ROME -- Jesuit leaders gathered for talks today that could determine the future of the largest, most prestigious and controversial order of priests and brothers in the Roman Catholic Church.
The meeting, called by Pope John Paul II in an apparent attempt to curb liberal trends in the 26,622-member order, was scheduled to begin in the morning in an 18th century villa in Frascati, in the Alban Hills just south of Rome, and last at least a week.
The meeting brought 104 Jesuit leaders, including 86 provincial superiors from around the world, to face the pope's criticizm of liberal trends in the order, Jesuit sources said.
Last October the pope appointed the Rev. Paolo Dezza, 79, his 'personal representative' to the Jesuits, the order known formally as the Society of Jesus, founded in 1540 by St. Ignatius Loyola in Spain.
The unprecedented appointment effectively stripped the Rev. Pedro Arrupe, the order's superior general since 1965, of power. Arrupe, 74, a liberal who suffered a debilitating stroke last August, is not expected to attend the meeting.
'This meeting will be useful for Father Dezza so he can explain the wishes of the pope and tell the society how it can respond to those wishes,' the Rev. Claude Dietsch, spokesman for the order, told United Press International.
'He wants the Jesuits to be more religious and not get too involved in politics,' Dietsch said.
John Paul, like his two predecessors, has expressed displeasure at the involvement of some Jesuits in politics. In May l980 the pope ordered the Rev. Robert Drinan, a Jesuit from Massasschusetts, not to run for re-election to the U.S. congress.
Drinan, who as a Jesuit vowed obedience to the pope, quietly announced he would not run, despite protest from his constituents.
The pope, who is scheduled to meet with several Jesuit superiors at the Vatican Saturday, apparently intends the meeting as an example for other religious orders and diocesan priests.
'It (the meeting) will not be a discussion,' Dietsch said. 'The provincials will only listen to what the pope wants the society to be and how they should respond.'