Five facts about the Jesuits

Jesuit delegates from around the world are gathering in Rome to choose a superior general to run the largest male Catholic clerical order.

Here are five facts about the Jesuits:

* Founded in 1540 by the Spaniard St. Ignatius Loyola, the Society of Jesus - as the Jesuits are formally known - has about 19,200 members in 112 countries, down from a peak of some 36,000 in the 1960s. It is an all-male order with a growing percentage of members from developing countries, especially India.

* The Jesuits were disbanded by Pope Clement XIV in 1773 after political pressure in Europe and restored in 1814 by Pope Pius VII. They were said to be such intelligent debaters that critics coined the adjective "jesuitical" to describe someone who uses sly reasoning to argue a point of view.

* The Jesuits are best known for their prominent role in education, theology, missionary work and publishing, with a strong emphasis on social justice and human rights. They run many prestigious secondary schools and universities around the world and publish leading intellectual journals.

* Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005, clashed with the Jesuits. He said the order had become too independent, leftist and political, particularly in Latin America. Many of the theologians disciplined by the Vatican in recent years have been Jesuits.

* The new Jesuit leader is elected by a secret ballot. After he is chosen, delegates are not allowed to leave the room until the Pope is informed, in keeping with a centuries-old tradition.

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