried out his orders.

He mounted the stairs, was shown to Arrupe's room, and walked over to his bedside. He stood over the paralyzed form of the old Basque and read the words of John Paul's letter. "I wanted to be able to work with you," John Paul had written, "in the preparation for the General Congregation . . . ." but the assassin's bullets on May 13 and Arrupe's stroke on August 7 had ended all that part of the plan. (11)

Wojtyla had appointed Paola Dezza as his personal delegate; Arrupe was gone, forever.

When Dezza appeared on the scene, Jesuit Provincials began to panic and drilled Dezza with questions to determine his intentions.

What was the status of the "Constitutions" of the Society? Suspended? Totally, or in part? What now? What was the constitutionality of the Pope's action? Was it legal? What powers did Dezza have? Could he override Provincials? Replace them? Could he dismiss Jesuits from the Society? Was the General Congregation to be put off indefinitely? When could they elect a new Father General? (12)

Thousands of letters of protest flooded the Gesù. Karl Rahner, himself—along with 18 other Jesuits in Germany—argued on Arrupe's behalf. When all appeared lost, they concluded with a threat to disregard the Pope's decisions on any matter relating to the Jesuit Order.

Though victory appeared on the horizon, the battle was still not over. In spite of a solid relationship with John Paul, Dezza was a loyal Jesuit. He was a pacifist who favored reconciliation and peace over disagreement and rebellion.

Dezza's analysis found no fault with the Society as a whole. It was all a misunderstanding between the Order and the Pope, blaming it on "some jackass somewhere had violated the accepted formats, had sinned 'politically,' had failed to fathom and understand that for Rome, authority is power." (13)

The solution, Dezza declared, was to create unity between the papacy and the Jesuits at all cost. Accept the Jesuits and allow them to forge their way unfettered by the "difficulties" that John Paul II had caused. In short, it was Dezza's goal not to put an end to Jesuit abuses but rather, to "repair relationships."

The fat lady exited, stage left; it was not yet time for her to sing.


(2) Martin, Malachi, "The Jesuits," New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987, p. 81.
(6) Martin, p. 81.
(9) Martin, p. 86.
(11) Martin, p. 99.
(12) Ibid., p. 100.
(13) Ibid., p. 102.