Dr. ll'lario Schoenellberger, the first high ranking Jesuit to speak out 01/ issues of conscience, resigrled voluntarily from the Society of Jesus last April.
His action has callsed one oj the greatest sensations in the order's 435 years of existence, arid has electrified the Chllrch's internal debate on the conscience of the priest.
Tire 49-year-old Swiss speak six langllages, having studied in France, Germany, Spain, aud Austria. His ability was immediately recognised by the order. Only four years after being ordained he was appointed chaplain to the University oj ZlITich.
Shortly after Ihe following iTlten;iew with the Genuau news magaziue Der Spiegel, Dr. Schoenenberger said that he had hoped his ideas and those of his General could coincide. He had known for a long time, however, that "resiguation was iuevitablc".
Interview with Dr. Mario Schoenenbcrger, Assistant to the General of the Jcsuits for Gcrman speaking Europe.
SPIEGEL: Father Dr. Schoenenberger, the General of the Jesuits, Pedro Arrupe, has faced Hollands most prominent Jesuits, the two Amsterdam University Chaplains Huub Oosterhuis and Ton van der Stap, with expulsion from the order. Would you agree that within recent decades no new development, started by Jesuits, has been stopped so decisively by the General as the "Amsterdam Experiment" ?
SCHOENENBERGER: This may be so, although I would express it differertly. Our General's action is an event in the work of our Order, which is comparable \vith few others and one which \vill have important consequences.
Do you believe, the General's decision was right? We understand it as the most massive effort up to now, to bring the Order onto a conservative line.
I feel you go too far with your interprctation there. But fundamentally, and in tllis case, I know how difficult it is for ecclesiastical authority to bear the present tensions in the Church. Howevcr, I would have welcomed it if one had tried to endurc this tension somewhat longer in this spccific instancc.
Are you still in favour of similar experiments-if not by Jesuits, then by other Catholics?
Yes, absolutely. I am not at all of the opinion that everybody has to agree \vith every experiment. About Amsterdam opinions were and still are divided. I was in favour of support for this cxperiment, although I do not know myself, if the Fathers were on the right track. But I had confidence in the men working there. Your General thinks quite differently about this. Already in February, Arrupe in a letter to all Jesuits in Holland "deplored in strongest terms what took place", and demanded public redress from the Amsterdam chaplains.
Father General is, by his personal conviction, of the opinion, that in Amsterdam the limits of Jesuit and priestly conduct towards ecclesiastical authority have clearly been excecded. In fact he stated that plainly. You "'ill understand that I am still very much involved in this case even today, although it is "settled" for the Order. Not so much because I was publically associated with these events, . .
It was publically alleged in Holland that you had last year discreetly advised the then Jesuit Vrijburg, when he wanted to get engaged, that he should not get married, but live together with his partner-to-be and stay a Jesuit. I can deny that.
Do you exclude the possibility, that another leading Jesuit gave him that advice?
Vrijburg himself talked of a "high Vatican personality", who gave him the advice. If it was not you or another Jesuit, do you exclude the possibility also that it was a non-Jesuit here in Rome?
I don't know.
You would have preferred to continue the Amsterdam experiment as a trial by Jesuits rather than stop it. As well as that would you be in favour of Vrijburg, who will be married in the near future, being allowed, not only to preach, but also to administer the sacraments like any other priest? This really is what Vrijburg and the three other university chaplains demanded.
I tried to act as a buffer so to speak between Amsterdam and Rome and put across the idea that at least the Dutch should be recognised as difficult but at the same time important partners in dialogue. But I personally do not like it at all that the Amsterdam events are concentrated on the question of cclibacy in this way-what rights a married pricst should have. The value of the expcriment has depreciated because of the conccntration on this point. The truly positive elements of living and preaching in the language of our time only become obscured by this.
Father Schoenenberger, let us talk about the situation in the Society of Jesus in general. We agree that Amsterdam is really only an indication, but it developed into a crisis. It seems that the notorious obedience of the Jesuitsoften called blind obedience-is not carried out any more and tbat consequently your General is seen to be commanding rather tban convincing.
