Jesuits And Women

A three-month gathering of the Society of Jesus, better known as Jesuits, ended Wednesday, March 22, with the released of a 1200 page document listing initiatives the order would endorse. Five pages are spent on outlining a position on women, saying that "many women . . . feel that men have been slow to recognize the full humanity of women."

From a part of a church whose "fathers" wrote that women were evil-loving pockets of sin, that's going a long, long way. But the document goes on to say that

"We are conscious of the damage to the People of God brought about by the alienation of women in some cultures who no longer feel at home in the church, and who are not able with integrity to transmit Catholic values to their families, friends and colleagues.

"We Jesuits first ask God for the grace of conversion. We have been part of a civil and ecclesial tradition that has offended against women. And, like many men, we have a tendency to convince ourselves that there is no problem. However unwillingly, we have often been complicit in a form of clericalism which has reinforced male domination with an ostensibly divine sanction."

Talk about understatement! But to give them credit, the Jesuits specifically mentioned female "circumcision," dowry deaths (common in India), and the murder of female infants as part of the problem to be addressed by the order.

The document also proposes establishing an "associate membership" to involve lay men and women in the Jesuit order. This is in response to declining membership in the Jesuits.

Founded in 1540 by St. Ignatius Loyola, the Society of Jesus has 23,000 members in its order. It has a history of conflict with the Vatican. That history was underscored in January when the pope opened the Jesuit meeting by saying that its members must be "in obedient agreement" with the Vatican. The Jesuits are widely recognized as the most powerful religious order in the Roman Catholic church. There are 28 colleges and universities run by the Jesuits in the United States, including Georgetown University, which President Clinton attended.

200 delegates attended the "general congregation" of the Society of Jesus in Rome. The meeting approved 22 documents.

Source: AP, 3/23/95; Washington Post, 3/22/95