….At the Te Deum at the end of 1980, Father Arrupe’s assistants cornered John Paul at Il Gesù, demanding progress on their desire to move ahead with a general meeting and election of a new superior general. John Paul demurred. A few months later he was shot, and in August 1981 Father Arrupe had a stroke that made his continuing as superior general impossible.
John Paul had to act. In October 1981 he gave his decision. It was an earthquake. The Holy Father suspended the ordinary governance of the Society of Jesus. Father Arrupe’s authority was given to a papal delegate, Father Paolo Dezza, who would govern until the Holy Father gave permission for a general congregation and election of a new superior. It was the greatest blow to the Jesuits since the order was supressed in 1773 by Pope Clement XIV.
“Life in religious orders was in crisis in the years after the Second Vatican Council, and while John Paul may not have thought that the Jesuits were worse off than others, he believed their influence was so great that a period of reflection was called for,” wrote George Weigel in Witness to Hope. “The intervention was shock therapy.”
Thus the Jesuits were traumatized — many of them enraged — when John Paul came to Il Gesù on Dec. 31, 1981. Tradition dictated that they host him at their principal church, housing the tomb of St. Ignatius and the precious relic of St. Francis Xavier, just months after his thunderous vote of non-confidence and evident lack of trust in their own capacity to reform themselves.
There were no fireworks at the Te Deum. John Paul did not speak about the Jesuits. He restricted himself to general comments on the passage of time, only alluding to the assassination attempt and the declaration of martial law:
“The year that is coming to an end today reconfirms this struggle [of death against life],” he said. “Doesn’t it reconfirm it within each of us? Does it not reconfirm it in the dimensions of life, societies and nations? Does it not reconfirm it in the dimensions of the entire globe?”
The anti-climactic Te Deum at the end of 1981 would presage the eventual resolution of John Paul’s intervention. He had acted with boldness, even severity, but he would leave it to the Jesuits to follow through on the path of reform.
At the general congregation eventually convoked in 1983, the Jesuits did not markedly change direction. They would continue to hemorrhage members and their orthodoxy and discipline did not markedly improve….
Forty years after the shock therapy, under a Jesuit pope, the humiliation continues as the Jesuits shrink and shed apostolates. Though the Jesuits are led now by Father Arturo Sosa, their most prominent member is Father Antonio Spadaro and their most notable English-language personality is Father James Martin. The reform St. John Paul II had in mind did not take hold….
The above comes from a Dec. 31 article by Father Raymond de Souza, founding editor of Convivium magazine.