On the issue of the governance of the Society of Jesus, the delegates at the 31st General Congregation use the following decree to reaffirm that the Jesuits’ superior general “is to be elected for life.” Still, the delegates allow for the general’s resignation “for a grave reason that would render him permanently incapable of the labors of his post.” The decree continues to explain the resignation process. This decree proved unfortunately prescient, as the superior general elected by the 31st General Congregation, Pedro Arrupe, became the first general to resign two years after he suffered a debilitating stroke in 1981.
For more from the 31st General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, please consult this page.
1. The 31st General Congregation, after a protracted and full discussion of both sides of the question, reaffirms the prescription of the Constitutions that the General is to be elected for life and not for some fixed term; it has made provision, however, for resignation from this office according to norms in the revised version of decree 260 of the Collection of Decrees.
2. Decree 260 of the Collection of Decrees shall be revised to read:
§1. Father General may in good conscience and by law resign from his office for a grave reason that would render him permanently incapable of the labors of his post.
§2. The obligation rests especially on the Fathers Provincial in the sight of God to consider and do what they ought to do for the universal good of the whole Society in those matters that concern Father General; generally, however, unless the matter should be extremely urgent, they will fulfill this duty through the General Assistants.
§3. If at least a majority of the General Assistants, out of their knowledge and love of the Society, shall have decided that Father General ought for a grave reason to resign his office, they should advise him of this through the admonitor.
§4. When Father General, either of his own accord but after consultation with the General Assistants, or after having been so advised by them, shall have judged that it is proper to resign his office, he should ask for a secret vote of the General Assistants and the provincials of the whole Society on the seriousness of the causes. These votes should all be counted in the presence of the General Assistants and the Secretary of the Society. If a majority judges that a general congregation ought to be convoked for the purpose of making provision for the supreme government of the Society, Father General ought then to summon it.
§5. Father General’s resignation from office does not take effect until it has been accepted by the Society in a General Congregation.
§6. If, after he has been duly advised by the General Assistants, Father General either cannot or is unwilling to resign his office, and if a majority of the same Assistants judge that the welfare of the Society might suffer great harm from quite serious causes, such as very grave illness or senility where there is no hope of improvement in the case:
1 ° A congregation for electing a temporary Vicar should be summoned in accordance with the Formula for such a congregation;
2° The temporary Vicar thus elected, after consultation with the General Assistants, should as soon as possible, under secrecy, inform the provincials and the two superiors or rectors of each province who are oldest in order of solemn profession of four vows, and ask their votes and those of the General Assistants in order to find out what they think should be done for the welfare of the Society;
3° When all the votes have been counted in the presence of the General Assistants and the Secretary of the Society, if a majority judges that a general congregation should be convoked, the Vicar ought to summon it; in the meantime, however, he should govern the Society in accordance with the norms of the office of Vicar.
3. In decree 262 of the Collection of Decrees, §4 should be added in these words:
Father General has the right to appoint a Vicar-General to assist him as often as it may seem to him to be necessary or helpful to do so.
Original Source (English translation):
Jesuit Life & Mission Today: The Decrees & Accompanying Documents of the 31st–35th General Congregations of the Society of Jesus, ed. John W. Padberg. St. Louis, Mo.: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 2009, General Congregation 31, Decree 41, “The Office of the General,” pg. 197–198 [631–641].