From the editor’s desk
Reform dominates the agenda2 March 2013
It would be entirely understandable if Benedict XVI wanted “business as usual” signs to go up at the Vatican as soon as possible after his retirement, and for the new man in charge to carry on the good work of the old though perhaps with extra energy. What is emerging is something rather different – a growing groundswell of conviction, apparently at all levels in the Catholic Church, that things cannot go on as they are.
The scandal of clerical child abuse and subsequent episcopal cover-ups refuses to die down. The dramatic resignation of Cardinal Keith O’Brien has calmed nobody’s nerves, and the growing evidence of dysfunction in the Vatican is hardly disputed. But the most significant crisis in the Church is the breakdown in koinonia – love, trust and fellowship – between the hierarchy on one hand, and priests and people on the other. If the leaders of the Church are not careful, the laity could desert in droves. A retreat could accelerate into a rout.
The major question facing the forthcoming conclave is how to turn round this collapse of confidence before it is too late. And that demands a far-reaching reform of structures, including giving the laity the right to participate in church decision-making. Yet even the tentative proposal for diocesan pastoral councils contained in Vatican II’s decree Christus Dominus has been widely ignored. The Vatican is not interested. The laity, it has clearly decided, is not to be trusted. It has to be said, the feeling has become mutual.
The profound crisis of church governance is far more serious than a few personality clashes among members of the Vatican Curia which could be sorted out by some job reshuffles and early retirements. The root of the problem is structural, not personal. An institution with 1.2 billion members all over the globe cannot be run by what is essentially an unreformed Renaissance monarchy and its elderly cosseted courtiers.
Doing nothing is too dangerous. The Versailles of Louis XVI led eventually to the anarchy of 1789 and beyond. But it is not beyond reform: the necessary theological resources already exist. The Second Vatican Council wanted the Church to be governed collegially, a formula that has been expressed as “never Peter without the Apostles, never the Apostles without Peter.” The International Synod of Bishops never came near to doing justice to that. The Vatican Curia must be made answerable to a church government which is genuinely collegial, instead of being the instrument by which the Pope – or appointees acting in his name – control the bishops.
And all such structures must incorporate the principle of subsidiarity, which Pius XI expressed in Quadragesimo Anno by declaring: “It is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organisations can do.” The undermining of episcopal conferences must be reversed, and they should regain control of liturgical changes that the Vatican has wrested from them. The same renewal of structures must touch the lives of ordinary Catholics in their parishes, so they too can feel part of the People of God and not mere customers and clients.
Theological discussions aimed at church unity with the Anglican Communion, through the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission, produced a model of church government based on a balance of forces between synodical government and a Petrine primacy, holding it all together. It goes without saying that a synodical model of this type would have to include substantial lay participation. By this means the neglected concept of a sensus fidelium, as a source of theological insight feeding into the magisterium, would be given new life. And that is what the Catholic laity are longing to see. The Church has put vast resources into producing an educated laity, and an educated laity demands to be heard.
There is a big reform agenda here. If the conclave rushes to a quick decision, it may miss a unique opportunity to address issues which are deeply troubling in the Church and which, if left unattended, could have catastrophic consequences. Pope Emeritus Benedict, towards whom Catholics everywhere have shown great affection in recent days, deserves a better legacy than that.
Back to the front page
In this week’s issue
Being Christ’s hands and feet
An easeful death?
‘Give the poor the oil that anoints them with dignity: a job’
‘Migrants bring the vitality of non-Western spirituality’
Cosmic connection of the heart
Gross, and not so moral
Yes, we can confirm
Why do Catholic schools need to turn to Stonewall?
Banishing O'Brien answers some questions, raises others
Does Cardinal O’Brien deserve banishment or pardon? He at least owes us an explanation
Elena Curti, Deputy Editor
Don’t stop there, Justine Greening, the current model of aid is problematic
Bishop Kevin Dowling, guest contributor
Welby's right - St Benedict has much to offer banking reform efforts
Laurence Freeman OSB
Pope attacks the tyranny of the markets
Cult of money is today's golden calf, warns Francis
Pope Francis yesterday gave his first major analysis on the causes of the global financial crisis. In a speech to ambassadors he said:
I am pleased to receive you ...
Hospitals must ensure the LCP is not misapplied
Professor David Albert Jones, Director of the Anscombe Bioethics Centre
The Liverpool Care Pathway, which sets out guidance about the care of dying patients, has come under fire from patients' relatives and some doctors who claim it has been misapplied.
Same-sex marriage bill must not discriminate against the Church
Archbishop Vincent Nichols calls for amendments to the legislation ahead of next week's debate
This week the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, wrote to leaders of the three main political parties arguing that amendments are needed to the same-sex marriage bill - ... Tiptoeing towards Scripture
Pope Benedict XVI has exhorted Catholics to become more familiar with their Bibles, in his round-up of the 2008 Synod on the Word of God. At the same time the Bible Society ...