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The Jesuits bid adieu to Fernando Cardenal

Jesuit Father Fernando Cardenal  PHOTO:
Jesuit Father Fernando Cardenal PHOTO:

News of Wojtyla's public degradation spread like wildfire throughout the Jesuit Order. Little sympathy was to be found for the cruel humiliation and disrespect to which he was subjected. Cardenal and his followers felt that he got what he deserved; he needed to be taught a lesson. The "Polish ghetto bishop" needed to realize once and for all that the big, bad world was nothing like his previous bishopric. It would be better that he "draw in his horns, retire, and lick his wounds." (1)

Secretary of State, Agostino Cardinal Casaroli, affirmed these attacks with his silence, refusing to openly defend John Paul. Not only did Casaroli, in his apparent disinterest of the whole fiasco, encourage the Jesuits' betrayal of the papacy, but he gave permission for other Orders to dip their toes into the pool of rebellion, as well.

Wojtyla was not completely without fault, however. His "wait-and-see" strategy merely bought time for the Jesuits to regroup and fortify their defenses. Leaving the Jesuits in the hands of Dezza and Pittau was his biggest mistake.

Dezza perceived the Pope as weak. He interpreted Wojtyla's lack of specificity in his orders as a go ahead to Dezza to assume as much power as he pleased. And that power would be focused on returning the Society to its proper "form."

In September of 1982, the Jesuits played out their charade regarding Arrupe's "resignation," sidestepping the truth behind his departure from the role of Father General of the Jesuit Order. They neither wanted to bring shame to Arrupe, nor give credence to John Paul's show of power.

Arrupe's successor was Dutchman Piet-Hans Kolvenbach.

Tall, heavy-framed, with a full head of graying hair, a severe face, Woody Allen look-alike spectacles over large eyes that seldom smiled even if his mouth did, an ample white beard surmounted by a black mustache, Kolvenbach's character had been already noted. He was furbo, the Romans commented, using a word that meant both cunning and sly. He was a man of very few words—"the Church has been drowned in words lately," Kolvenbach reportedly commented on the deluge of speeches, addresses, and sermons that started flowing from the papacy once John Paul II was elected in 1978. When Kolvenbach did speak, it was said, he went for the jugular, to use a popular phrase. (2)

Kolvenbach's acceptance speech was music to the Jesuits' ears; Arrupism would live on! Having lived through the injustices in Beirut, the Jesuit drive to free the underdog was firmly emblazoned in his heart. "I am not bound either to Romans [the papacy] or to the United States or to the French, or to the Latin Americans," he declared. Answering the cries of the suffering. Kolvenbach believed, was how they could best serve the Vicar of Christ.

He cautioned the Jesuits not to lose the opportunity of fighting for justice. They must "discover" the Society all over again. Father Arrupe's removal cannot cause them to become timid, nor change his convictions about the modern mission of the Society. To do so, Kolvenbach warned, would be to abandon Christ's humanity.

It was his job as Father General, he concluded, to protect his Jesuits from the distractions of groaning complaints from popes while they carry out their "mission among men."

For the rest of that year and on into spring of 1984, Kolvenbach continued to receive (and ignore) requests for Cardenal's removal. The same old ring-around-the-rosy continued: "police evasion, toleration of indirect refusals by Cardenal himself and by his local Jesuit Superiors in Managua, and tacit acquiescence in public protests and objections to Rome's interference from the Sandinistas broadcast in the international media." (3)

Fed up with the Jesuits' blatant disobedience, the Nicaraguan bishops issued an Easter pastoral letter repeating John Paul's scathing condemnation of "la eglesia popular" and the Base Communities. No one was spared—nuns and priests alike. Anyone who was neglecting their spiritual vocation to play vigilante must immediately "return to ecclesiastical normalcy." The bishops went so far as to accuse them of betraying the apostolic structure of Christ's Church for the sake of fomenting Marxist-Leninism.

Needless to say, the Jesuits were not about to take such an attack sitting down. Cardenal and friends shot back a derisive response, insisting that the People's Church was Christ's Church and "summarily rejected all episcopal claims to control the Church."