You cannot put it that way. But certainly Jesuit obedience is not carricd out everywhcre in the traditional sense anymore. There arc even Brothers in our Order who speak of a crisis of obedience.
You know the words of the founder of your Order, Ignatius of Loyola: It must be an eternal law for every Jesuit, "to carry out immediately whatever the present and all future Roman Popes command for the advancement of souls and for the propagation of the faith, wherever they want to send us". This tberefore concerns the special obedicnce to the Pope, which every Jesuit has to promise solemnly. Is this phrase of Ignatius valid only geographically 'wherever'--or dogmatically as well -'whatever'?
From Ignatius's thought and the Order's own understanding of itself both elements belong to it. The present Pope can therefore not only command where Jesuits should go but also what they should do.
Among German Jesuits a different opinion has spread since General Arrupe asked them to change their thinking on the question of birth control and say No to the pill with the Pope. The two Provincials of the Federal Republic, Krauss in Munich and Ostermann in Cologne, refused to do so on the basis for example, that obedience to the Pope was to be understood geographically and not dogmatically.
The majority of Jesuits will not be able to identify themselves \vith this very narrow interpretation. Is the other tenet of Ignatius, the founder of your Order, that a Jesuit will have to make white black when the hierarchy wants it, still as valid as it was four hundred years ago?
If you place such a quotation which is over 400 years old suddenly into the tWentieth century, then it is naturally out of place. I want to go even further and ask how it could have gained such importance at the time in the Jesuit way of life. I think myself that the men of the 16th century saw God's prcscncc in their ecclesiastical supcriors in a way which wc cannot today.
But today Jesuits are still asked to make white black, for example by Arrupe in his letter which we mentioned earlier. 'Ve would like to quote the key sentence. Arrupe writes about the ideas in Paul VI's encyclical on birth control and the Jesuit: "These ideas might not have been his own in the beginning, but he will discover their priority overriding his own understanding". Arrupe assumed that this would be the case and he goes on: "No fear shall prevent us then from proclaiming, if necessary publicaIly the change of our previous opinion". That is a call for retraction. Yes to the pill becomes No, white becomes black.
Following the General's letter a comprehensive correspondence betwcen Father Arrupe and different Brothers and Provincials ensued. Father Arrupe however explained again and again that he did not intend to limit the study of these questions in any way, despite impressions which might arise from a first reading of this letter.
Leaving Amsterdam to one side for a moment; can you give us an example of a case where a Jesuit must either obey or else leave the Order?
Well, my opinion on this point differs somewhat from some of the other Fathers in the General Staff. Contrary to the opinion of somc prominent Fathers I sometimes think that some bchaviour can be tolerated even if others do not approvc, I thinlt however, the limit would be exceeded if, for example, someone were to suggest the Jesuits should bc aUowed to marry Has that been suggested?
Not scriously, but thc idea has been put forward. Was there any serious question arising within your Order to which you said No? I am sometimes blamed for not having done so up to now.
Father Schoenenberger, we talked about the obedience of the Jesuits, but there are vows of poverty and chastity taken as well. Have they become a problem? Not the vows. But the significance of the ideal of poverty and the practical form which the living of this ideal can and should take are the subject of wide-spread discussion within thc Order, Does the opinion exist, for example, that a Jesuit, if he is a sought-after lecturer and netted £5 a night, should be allowed to keep the fee?
Both the opinion exists and the situation. As in the case of poverty, is there a similar discussion about chastity ? Celibacy certainly is not being discussed, though there has been talk about whethcr the vow of chastity means that a woman should not play any part at all in the life of a Jesuit; or could one imagine this vow having a valid meaning-not a hypocritical one--in the case where a woman does playa part in the life of the Jesuit. There was discussion in the U.S. on whether Jesuits in training, that is while they are still candidates for the priesthood, should be allowed cultivate friendship with a girl and say go out with her, visit a theatre or go to the beach. This represents the third way of life. The first way is living with a woman, this is marriage. The second way is a life of strict celibacy in the sense of a man who lives only with God. The way in which the very real problem of the place of a woman in a priest's life is dealt \vith in discussing the "third way of life" is not at all serious enough in my opinion.
