The current discussions in the wider media and on Catholica following the events surrounding Bishop William Morris, as well as the on-going Catholica discussion about Papal Primacy and whether the role of the Pope is to be interpreted as some exclusive channel of God's thinking to humanity or as coordinator of the church-wide, or human-wide, effort to interpret what the Divine is saying through ALL men and women, prompted Dr Brian Gleeson to suggest we re-run this article he wrote in 2003. It was published in the very first edition of the e-Journal of Theology published by Australian Catholic University. We suggest the arguments Fr Gleeson presents are highly relevant to the discussions that need to be taking place within the Church at the moment and, from our point of view here at Catholica given our skepticism of where everything is heading at the moment, for whatever shape the Phoenix might take if the institution does end up being reduced to some smouldering ruins. This essay was originally published under the title: "Power-Sharing in the Catholic Church Today: Making Collegiality Really Happen".
The importance, relevance, and even urgency of this topic, is illustrated by the following letter, published in The Tablet of 21 September 2002:
Sir, the fortieth anniversary of the beginning of Vatican II gives cause for reflection on collegiality – the doctrine that the Church is governed by the college of bishops with and under the pope. If only this spirit of collegiality which should be apparent in the higher echelons of church structure would somehow percolate down to parish level! In parishes it is not unknown for a newly appointed parish priest to feel that it is his decision alone to undo the accepted practices of that community, no longer wanting readers or eucharistic ministers or pastoral assistants, and there seems to be no redress. One parish sister of my acquaintance has had to move twice because of this situation. Surely this is a matter of common justice? [Rosemary Breen, Inverell, NSW, Australia]
My motive for this presentation is to make a small contribution to public opinion in the Catholic Church, by raising consciousness about the scope and limits of power. More specifically, my aim is to contribute towards a tilting of the exercise of authority away from any lingering tendencies towards absolute monarchy, autocracy and dictatorship, and towards where it is meant to belong, and where it did once belong. This is fair and square within the communion of a collegial Church, a Church in which many persons participate or are meant to participate, in different but related roles, in the life, leadership and decision-making of the Church. This Church is just as much their Church as that of anyone else, even the pope.
To speak of any limits to papal authority in particular might be risky, because not a few Catholics object in principle, to any evaluation of the papacy, the persons of the popes, and the exercise of their ministry. They assume that the Church and the pope are practically the same thing, that somehow the Church is the pope, and the pope is the Church, which, of course, is an absurd position. The absurdity of such an extreme position is illustrated by the decision of our current Holy Father, John Paul II, to ask for advice on how to be a better pope. But more about that later!
I have suggested that power and authority belong 'within the communion of a collegial Church'. To speak like that suggests that before I say another word, it's essential that I delve a little into some terms that have to be used in any discussion of power-sharing in the Catholic Church today.
Basically, 'collegiality' refers to shared responsibility for the whole Church, being co-responsible for and working together for, the good of the Church, the whole people of God. Vatican II spoke of college rather than collegiality, but collegiality has become the standard term to describe and sum up the teaching of the Council on the relationship of pope and bishops. The Council taught that their relationship is like that of Peter and the other Apostles in the New Testament, and like the relationship that existed between pope and bishops in the early centuries of the Church, when many decisions were made together at church councils. Thus pope and bishops today form a college or body of ministers who are meant to make decisions together and to work together to lead, teach, guide and care for the Catholics of the world.
Linked with 'collegiality' is the term 'communion'. It means literally 'being in union with'. Associated ideas are having in common, sharing together, being in fellowship, being united, and being joined together.
'Papal primacy' refers to the personal authority that the pope, as successor of Peter, has over the whole Catholic Church as its leading bishop or primate. It reflects the truth that the authority given to the Apostles collectively was given to Peter individually.
POPE JOHN PAUL II'S INVITATION TO DIALOGUE...
