A Jesuit Finds the Truth
As told by Julio Iniesta García
WHAT does the word “Jesuit” bring to your mind? For many people it causes an immediate reaction, ranging from deep respect to absolute repulsion. For the average Catholic it is synonymous with a highly disciplined group of priest-educators and missionaries. For many non-Catholics the connotation is that given by some dictionaries: “one given to intrigue or equivocation [double-talk with intent to deceive].”
Until November 1977 I was an ordained priest of the Society of Jesus, or of the Jesuits, as they are most commonly known. Then I quit. Maybe you would like to know why I became a Jesuit and what made me renounce the priesthood after twenty-five years.
Early Life in Catholic Spain
I was born in the spring of 1918, the third child of what became a family of ten children. My father owned a bar-restaurant, called Nigeria, in Murcia, in the southeast of Spain. Like almost any Spaniard of that time I received a normal Catholic religious education, with Sunday attendance at Mass, confession on Fridays, and so on.
As a youth I was spiritually restless and had a strong desire to serve God and my neighbor. So I decided to join the Marianist Congregation in Murcia. This was a group of young people, mainly university and secondary-school students, under the direction of Jesuits. In time I was appointed spokesman for the missions and began to feel an intense desire to serve as a Catholic missionary. Shortly thereafter the bitter experiences of the Spanish Civil War convinced me even more of the need to serve God and my fellowman.
Imprisonment for Reasons of Conscience
Came 1936 and with it the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. At eighteen years of age I was called up to defend a regime that to me was atheistic. Since I considered it inhuman to take up arms against my Catholic brothers, I refused to answer the call to military service. As a consequence I was arrested and later sentenced to twenty years at hard labor. Thus, at the age of eighteen, I faced what seemed to be an eternity of imprisonment. After some months I was transferred to a hard-labor camp in San Pablo de los Montes, in the province of Toledo, in central Spain.
After I had spent eighteen months there, half-starved and under constant threat of death, Franco’s troops gained the victory, and we were released. Greatly relieved, I returned home to Murcia.
I had suffered much and had also seen others suffer, but I did not lose my faith in God. With so much evil in the world I felt an even greater desire to serve as a missionary. Due to my contact with the Jesuits I set myself the goal of being worthy of acceptance into that Society. This was not easy to attain. The discipline of the Jesuits requires the vows of obedience, poverty and chastity. I accepted a celibate life, even though I had the natural desires of any young man. Above all, I wanted to serve God and be a missionary.
Stiff Training to Become a Jesuit
In 1947 the Jesuit padres subjected me to various tests of obedience and humility to see if I would qualify to enter as a novice. To my joy I was accepted and initiated into the disciplined life of the Society of Jesus. At last, in my late twenties, I was on my way to becoming a missionary. I still had before me twelve years of hard study and stiff tests of character.
For example, my first two years as a novice included thirty days of doing menial tasks, such as scrubbing floors and cleaning toilets. I remember the occasion when I had at last finished scrubbing a floor clean and a “brother” came to inspect my work. To test my humility and obedience he deliberately knocked over the bucket of dirty water so as to make it necessary for me to do it all over again.
I spent another thirty days visiting villages along with another novice, and we supported ourselves from the alms we were given. A further thirty-day period was devoted to work in a hospital, among persons sick with infectious diseases.
In 1949 I started studies at seminaries in San Cugat del Vallés, Barcelona, and Buenos Aires, Argentina. Included were courses in philosophy, psychology, theology, morality and the priesthood. During that period I received my first missionary assignment, as a teacher at the San Calixtus School, La Paz, Bolivia.
Finally, at the age of thirty-nine, came the long-awaited day of my ordination as a Jesuit priest, July 29, 1957. Then, in the presence of the diocesan bishop, I prostrated myself on the floor of the Theology Faculty Church in San Cugat del Vallés, as a sign of submission and obedience.
I returned to Bolivia where I opted to work among the poorer people and was assigned as parish priest to Uncía, a mining community high up in the Andes Mountains. I later served in Cochabamba as the parish priest of Santa Vera-Cruz. My work involved me in teaching and I was able to collaborate in founding seven junior schools and high schools for the poorer folk. In 1972 I received another change of assignment, this time to the city of Sucre and the parish of San Miguel.
My First Doubts
It was while working in the poorer parishes of Bolivia that I began to have doubts. At first these were not about the Church but about its representatives. For example, each month I had to hand over to the local bishop a certain percentage of the collections and payments received for special Masses, weddings, funerals, and so forth. Since my parish was poor, the bishop’s portion was never very impressive. It hurt me deeply when he used to open the envelope and say with disdain: “Is this the miserable contribution you bring me?” Evidently the ‘widow’s two mites’ did not count with him.—Luke 21:1-4, Douay.
I did not want to charge my parishioners for the religious services I offered them, and this became a source of conflict. I was very conscious of what I had read in the Gospels: “Freely have you received: freely give.” (Matthew 10:8, Douay) But, I was told, this revolutionary step was not permitted, “so as not to prejudice the interests of fellow priests” in other parishes.
Yet another factor that disturbed me was the hierarchy’s willingness to accept and permit local pagan ideas and practices in relation to the worship of the Cristo de la Vera-Cruz (the Christ of the True Cross), which was the image in my parish church. In many cases it was an outright manifestation of demonic fanaticism. In addition, drunkenness was often associated with these religious feasts, but no official voice was raised against this pagan bacchanal.
After five years in Sucre I requested permission to visit my sick father in Spain. Imagine my surprise on learning, on arrival at Barcelona, that my sisters, Lola (Dolores) and Angelita (Angeles), were studying the Bible with a group of Christians called Jehovah’s Witnesses. Lola’s change especially impressed me because she had never paid much attention to spiritual matters, and now here she was studying the Bible! Since I had had no contact with the Witnesses in Bolivia, I decided to examine their teachings. My sisters gave me the small book “Make Sure of All Things; Hold Fast to What Is Fine,” which I read immediately. I got a pleasant surprise when I saw that the Witnesses base their beliefs completely on the Bible. From my early days I had always respected the Bible and had used it as the basis for my daily meditation instead of the writings of the church fathers or the lives of the “saints.”
A Challenge to My Catholic Theology
I now wanted to see the Witnesses in action, to see if they practiced what they preached. My sisters invited me to the Kingdom Hall where the local Witnesses held their meetings. I attended that first meeting full of curiosity and with not a little skepticism. But my reaction was very positive. I was impressed on seeing those humble men, women and children seeking, above all, to do the will of God. What I had failed to develop in Bolivia was right here before my very eyes—a group of genuine Christians. This surely had to be the work of the holy spirit.
Although I agreed with much of what I had read in their book, there were several teachings that I could not accept. I was introduced to one of the elders in the congregation, Enrique Lleida, a man in his early fifties, and at that time a laborer in a chemical factory. I remember that we had a long conversation in his car, and there I presented my main objections to the Witness teachings. Unlike Jehovah’s Witnesses I was convinced of the bodily presence of Christ in the Host (bread) at Mass, and I also believed that my soul was going to be with Christ, who was also God. My doubts were not cleared up in just one conversation. However, about that time my father died and I returned to Bolivia.
Bolivian Witnesses Visit Me
At my own request I received another change of assignment and was sent back to the Santa Vera-Cruz parish in Cochabamba. There I renewed my resolve to search for the truth and to “make sure of all things” in order to avoid taking a false step. (1 Thessalonians 5:21) Two humble Bolivian Witnesses came to visit me. They were Ginés Navarro, a Spaniard from Catalonia, and Ariel Araoz, a native of Bolivia. I was impressed by their humility and conviction. They did not try to involve me in a heated argument, which I appreciated; but, rather, we engaged in a simple interchange of impressions.
In spite of my intensive parish work, arrangements were made for me to commence a systematic study of the Bible, using the book “Make Sure of All Things; Hold Fast to What Is Fine.” Many evenings, after Mass, I directed my steps to the Kingdom Hall where I delighted in hearing the Divine Word and in studying The Watchtower.
Catholic Dogma Versus Bible Teaching
Perhaps one of the teachings that I was able to abandon most easily was that of the immortal soul, with all its consequences (hellfire torment, purgatory, limbo, and so forth). A very simple text cleared the way for me. It was Genesis 2:7, which states: “And the Lord God formed man of the slime of the earth, and breathed into his face the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” (Douay) The account does not say that man was given a living soul that would survive him at death, but that he became one. So, I reasoned, I am a soul. This agreed nicely with the translation into Spanish of 1 Corinthians 15:45 by José María Bóver, one of my professors at the San Cugat seminary. That text reads: “Thus also it is written: ‘The first man, Adam, was made a living soul.’” The mortality of the soul was amply confirmed when I checked Numbers 23:10 in the Spanish Bóver-Cantera Bible, for that text says: “May my soul die with the death of the righteous!”
The greatest blow came when I realized that Christ is not and could not be God, as is taught in the Trinity. The text at John 1:1 was my pillar of support, until I examined closely the Greek text and realized that Christ could be divine, that is, of divine origin, without being God Almighty. This, allied with other texts, helped me to understand better Jesus’ role, subservient to his Father and always working to his Father’s praise.—1 Corinthians 15:28; John 14:28; Matthew 24:36.
With this simple light from the Holy Bible and additional investigation, I found my way out of the theological darkness that had blinded me for so many years. I realized that all my advanced studies in theology and philosophy had not resulted in the practical fruits of authentic Christianity. I could not see those fruits in the Catholic Church.—Matthew 7:16, 17; Galatians 5:22, 23.