Should a woman only playa part in the life of a Jesuit until he has taken his vows, or afterwards as well?
The only discussion up to thc present has been centred on thc training period and whethcr contact with women should be prevcnted in the future as it has bcen in fact for many generations past. I think one should allow the ideal of a cclibate life to develop during this training period through contact \vith thc opposite sex, with a woman.
There are many things in dispute in the Catholic Church, from original sin to celibacy and the prerogatives of the Pope. Has a Jesuit got the same freedom as another priest to express himself critically on such questions?
If you were to ask me wherc the freedom of the Jesuit ceases, I would reply that I cannot know in advance. In my opinion it is no longer possible today to detcrmine . a priori' that means prior to examination, thc limits beyond which the answer to a question may not go.
Father Schoenenberger, as a priest and a Jesuit, arc you allowed to talk in this way? Where a dogma is concerned the answer is already fixed in advance. Take for instance the virgin birth which is currently being discussed. A Jesuit is allowed to ask himself whether or not the virgin birth is a historical and a biological fact. But he already knows his answer, because the virgin birth is a dogma. It is true that for many priests, and naturally for many Jesuits also, the answer is alrcady known, but for some Jesuits and other priests it is not. It is important here for the leaders of the Order to have enough confidence in the theologians. I would consider suspect any authoritarian control of theological research and discussion. Did Paul VI's encyclical on birth control create problems of conscience for many Jesuits? Or to put it another way, were those Jesuits who thought differently from the Pope on this question many or few?
For many Jesuits engaged in pastoral work or theological research the encyclical has intcnsified the latent problem of authority. There is considerable evidence that the encyclical caused problems of conscience among Jesuits; but I don't think that their number has becn changed very much by the encyclical.
Like most of my Brothers I am not happy that the Pope e.'!:prcssed himsclf in this way. This above all bccause I see the working of authority in the Church somewhat differently. In my opinion authority in the Church today should no longer work in a repressive way.
Is this feasible?
I think it is. I am thinking here of my Dutch friends. They show us that a spiritual community as the Catholic religious community is or should be, can and must live by what it accepts positively. That is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
As long as you speak about the problem of authority in such ageneral way, no Catholic will contradict you. Could you not state a little more specifically how the Pope should use his authority if he were to act as you would have him do?
I do not want to talk about thc Pope in particular but primarily about the use of ecclesiastical authority. Even today I think it quite desirable that the heads of the Church say what they think. Well, Paul VI does that quite sufficiently. Only he thinks and talks like a minority of his Church and tries to impress his opinion on the majority by authoritarian means. That is the problem of authority in the Catholic Church. We are coming to a point now which I believe to be extrcmely important. In my opinion a valid interpretation of authority should not lead to rcpressive actions.
More simply it should convince, not demand.
Yes. In the past, the Popes could cnforce their convictions. Today wc face the simple fact that thc Pope can no longer do so. The reactions to thc encyclicals on celibacy and birth control have shown this.
Anxious Catholics would ask what is left then of authority?
When a man in a qualified position expresses his convictions, his opinion has more significance than that of the man in the street. In this way he can exercise his influence, all the more in a Church where, despite all present day criticism, there is considerable desire for dialogue with authority, a desire to be listened to and to be taken really seriously. What troubles me is the fact that today very few are prepared to face the questions that are asked of them or to let themselves be called into qucstion. This is what must happen.
What will that lead to in the Catholic Church?
The past teaches what happens if one does not act so. The Church often had the answer ready too quickly, without quite listening to the questions of the time, and she nearly always suffered defeat. One need only recall philosophy, socialism, science, the property question. I believe that the Church must abandon this attitUdc completely, and soon, if shc wants to have a future.
Father Dr. Schoenenberger, thank you for this interview