In May 1995, John Paul II issued a remarkable encyclical letter on ecumenism, Ut Unum Sint ('That They May Be One'). It is remarkable, first of all, for its gentle and humble tone, completely free from pretentious or triumphalistic language. He does not even refer to himself as 'the Holy Father' or 'the Vicar of Christ'. With an eye to Church renewal and the will of Christ for unity among all his followers, what he does call himself is 'Bishop of Rome', 'Successor of Peter', and 'Servant of the Servants of God'.
His letter is just as remarkable for its content. In it the pope acknowledges that the papacy, as it currently exists and functions, is a major obstacle to Church unity. He acknowledges the need 'to find a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation' (n.95). He invites Christian leaders and theologians to engage with him 'in a patient and fraternal dialogue on this subject, a dialogue in which, leaving useless controversies behind, we could listen to one another, keeping before us only the will of Christ for his Church' (n.96).
CHRISTIAN RESPONSES, CATHOLIC AND NON-CATHOLIC...
Beyond many articles from both Catholic and non-Catholic sources, a mini-library of responses has developed on the Catholic side. Two particularly outstanding responses have come from John Quinn, retired Archbishop of San Francisco, including his now famous Oxford Address, June 29, 1996, and from Godfried Cardinal Daneels, the present archbishop of Malines-Brussels.
FOCUS ON CATHOLIC RESPONSES...
In this presentation, I will focus on some Catholic responses to the pope's request, my own included. I will do so in the context of the main point of my presentation, which is to advocate a broader sharing of leadership, power and authority in the Catholic Church.
Considerable dissatisfaction with the existing state of affairs has been expressed. Concerns commonly ex-pressed start with:
More and more is church authority being centralized in the role of the pope. He is being treated not as the ultimate authority but as the only authority. This treats the Church as a monolith, almost as a single diocese, and the pope as a superpower and super-bishop. In doing so it fails to respect the structure of the Church as a community of communities and a communion of communions, i.e. a union of diverse local churches presided over by the Church of Rome, itself a local Church.
In fact, I find myself in agreement with what Paul Collins has written in his book Upon This Rock: the Popes and their Changing Role:
I do not want to equate the papacy with the church, or vice versa, as some Catholics are inclined to do. While the pope is the most visible sign of Catholicism in the world, particularly in our time, I do not consider this a healthy development for the church. On the contrary, I think we need a much more modest, less dominant model of papal governance. We need popes who are servants, like Jesus himself, not lords of the world, as some of the mediaeval popes thought they were. We need popes who see themselves as a focus for the church's unity, not the sole theological oracles, legal owners and administrators of the ecclesial institution. We need a new way of modelling the papacy for a new cultural and ecclesiastical situation.
There's a lingering tendency towards absolutism, reflecting the change from the papal role in the first millennium to what it became in the second. In the first, the papal role was to both witness to and protect the apostolic tradition, i.e. the things that come to us from the Apostles, such as faith and the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist. In the second millennium the pope came to exercise the independence and sovereignty of an absolute monarch. Primacy, being first among the others, has become supremacy. Canon 333, 3 of the current Code of Canon Law (1983) e.g., expresses this tendency when it says: 'There is neither appeal nor recourse against a decision or decree of the Roman Pontiff'.' This implies that the papal office is somehow outside and above the Church, and is certainly not accountable to it.
By means of the Roman Curia, the Vatican bureaucracy set up to assist the pope, is deciding matters that should most appropriately be dealt with by bishops, archbishops or episcopal conferences. A particularly irritating, offensive and hurtful example of this is the way that the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments has recently been dealing with the International Commission for English in the Liturgy, a body set up by the Conferences of English-speaking bishops around the world. It has, for example, rejected its proposals for inclusive language, restructured the Commission itself, and scrapped new texts proposed by the Commission.
