Tuesday, January 02, 2007

"Black Pope" Watch

As the countdown clock hits a year until the opening of the 35th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, the ramp-up to the mega-gathering of the church's largest order just doesn't stop accelerating.

Not that anyone minds, of course.

We're roughly at the halfway point between last February's convocation and the 8 January '08 beginning of the GC, the Jesuits highest governing body whose next iteration will elect a new superior-general in succession to Fr Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, who is retiring. (Some extensive background, from the archives.)

The shape of the electorate charged with choosing the next "Black Pope" will come further into view this week, as the US provinces of Baltimore, New York and New England begin their provincial councils today. Alongside their respective heads, who attend the general congregation as ex officio delegates, each PC will elect an additional number of representatives, but not many; alongside provincial Fr Gerald Chojnacki, New York'll be sending but two other electors to the "Black Conclave."

Once all delegates are chosen in the assistancies -- the national or sub-continental clusters of provinces -- the electors from each will meet to prepare consultations on the state of the Society, their desired qualities in the new Father-General, and "some names," to boot. The process is a significant departure from Jesuit tradition.

Another key change of dynamic from 1995's GC34 is the continuing wild expansion of the South Asian assistancy, which eclipsed the US earlier this decade to become the Jesuits' largest regional group. This expansion, of course, strengthens the subcontinent's numbers at the GC and, ergo, their hand in the election of the 29th successor of Ignatius of Loyola.

If you thought the Company's American branch was progressive, well... um... you ain't seen nothing yet.