Father Kolvenbach received Benedict XVI's approval for his proposed resignation next year, though the Jesuit Constitution stipulates that the superior-general position is for life.
The Dutch-born Father Kolvenbach cited his age -- he will turn 80 in 2008 -- and his 25-year tenure as the superior of the Jesuits as reasons for his resignation.
In the wake of recent media reports, Father José de Vera, director of the Jesuits' information office, clarified the situation.
"A few months ago Father Kolvenbach obtained the Pope's permission to present his resignation," Father de Vera explained in a statement sent to ZENIT. "He will do so in the next general congregation which he has convoked for January 2008."
"Theoretically the congregation could reject the proposal of resignation presented by Father Kolvenbach," the Jesuit spokesman said. "Resignation from the office of superior general has no effect if it is not agreed to by the Society in general congregation.
"[P]ractically speaking, this will not happen because the superior-general has followed to the letter the process established for the case of resignation."
The Society of Jesus had recently asked the Pope if the organization's rule that superiors-general have a life term in their office should continue in force.
According to Father de Vera, the Holy Father chose to maintain the stipulation. This does not discard the possibility, the Jesuit added, that, "in special cases and after previous consultation with the Pope," the superior general "can present his resignation to the general congregation."