Pages Navigation Menu

Papa Francis The First | His Holiness Papa Francisco

Why there hasn’t been a Jesuit Pope before Francis I...

With recent coverage of Pope Francisco being a Jesuit, and how many people admire him being selected, especially with his dedication to the poor, many wonder why there has not been a Jesuit Pope before.

Short Story: The Jesuits have always been a very powerful order of priests. This led to the rest of the church acting very warily towards them at times going to the extent of disbanding them. The Church finally got over its fear of giving too much additional power to the Jesuits and elected a Jesuit Pope.

To further expand upon my point and add sources;

Every Catholic priest is “incardinated” with a structure, either a diocese or an order (plus the two personal prelatures from recent times). This is usually for life. Additionally, priests can join organisations (think of it like clubs) on a lower level which might be associated with orders. The majority of priests are attached to dioceses.

Jesuits swear an oath stating

I will never strive or ambition, not even indirectly, to be chosen or promoted to any prelacy or dignity in or outside the Society; and I will do my best never to consent to my election unless I am forced to do so by obedience to him who can order me under penalty of sin

and thus Jesuits rising to positions of authority – bishops, archbishops, cardinals – are the exception, not the rule. A Jesuit promoted as such – due to necessity, of course, never due to personal effort on his part – is effectively only a Jesuit in name.

The Society of Jesus (The Jesuits) are the largest order of priests and as of 2007 numbered in at 19,216 priests, students, brothers, and novices (

The Society of Jesus has had strained relationships with the church peaking at the Dominus ac Redemptor an edict issued by Pope Clement XIV on 21 July 1773 (The Pope was under pressure from Brazil, Portugal, France, Spain, and Parma all of which had already expelled the Jesuits from their respective countries.). The Dominus ac Redemptor calls for the extinction of the Jesuits. The Jesuits would get back together for several decades.

The Jesuits often had “complex” relationships with powers, both secular and religious. They were, however, most famous as missionaries during their earliest existence (at a time when popes were Italian, and very much involved with the jockeying for power around Rome). The most important thing to remember, however, is that they were suppressed for a few decades in the late 18th century until their restoration at the start of the 19th century. But that at least shows what a political hot potato they were. In the second half of the 20th century, many of the Jesuits’ best minds have been at the forefront of many of the liberal streams within the church, and the popes are generally from the more conservative or moderate streams (not all contemporary Jesuits are liberal, of course, but many of them).

It should be noted that there haven’t been many popes from religious orders in general, especially not recently. Just going by Wikipedia, we have;

  • four Franciscans: Pope Sixtus V, Pope Sixtus VI, Pope Nicholas IV, Pope Clement XIV (1769),
  • four Dominican popes: Pope Benedict XI, Pope Innocent V, Pope Pius V (1566), Pope Benedict XIII (1724),
  • one Cisertican pope: Benedict XII
  • six Augustinian popes: Eugene IV, Honorius II, Innocent II, Lucius II, Gregory VIII, Adrian IV
  • seventeen Benedictine popes: Gregory I, Boniface IV, Adeodatus II, Leo IV, John IX, Leo VII, Stephen IX, Gregory VII, Victor III, Urban II, Paschal II, Gelasius II, Celestine V, Clement VI, Urban V, Pius VII (1800), Gregory XVI (1831)
  • one Theatine pope: Paul IV (1555)

I gave the year for all of the members of religious orders who have been pope since the Jesuits were founded (1540). Of the forty-four or so popes who’ve been elected since then, only six or so have been part of religious orders. Two of those, it should be added, were shortly after the Jesuits were founded, and a few more were around the decades they were suppressed/generally politically controversial. Being a pope from a religious order is in and of itself not a super common thing, especially not since the 19th century when the Jesuits really (re)gained a strong position in Europe


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

"And now let us begin this journey, the Bishop and people, this journey of the Church of Rome, which presides in charity over all the Churches, a journey of brotherhood in love, of mutual trust. Let us always pray for one another. Let us pray for the whole world that there might be a great sense of brotherhood.

I will now give my blessing to you and to the whole world, to all men and women of good will."

-Papa Francis quote

He does not know you, yet he prays for you.
He will most likely never meet you, yet he loves you.

This is your chance to show your love, for as the Bible teaches, "Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven."