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Jesuits Now In The Spotlight Thanks To The Election Of Pope Francis

Local Priests: New Pontiff Likely To Lean Left Due To His Feelings For The Poor
Nuns stand on St Peter's square to watch the first mass by Pope Francis on a giant screen on March 14, 2013 at the Vatican. (Photo by JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)

Nuns stand on St Peter’s square to watch the first mass by Pope Francis on a giant screen on March 14, 2013 at the Vatican. (Photo by JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)

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Views From The Vatican

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Pope Francis is largely expected to stay the course when it comes to issues like abortion and homosexuality, but his background suggests a possible shift to the left on matters concerning world economic policy.

CBS 2’s Lou Young found out more about the new pontiff’s Jesuit background on Thursday.

While the world is focused on Pope Francis’ South American roots, Catholic insiders are marveling at his vocational origins.

This new pope is something new — a member of a religious order that has sometimes been at odds with the central church.

“He’s the first Jesuit to become pope, so it’s new territory,” New York diocesan priest Father Thomas Collins said.

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Here in the United States the Jesuits are known mostly as educators. They run 28 colleges and universities in this country alone, including Georgetown, Loyola, Boston College, and Fordham in the Bronx. Worldwide, they have a reputation for defending the poor. Critics have accused them of being the inspiration for modern socialism. The Jesuits prefer to call it “social justice.”

“Socialism, as we see in places like Cuba, is the imposition of a system from above. Social justice says some wealth should be redistributed, especially in favor of the poor,” Fordham’s Father Joseph Leinhard said.

Jesuit sensibilities were popularized in the 1986 movie “The Mission,” starring Robert DeNiro. In that film, the Jesuits resist colonial exploitation of native South Americans.

They tend to be “free thinkers” in worldly matters. Father Daniel Berrigan, the priest who campaigned against the war in Vietnam, is a Jesuit.

Even as they rock the boat, average diocesan priests tends to admire the amount of education they endure.

“It takes eight to 14 years to become a Jesuit, so you know they’re intellects. You know that they spend a lot of time in training,” Father Collins said.

And now the most famous Jesuit in the world has chosen the papal name “Francis,” perhaps offering a glimpse into his thinking.

“It’s pretty clear the Francis he had in mind is Francis of Assisi who, at a time when Europe was becoming wealthy, rejected wealth completely,” Father Leinhard said.

Only one man knows if that signals a change in church priorities and his job has only just begun.

While many priests are assigned to individual bishops, Jesuits are deployed worldwide, prompting some to call them “the Marines’ of the Catholic Church.

Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below …