A Surprise for My Superiors
I became convinced that in the course of the centuries the Catholic Church had deviated from Bible truth, replacing it with human traditions and philosophy, and that it was not just men, as isolated individuals, that were failing. Accordingly, I realized that I was no longer a Catholic at heart.
I decided to present my resignation personally to the Provincial Superior of the Society of Jesus and request release from my vows. What a surprise for him when he heard my petition! He asked me if the reason was the desire to marry. I told him it was not, because no such thought was in my mind at that time. (Once I became a baptized Witness, however, that situation changed and in October 1978 I married a dear Christian widow.) Among other things, he said: “Julio, I have always taken you to be a balanced person. But now it seems to me you ought to visit a psychiatrist.”
We had a long discussion during which I presented my arguments regarding the failings of the Church. His answer was: “I admit many of the things you say, but do you not think that for this very reason your duty is to remain within the Church so that, along with others, you could try to correct the Church’s errors?”
I responded: “If all these errors are based on a doctrine that is termed infallible, then it is impossible to correct these errors, since the first thing that would have to be removed is the infallibility.” Then I continued: “Look, I have thought a lot about this and I have tried to put the Gospel into practice. I have seen that it is impossible because the Church authorities ask me to do things that are contrary to it. Thus, since I cannot correct or change the Church, would it not be better to change churches? If I cannot correct it, then it is better to leave and seek that which is the true church.”
I later spoke again with the Provincial Superior about my intention to resign. He asked me to think it over once more. It was now impossible to delay the matter any further, and I presented him with an ultimatum: Allow me to return to Spain to study in depth this question that affects my everlasting life, or else I will abandon my parish and go to live with Jehovah’s Witnesses in Bolivia to study the matter out there.
This last proposition was unthinkable for them, since it would cause such a stir in religious circles in Bolivia. Finally, permission was granted for me to return to Spain to live with my sister Lola.
Free at Last!
Once I arrived in Spain, in December 1976, I left off all Catholic religious practices and started a new life with the Christian witnesses of Jehovah. This drastic change brought its problems. Who would want to employ a fifty-eight-year-old ex-Jesuit priest in Spain? I finally obtained work as a private teacher, besides which I run a small business. I have sufficient for each day, which is all I have ever asked.
During 1977 the Provincial Superior of the Bolivian Mission came to Spain on his way to Rome. He wanted to know my final decision. When I told him that I was confirmed in my decision, he requested that I express my motives in writing for presentation to the General Congregation and to the Superior General of the Society of Jesus in Rome.
When he returned from Italy he told me: “It is the first time in history, according to what they have told me in Rome, that a Jesuit has asked to leave the Society because of learning the truth. As if the Jesuits do not know what is the truth, with all their studies!”
Human Theology “A Lot of Refuse”
Looking back over my years of seminary studies, I now understand that all the theology and philosophy that I learned, compared to the veracity of the Divine Word, are in reality a heap of refuse. They hid from me the true wisdom that proceeds from Jehovah through Christ and is communicated to the humble of heart. Does not the apostle Paul say: “Did not God make the wisdom of the world foolish?” (1 Corinthians 1:20) Along with Paul I can now say: “I have come to rate all as loss in the light of the surpassing knowledge of my Lord Jesus Christ. For his sake I have forfeited everything; I have accounted all else rubbish [“a lot of refuse,” New World Translation] so that Christ may be my wealth.”—Philippians 3:8, New American Bible.
At last my letters of dismissal arrived, dated November 11, 1977. Giving thanks to Jehovah, I signed them.
On November 27 of that same year I was baptized by total immersion in water at a circuit assembly of Jehovah’s Witnesses. With that act I publicly manifested my dedication to Jehovah in keeping with Jesus’ example and the commission he gave his followers. (Matthew 28:19, 20) In satisfaction and joy, that day far surpassed the day of my ordination as a Jesuit priest some twenty years earlier. I had now become a Christian witness of the Sovereign Lord Jehovah.
Since my baptism I have had many rich blessings. I regularly participate in the normal Christian preaching activities and have the privilege of conducting several home Bible studies with interested persons. I am happier than ever before, now following Christ’s example as outlined in the Divine Word. I have found the true God, Jehovah, and the people who practice godlike love. My long search for the truth has ended. Has yours?
[Blurb on page 11]
‘Maybe you would like to know what made me renounce the priesthood after twenty-five years of missionary service’
[Blurb on page 12]
“I got a pleasant surprise when I saw that the Witnesses base their beliefs completely on the Bible”
[Blurb on page 13]
“Since I cannot correct or change the Church, would it not be better to change churches?”
[Picture on page 14]
Ex-Jesuit Iniesta leaving pool after his Christian baptism