Pope’s sole ‘chief’

We met in Rome with the first general of the non-European Jesuits. He talks about Francisco’s revolution, the pederasty scandals and why his country, Venezuela, is a “democracy that was broken”

By Jorge Benítez, 05/31/2017

It is a prey to a black legend that reflects up to the RAE dictionary. The third sense of Jesuit is “hypocrite, sneaky.” Few institutions of the universal influence of the Society of Jesus have been as admired as hated in 500 years of history. And so given to the resurrection. After his fall from grace under the pontificate of John Paul II, this religious order has seen how, in just a decade, one of his own sat for the first time in Peter’s chair.

A political power that served as a Catholic army against the Reformation, defended the American Indians and evangelized Asia to be persecuted by kings who saw it as a threat . A power of knowledge that cultivates science, educates the humblest, runs elite universities and at the same time ran as an enemy of the Enlightenment.  A history of light and caves. Who, today, leads the disciples of Ignatius of Loyola, since last October, has been the first Superior General born outside Europe and the only person who – figuratively – could be said to be the Pope’s chief over the past Jesuit of George Bergoglio .

Arturo Sosa (Caracas, 1948) is someone who looks like a reflection in the mirror of the Pontiff. One is the black Pope (Sosa) and the other the white Pope ( Francis ), the two most powerful figures of Catholicism. The name of black pope was born due to the influence attributed to the Jesuit generals in the government of the Church and the color of their cassocks . Sosa is Latin American like Bergoglio, progressive like Bergoglio and life in the position (except accepted resignation) like Bergoglio. He runs a multinational that operates in 127 countries with 18,000 members that have been described by the writer (and Jesuit) Pedro Miguel Lamet as “the GEO of the Church.”  In the General Curia of Rome, to 100 meters of the Place of San Pedro, is where Arturo Sosa lives with 56 brothers. A sign on the door announces that the building is part of the diplomatic jurisdiction of the Holy See.

At the appointed time appears Father Patrick Mulemi, Jesuit of Zambia and responsible of Communication of the order, to accompany me to the top floor.


Arturo Sosa welcomes us in a meeting room with a strong handshake and thanks the journalist for coming from Madrid. Father Mulemi takes out a tape recorder and a digital camera and places himself on the other end of the long wooden table. Suddenly, his smile seems to turn into an hourglass.

“The leftists have said that the Pope is of the right and the right of the left, he is not carried away by one wind or by another.”  Pope Francisco is seen with sympathy by the left in Spain and, even by the atheists, is the Pope a person of lefts?

That’s a difficult category to handle. The Pope has lived through difficult political times in a continent that had guerrillas and military dictatorships. For me Bergoglio is a man of the Second Vatican Council. This event was very important for the Church of Latin America, an ideal occasion to turn many things around. This internal revolution he lived in his country. We speak of a period in which the Company chooses Father Arrupe as general of the Jesuits, a person who encouraged this transformation and who names him provincial in a very tense era …

The leftists have said that Bergoglio is of the right and the Of right, that is of lefts. What happens is that he does not let himself be carried by one wind or another. He has his own thinking. Then when he was appointed bishop of Buenos Aires he knew very well the periphery of his diocese. That experience as a pastor in a complex place is what he offers as a pope.

His election and that of Francis seems to have ended with the Eurocentrism of Church government.

I do not agree with Eurocentrism if we consider a definition as a disease of. The Church expanded in its first moments thanks to the generosity and audacity of Europe. It is true that in this continent there is a process of secularization, but we must not forget that from a very early stage the Church is considered Catholic, which means universal, and that has allowed us to enjoy a great diversity. This was one of the first tensions that the early Church experienced: deciding whether to be Jewish or Catholic.

What did you feel when you saw Cardinal Bergoglio greet the crowd very close to here becoming the first Jesuit Pope in history?

I acknowledge that it was a great surprise.

Father Sosa is wearing a wool sweater and gray trousers. The room, like hallways and elevators, functional, far from the spectacular Gesu , based in the early centuries of the Superior General (and the Santiago Bernabeu of Jesuit devotion). The Gesu is perhaps not the most beautiful of the 900 churches in Rome, but the most splendid one of an amphetamine baroque – as must be all Baroque – that reflects the power of the Company in its early years and whose design Has marked Jesuit architecture around the world. A priori this grandson of Cantabrian was not the favorite in the pools to become the new black pope. The Jesuits consulted to make this report believe that it has been a wise choice because the new Superior General combines an “important intellectual formation” – he is doctor in Politics and graduated in Philosophy – with the social commitment . He has been defined as someone who “knows how to read the world”, but in a short time his reading has already found detractors in the bosom of the Church. We speak of someone who has questioned the rigor of the Gospels and defined the theology of liberation, anathema until recently in the Vatican curia, as a “breath of fresh air.


Father Sosa was elected chief of the Jesuits according to the centennial criteria of the order. For four days, those with the right to vote participated in a process known as the murmurings , a series of interviews in which participants of the Jesuit conclave are asked questions ranging from the suitability of a brother to the position, his state of Health or leadership skills. It is a system where sobriety prevails , away from the pomp that involves a papal election. Their rules prohibit campaigning for anyone and making value judgments. Once elected the new leader, this one goes to the chapel, swears its position of general and goes to the room that San Ignacio occupied in the Gesú.

“There will come a time when the role of women will be recognized more. The church of the future has to have a different hierarchy.”  A large section of society feels that the Vatican reacts too slowly to social changes. Are the laws of the Church written in stone?

