Father Kenneth Doyle

Q. My question is related to our Holy Father, in light of my admiration for him and for the new direction he is leading the church. Is Pope Francis still bound by the religious vows he professed as a Jesuit? I would imagine that Ignatian spirituality still plays a large role in his daily life, but is he still technically a member of the religious order? As pope, would he no longer be subject in obedience to the Jesuit Superior General? (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

A. The question you raise — whether Pope Francis is still a Jesuit — is an interesting one and is, in fact, disputed by canonists. Some say that years ago, when he became a bishop, he was dispensed from his vows of poverty and obedience and therefore exited the Jesuits. I think that’s being over-technical.

He was dispensed from poverty because, canonically, a bishop owns diocesan property, and from obedience, because from episcopal ordination on, a bishop is subject to the pope rather than to his religious superior. I consider Francis to be still a Jesuit, and I think that he does, too.


Just a few days after his election to the papacy, Francis wrote a letter to the Jesuit Superior General in which the pope referred to the Jesuits as “our beloved order,” and his papal coat of arms contains the official seal of the Jesuit order.

I would hold that Francis remains a Jesuit and is still bound by his Jesuit vows, but with an asterisk — and I would quote Code of Canon Law No. 705 in defense of that position. Nothing is said directly in the church’s code about a religious who has been be elected pope, but Canon No. 705 does state that, “A religious raised to the episcopate remains a member of his institute but is subject only to the Roman Pontiff by virtue of the vow of obedience….”

So, Francis, I would conclude, continues to be bound by the vows of chastity and poverty (simplicity of lifestyle) but not by obedience. Father Ladislas M. Orsy, a Jesuit canon lawyer who teaches at Georgetown University Law Center, said recently of the pope, “His vow of obedience … loses its meaning because he has no Superior to obey.”

Ignatian spirituality (St. Ignatius of Loyola founded the Jesuits in 1534) clearly threads its way through much of what Pope Francis says and writes. Jesuit Father James Martin pointed out recently that Pope Francis has more than once invited his hearers to picture themselves present at a Gospel scene and to consider how they would have responded to Jesus — a meditation technique favored by Ignatius in his spiritual exercises.

Q. I attend a lovely small parish. In the parish, there is a very active couple. (She has been a member of our finance committee and he, I believe, is a “knight” in a Catholic religious group.) According to a mutual friend, both spouses are multiply-divorced and neither received church annulments. (This friend, who is a Baptist, told me that the wife was married to someone else as recently as five to seven years ago, and their next-door neighbor, who is also a friend of mine, corroborates that.

So my question is this: Do I have any obligation (to the church or to them) to tell our pastor that this is at least the third marriage for each of them and that it is possible that neither of them ever had an annulment? (Part of me thinks that this is none of my business, since I am a sinner.) (Central Virginia)

A. My answer is a firm “no.” You have no obligation to pass your suspicions on to your pastor — or to anyone. You have no facts at your disposal. Your concerns are based purely on rumor and hearsay. (Hearsay evidence, by the way, is excluded as testimony in American courts of law — and reasonably so.) What possible good could come from your passing such rumors on? Perhaps you believe that, if given this information, your pastor could have a conversation with the couple and, if need be, straighten out their situation with the church.

The more likely outcome, I would think, is large-scale animosity and nothing positive. Why not, rather, simply pray for the couple, that they be true both to their consciences and to the church’s teachings?


(Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at askfatherdoyle@gmail.com and 40 Hopewell St., Albany, N.Y. 12208.)