Thus when the English-speaking bishops from different countries submitted for the Congregation's endorsement their agreed revised translation of the Sacramentary, Cardinal Medina Estevez simply refused. All this bypasses the principle of subsidiarity, which holds that a higher authority should not interfere in or decide matters that are within the competence of lesser authorities, and should also give them active support.
The ways bishops are appointed
Currently the process lacks transparency, to say the least. Whatever consultations do take place happen in secret. The process does not adequately involve the local Church, including its priests and lay people. It suggests a monarchical papacy above and apart from the bishops, who are always affected by appointments to their college. Cardinal Daneels remarks: 'To impose a bishop against the majority of bishops doesn't seem very smart to me'. It does not respect the ancient principle of wisdom: 'What concerns all should be discussed and approved by all.' Allied problem areas are the regular transfer of bishops to the larger and more important sees and the proliferation of auxiliary bishops.
The workings generally of the Roman Curia
The Curia is seen as a bureaucracy that has developed its own agenda, i.e. to preserve the Church from change and to maintain and enhance the power it exercises in the name of the pope. It continues to interpose itself between the pope and the bishops as a kind of tertium quid or third party, and thus displaces the bishops as the pope's principal advisers. Cardinal Daneels deplores the way the Curia has become (in his words) 'a command organisation'.
PARTICULAR PROPOSALS FOR REFORM...
This might well be achieved by strengthening structures of episcopal collegiality, e.g. Episcopal Conferences, whose teaching authority has recently been considerably restricted by papal decree. In the second place, by the development of decision-making processes within the International Synod of Bishops, whose agenda and workings so far have been much controlled – some say manipulated – by curial officials. The result of this limited and controlled process means that their sessions have been little more than talkfests or talking-shops, and their conclusions mere suggestions rather than decisive in any way.
Alternative ways of appointing bishops
In a truly participative Church, this should happen in a way that gives the clergy and people of a diocese, i.e. the local Church as such, the bishops of the province (the region), and the whole episcopal conference, effective input into the selection of the person chosen. The present system suggests a monarchical, supreme papacy above and apart from the episcopate, and does not reflect Vatican II's ecclesiology of communion at all levels of church life. Archbishop Quinn suggests that it's inappropriate for the nuncio to make the final determination of the terna (the list of three names) sent to Rome, since priority belongs to the local episcopate.
Changes to the College of Cardinals
Quinn calls it 'a college within a college, in a sense making the rest of the College of Bishops a body of second rank'. He suggests it needs re-thinking and the process of the election of the pope needs to be opened up to participation by leaders of episcopal conferences, laypersons, and the people of the diocese of Rome. In the light of the gospel he deplores the idea of cardinal as prince of the church, titles, coats of arms, and the other royal trappings and prerogatives that persist from feudal times.
Changes to the workings of the Roman Curia
Reforms proposed are along the lines of reducing the numbers of bishops and clergy in the Vatican offices and introducing more lay people in general, and women in particular. Limiting the length of service of officials to diminish what Quinn calls 'proprietary instincts and the feeling of having all the answers'. Regular visits, listening and fact-finding missions to local churches. Annual in-service training and the setting up of a commission for reform of the Curia. Quinn asserts: 'The overall goal of curial reform is decentralization, subsidiarity, and collegiality'.
These specific proposals for reform suggest that good ideas and good intentions don't go far enough. They must be expressed in suitable structures. On the other hand, any concrete structures of collegiality and communion need to be underpinned by sound and suitable theology. I'd like to suggest three appropriate theological foundations, three theological principles, for a future Church and papacy that are truly collegial. They are all based on Vatican II's document on the Church, Lumen gentium.
THEOLOGICAL FOUNDATIONS FOR MORE COLLEGIAL LEADERSHIP...
FROM THE CASE PRESENTED, FIVE CONCLUSIONS FOLLOW:
Brian Gleeson CP — originally published in the e-Journal of Theology inaugural issue, August 2003
What are your thoughts on this commentary?
©2003-11Dr Brian Gleeson CP