The Church has been operating for thousands of years and changing things. Do not simplify your story. The law is an instrument and has always lived the debate. It has taken centuries to accept certain doctrines, from the Gospels to the creed. The Church has never been a stone, although sometimes it is seen like this. When Vatican II ended, I was 18 years old and had a great desire to see all the changes in 10 years. There are 50 and there are still many things to do. The debate has neither stopped nor stopped.

I speak of specific issues such as the greater role of women in the institution, the recognition of gay rights or the use of contraceptives.

The role of women in society has not been easy, societies are still very macho. In the Gospel the presence of the woman is very clear …

I was referring to his access to the priesthood.

Jesus did not attend to the common norms of women of his day. He was always accompanied by women. The Church has never existed without them. For me they are the great transmitters of the faith. There will come a time when your role will be recognized more. The Church of the future has to have a different hierarchy, with different ministries. I appeal to the feminine creativity so that in 30 years we will have Christian communities with another structure. The Pope has already opened the door of the diaconate [a clerical position that can not preside over the Eucharist] by creating a commission. Then more doors could open. The problem is whether the Church changes and reflects a different relationship between man and woman.

What about gay marriage?

One thing is the public and official thought and another what happens in the communities. One thing is homosexuality and another is my homosexual partner, the one who is part of my family, my environment . In religious life there are homosexuals and they are not persecuted, they are part of the community. The sacrament [of marriage] is another issue, it is one thing to recognize the civil status so that there is no discrimination and another theological aspect. The sacraments are not born like this (clicks on the fingers).

The Society of Jesus has been peppered with cases of sexual abuse that have affected the clergy. He had exemplary behavior in many dioceses, denouncing and supporting the victims, but in other cases he participated in a shameful silence.

I must say that this has been very painful . These things have remained very hidden and to discover them has been, I repeat, very painful, with implications of people very recognized. If so, recognize it and learn to be transparent. This is not only a problem with the Jesuit who is involved, but there is a person who is a victim, in most cases they are both victims, because one may have suffered abuses before or if you are accused …

But a child is much more vulnerable …

Yes, when it is a child and when they are not children. But sometimes accusations have been given that have been proved lies, I know several, driven by revenge or economic reasons, people accused and condemned a priori. In the last general congregation of the Company we made it clear that safeguarding minors is a priority. More than half of the Jesuits work with children or with vulnerable adults. We have created protocols for behavior, monitoring, ways of acting when there is a complaint with the guideline to investigate always. The Pope already said: «Zero tolerance». When there are cases that are demonstrated, the corresponding ecclesial and civil measures must be taken.

In that regard, I wanted to ask you about the compensation of the victims and the sanctions they impose on those guilty of abuses within the order. Many of the cases brought to light have been prescribed within the framework of ordinary justice in many countries.

We have paid a lot of compensation, mostly in the United States and Europe. Both civil and canonical sentences are observed. The risk of this problem always exists, but not for that we will stop educating. Today we are much more aware as humanity of the need to protect children more. It is also true that statistically there are more abusive social groups, although that does not excuse us. Nothing is justifiable, not even by the abuser’s personal history. You have to know how to act.


Sosa has never haggled the Venezuelan political-social debate. Although discreet, he does not forget his training as a political scientist, he also knows the country’s history very well: his father held important positions in the government. On many occasions he has been very critical of Chavism.In 1992 was mediator in the hangover of the failed military coup that had in a young Hugo Chávez to one of its ringleaders. Those days the coup defenders demanded protection when they were to be transferred to prison because they feared to be victims of an attack. And he was one of the guarantors of his safety. No one could discern that priest and commander were to become the two most important personalities of recent history in Venezuela. When this interview takes place, President Maduro has just annulled the order by which he disqualified the parliament. Protests on the streets and international pressure have put the regime back in the last hours.

“Many sexual abuses have been kept hidden and discovering them has been very painful … You have to learn to be transparent”

Is Venezuela a fragile democracy or a dictatorship today?

It’s such a fragile democracy that it broke. If we measure the parameters that measure a dictatorship or a democracy with the Constitution passed in 1999 we are increasingly further away. In it, Chavismo welcomed the radical recognition given to human rights. But we are far from being fulfilled. There is one of the highest rates of violent deaths in the world, there is malnutrition, lack of medicines, no quality education, no infrastructures … A democracy in which elections are not held at the appointed times and in the Which are not mutually respected the public powers is not serious.

Father Sosa gives a brief analysis of the Venezuelan social situation. He explains the country’s problems stemming from the lack of oil sowing, which, in his view, has prevented the development of a more just society for decades. As I speak, I see the tape recorder and Father Mulemi’s face. The time is running out. Two days earlier I received an email from him in which he warned that the duration of the interview would be 30 minutes – the initial agreement stipulated an hour – due to the busy schedule of Father Sosa.

“Last question, please,” he says in English. I have many more. “It’s your job,” Sonsa says, laughing, also in English. I ask the Superior General to make two. You accept.

Every day science tells us that many of the things we do, the diseases we suffer, are due to genetic inheritance, is free will at risk?

I believe that science helps us and allows us to create better conditions for human beings to develop their freedom. No one discusses the condition of man as one who can choose and also understand his limitations. There are social determinants that allow us to understand things and we have to correct inequality to help decide freely.

In conclusion, I wanted to ask if he believes that evil is a process of human psychology or comes from a higher entity.

From my point of view, evil is part of the mystery of freedom. If the human being is free, he can choose between good and evil. Christians believe that we are made in the image and likeness of God, therefore God is free, but God always chooses to do good because it is all goodness. We have made symbolic figures, like the devil, to express evil. Social conditioning also represents that figure, since there are people who act this way because it is in an environment where it is very difficult to do the opposite.



CCI Editors Note:  Emphasis added to separate the questions from the answers.