Jesuits have never been shy about naming schools and other institutions after “Ours” (as they refer to each other)—Loyola, Xavier, Gonzaga, Canisius, Marquette. I went to Campion High School, where I was on the Bellarmine Debating Society, before entering St. Stanislaus Seminary—all three of them named for Jesuit saints. So one might have expected the first Jesuit pope to take his papal name from a Jesuit saint; there are, conveniently, two called Francis—Saint Francis Xavier and Saint Francis Borja (general of the order from 1565 to 1572). But Jorge Bergoglio took his name from Francis of Assisi, who was not a Jesuit, not a pope, and not even a priest. This is not surprising, since Bergoglio was not on good terms with his fellow Jesuits before his election to the papacy—which was probably why he was made a cardinal by Pope John Paul II, who despised Jesuits. John O’Malley, S.J., the great Renaissance historian, suspects that the pope thought he was not getting “a real Jesuit.”
Despite all this, some are trying to make the pope a “typical Jesuit,” though that is a mythical beast. There are Jesuits of all sorts, some to be revered, some reviled; some good, others bad. A good one died last year, the peace activist Daniel Berrigan, S.J.—though some thought that he, too, was not a real Jesuit. One of his superiors said he was “in the order, but not of it.” If I were looking for a bad Jesuit, I would name Pietro Tacchi Venturi, S.J., the secret intermediary between Pope Pius XI and Mussolini—a thorough anti-Semite, an authoritarian schemer, and a sexual adventurer. Fortunately, there are recent books that bring these two men into better focus—The Berrigan Letters (correspondence between the brothers Daniel and Philip Berrigan) and The Pope and Mussolini, by David I. Kertzer.1 Tacchi Venturi figures largely in Kertzer’s book, and is given solo treatment in a forthcoming book by Kevin Madigan of the Harvard Divinity School.
Kertzer showed that there was a knot of powerful Jesuits in Rome before World War II who were enthusiastically anti-Semitic and pro-Fascist—the Jesuit Superior General Włodzimierz Ledóchowski, S.J., the editor of the Vatican newspaper Civilta Cattolica Enrico Rosa, S.J., Mussolini’s promoter Tacchi Venturi, S.J., and the Gregorian University theologian Gustav Gundlach, S.J. These four men conspired to quash Pius XI’s attempt to issue an encyclical against anti-Semitism.
Ironically, the idea for Pius XI’s encyclical came from another Jesuit, John LaFarge, S.J., an American who had published the book Interracial Justice in 1937. While ministering as a young priest to blacks on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, LaFarge was shocked to discover that his order had held slaves there. We have heard recently of the way Georgetown University saved itself financially by selling 272 slaves in…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.