Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Elvis or Not, This Superior General Is His Own Man

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Elvis or Not, This Superior General Is His Own Man

Article excerpt

A Spanish-born academic who has spent most of his career in Asia, and who is seen as sympathetic to the broadly progressive theological views associated with the Asian bishops, is the new superior general of the 19,000-strong Jesuit order.

A native of Palencia, Spain, Fr. Adolfo Nicolas succeeds Dutch Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach.

Though Nicolas, 71, was not among the most commonly mentioned candidates prior to the opening of the Jesuits' 35th General Congregation, sources say he represents a fairly bold choice--a blend between the diplomatic skill of Kolvenbach and the prophetic emphasis on justice, peace, and church reform associated with the former general, Fr. Pedro Arrupe.

Parallels between Nicolas and Arrupe are especially striking, most notably that both are Spaniards who spent long stretches in Japan. (At one point, Nicolas even served as Arrupe's barber.)

Nicolas himself has downplayed the comparison. Lampooning claims that he's a cross between Arrupe and Kolvenbach, Nicolas joked during a Jan. 25 session with the press in Rome that it wouldn't surprise him if someone asserted he's also "10 percent Elvis Presley."

A former director of the East Asian Pastoral Institute in Manila and head of the Jesuit Conference of East Asia and Oceania, Nicolas tends to reflect, Jesuit sources say, the theological outlook associated with the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences, including emphasis on interreligious dialogue, justice and peace, and inculturation of church teachings and practices.

Nicolas knows the alarms such views can trigger in Rome. A Jesuit source said Nicolas was once under consideration as rector of the Gregorian University, but the Vatican gave a thumbs-down on the basis of concerns about the role he played as an adviser to the Japanese bishops during the 1998 Synod for Asia. During that session, prelates from across Asia, including Japan, argued for decentralization in church authority. …

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