The Italian Almanac

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Father Adolfo Nicolas, the black pope

The Black Pope

Father Adolfo Nicolas, the new head of the Jesuits, denied on Friday that there was any conflict between the influential Catholic order and the Vatican. In his first comments to the media since being elected last weekend, Father Nicolas also denied media descriptions of him as a halfway point between his predecessor, Peter Hans Kolvenbach, and the previous Jesuit leader, Pedro Arrupe.

Arrupe resigned amid tensions with Pope John Paul II and was eventually replaced by Kolvenbach who is credited with smoothing relations between the pope and the Church's biggest order. ''They say I'm half Kolvenbach and half Arrupe? Why not 10% Elvis Presley as well?,'' said the Spanish-born theologian who lived for many years in Japan.

The leader of the Jesuits, often called the 'black pope', is elected for life. He traditionally wears black as opposed to the white of popes. He is a highly prestigious figure in the Church, commanding a 468-year-old organisation which is renowned for its missionary work in tough, frontier locations and its position at the forefront of Catholic culture and education.

Despite its immense prestige, the order has sometimes had a troubled relationship with the Vatican and the term 'Jesuitical' has acquired negative connotations inside and outside the Church. Some Jesuits have been accused of being overly liberal and of deviating from official Church teaching. Two Jesuit theologians have been rapped by Vatican for their writings in recent years.