Tuesday, January 08, 2008

"Black Conclave" Update

Shortly after yesterday's candid message from the papal legate to its opening, the first working session of GC35 was held in the Aula of the Jesuit Curia. As the body doled out its initial round of appointments, the front rank of the generabili were much in evidence.

It'll be another ten days or so before one of the 226 delegates emerges as the 29th successor of Ignatius Loyola and new "Black Pope," but after the outgoing Father-General Peter-Hans Kolvenbach relinquished the chair, the representatives of the church's largest religious community placed two potential candidates at the center of the spotlight. The Puerto Rican Orlando Torres -- a Kolvenbach favorite currently running the Society's formation desk -- was elected to preside over the assembly until the election, with Basque Fr Ignacio Echarte, head of the Jesuit houses in Rome, chosen as his deputy.

Two committees were also established. The first, compiled by seniority, keeps watch to ensure that no Jesuit has "aspired to the office of General." Representing Western Europe, Kolvenbach -- the region's senior delegate -- is among its ten members, as is the longest-tenured US delegate, Fr Vincent Cooke, the president of Canisius College in Buffalo and the Spanish provincial Elias Royon, cited as a possible "compromise candidate" for the top post.

The second committee, charged with preparing the De statu Societatis report on the "State of the Society," includes several of the oft-mentioned, including Royon (the only Jesuit to serve on both of the sub-groups), the rector of Mexico City's Iberoamericana University (and former global head of formation) Jose "Pepe" Morales, and the European super-provincial Mark Rotsaert.

After a week of preparing the report that'll form the "job description" for the new General, the body will move to the four-day period of the formal murmuratio; the Society's chief spokesman, Fr Jose DeVera, said last week that the election is expected to take place on or about 19 January.

Conspicuously absent from the first-day mix was the Australian provincial Mark Raper. Once the Rome-based head of Jesuit Refugee Services, Raper -- along with Morales and Torres, among others -- was a mainstay among the most-mentioned names even before the congregation was convoked in early 2006, and has since remained among the widely cited.

While, in the run-up to the GC, his "maverick" tendencies had been viewed in some Jesuit quarters as too provocative given the sensitivity of the Society's relations with the Holy See, yesterday's public rebuke from the Vatican's "prefect of Religious" Cardinal Franc Rode CM just might've given new life to a mindset that sees the electors responding in kind.

Unlike the conclave that yields a "white" Pope, the Jesuit chosen as Father-General is not asked whether he accepts the post. As the choice comes from the community's supreme authority -- the congregation -- it is considered a mission under obedience and cannot be declined.