The Sandinista government considered the bishops' letter a declaration of war, increasing its harassment of the Nicaraguan bishops, priests, nuns, and anyone else on the side of the enemy. In July of 1984, the Junta arrested 10 priests who were loyal to the bishops and deported them.

Father Bayardo Santa Eliz Felayz, a fifty-five-year-old Nicaraguan priest, was tied to a post outside his parish, along with four of his parishioners, doused with gasoline and set on fire.

In July, 1984, John Paul directed Kolvenbach to send an emissary to Nicaragua to gather information on the issuance of the critique of the bishop's letter. To no one's surprise, "things" were as bad—if not worse—as had been perceived by Rome. Cardenal and his fellow government priests were out of control.

Once again, John Paul demanded Cardenal's resignation from either the government or the Order by August 31. Kolvenbach persuaded him to wait until after the Nicaraguan elections in the fall. In the meantime, Kolvenbach contacted Cardenal to persuade him to resign, as his political position was in direct conflict with his duties as a religious.

Cardenal responded with yet another pompous assertion of his independence from the Church and his Superior General: "The achievement of my Jesuit vocation is only to be had in my commitment to the revolution."

Kolvenbach notified Cardenal on December 4, that he was being dismissed from the Jesuits and encouraged him to "take thought regarding some other path of life in which he can serve God with greater tranquility."

In his letter to all the Major Jesuit Superiors, Kolvenbach described Cardenal's resignation as a "conflict of conscience." It was Canon Law #285, forbidding religious to hold political office without special permission from the pope, which caused him to make a decision between the Church and his dedication to the poor. As usual, neither Cardenal nor Kolvenbach acknowledged any sense of culpability, placing the blame directly on Wojtyla.

Shortly after news of his dismissal spread throughout the Order, Cardenal wrote a response.

In spite of his "unjust dismissal," Cardenal said in his letter, his conscience grasped "as if in a global intuition that my commitment to the cause of the poor in Nicaragua comes from God. . . ." I would commit a grave sin before God if I abandoned, in the present circumstances, my priestly option for the poor." (4)

Of course, Cardenal never passed up a chance to take a stab at John Paul:

On the other hand, "the Holy See in the case of Nicaragua appears to be imprisoned by conceptions in the political sphere that it has received from the traumatic experiences of Eastern European conflicts. . . ." The disrespectful innuendo about John Paul, though muted by comparison to the humiliation during the Pope's visit nearly two years before, was clear. (5)

Cardenal's "sacrifice" for the poor paid off for him in spades. Hanging with the bad guys (Sandinista nomenklatura), afforded him and his ex-Jesuit colleagues a life with all the perks of a powerful and privileged Marxist elite. There were no mud huts, sleeping in the dirt or skipping meals. Instead, they enjoyed the comforts of middle class homes in Managua suburbs, which had been confiscated from their owners.

They shopped at specially designated hard-currency stores and dined at luxury restaurants reserved only for Party officials. Lunch was not given to the poor who had nothing to eat. Rather, their government offices received daily deliveries of ham, lobster, and other delicacies unobtainable elsewhere in Sandinista Nicaragua.

Rather than sitting in the bleachers with the poor, baseball games were watched from reserved box seats. They most likely drove to these games in their cars supplied with unlimited supplies of gasoline drank water that was rationed to the very poor.

Vacation time was spent in mansions from the Somoza dynasty, accompanied by personal bodyguards of Cubans and East Germans. Still, they had not abandoned their true mission as they jetted across the Middle East, Europe and the United States in planes provided by the Soviets.

And how had Cardenal's "struggle and sacrifice" paid off for the poor of Central America?

Nicaragua's once vital cotton, sugar, and beef production has collapsed. Naked children, stomachs distended from hunger, search for food in streets and fields alike. Bank accounts are confiscated. Ration cards for the purchase of beans are distributed to villagers according to the "loyalty" of each; but even ration cards cannot make up for the 71 percent decline in real wages since 1979.


(1) Martin, Malachi, "The Jesuits: The Society of Jesus and the betrayal of the Roman Catholic Church," New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987, p. 122.
(2) Ibid., p. 126.
(3) Ibid., p. 130.
(4) Ibid., p. 136.
(5) Ibid., p. 142.