Our dysfunctional ChurchKilian McDonnell
- 8 September 2001
Cardinal Kasper is one of those who believe that the Catholic Church has to achieve a better balance between Rome and local Churches. This should be a theme at the forthcoming Synod of Bishops. An analysis of the present defects is offered here by a Benedictine who is president of the ecumenical institute at Collegeville, Minnesota.
The exchanges between Cardinal Walter Kasper and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger have raised to a new level the discussion about the relationship of the pope and Curia in Rome to the local Churches. How can papal primacy (under whose authority the Roman Curia works) be implemented while at the same time giving scope to diocesan Churches as fully Churches of Jesus Christ? Fr William Henn, a Capuchin who teaches doctrine of the Church at the Gregorian University in Rome, has said that this is one of the most pressing theological tasks of the Church today.
One could say this is just a power struggle. But it is much more than that. It has to do with the question: what is the Church? This is not just quarrelling about turf. Cardinal Kasper?s handling of the issue may lead some to think of him as a great liberal challenger, but he has conservative credentials. He was one of the founders of the international review Communio, conceived as a foil to the more liberal Concilium.
William Henn summarised the official teaching in a 1996 symposium on the Petrine office held in Rome: both the primacy of the pope and the office of the bishop are of divine origin, and between the two there can be no radical opposition. On the one hand the college of bishops needs a head to serve as a principle of unity and co-ordination; on the other the primacy is bound to respect and collaborate with the episcopate. But papal freedom to act is not legally conditioned by the approval of the episcopate ? though at the First Vatican Council the spokesman for the Deputation on the Faith, the most powerful of the conciliar committees, Bishop Vincent Gasser, said that the pope was morally bound to consult bishops, cardinals, theologians, and past councils.
The bishops, for their part, have also an obligation and right to care for the unity of the whole Church; and each individual bishop is himself a vicar of Christ in such a way that the dignity of the primacy does not and cannot diminish the dignity of the episcopate. So much for the principles; what is not set down is precisely how primacy and episcopacy are to be balanced in a given historical situation.
The papacy must be able to take initiatives to ensure the unity of the Church, especially in crises. Archbishop John Quinn, whose book The Reform of the Papacy was published in 1999, and others who identify with Kasper are not looking for a weakened papacy. Rather, Kasper and others want what John Paul II himself has requested in his 1995 encyclical Ut Unum Sint, where he asked for help in finding new ways of exercising the primacy that would be open to a new situation.
The centralisers in the debate have some well-founded fears. They are concerned that the postconciliar rediscovery of the Church as communion could lead to an over-emphasis on the local Church, as though it were self-sufficient. They also rightly reject any interpretation which would make the universal Church the sum of the local Churches.
Those on the other side of the argument fear that the Church universal has come to dominate and micromanage the local Churches. They see an imbalance. Many of their complaints focus on the pope?s administrative arm, the Roman Curia.
They feel disquiet, for example, about the norms composed by the Curia for the Synod of Bishops which meets at intervals in Rome. Archbishop Quinn in his book notes that the tendency is to restrict the synod as much as possible. It is called by the pope who sets the agenda; preliminary documents submitted to Rome by episcopal conferences are not permitted to be shared with other conferences or made public; the synod is held in Rome; prefects of the Roman Curia are members, and in addition the pope himself directly appoints 15 per cent of the membership; the synod does not have a deliberative vote; its deliberations are secret, as are its recommendations to the pope; the pope writes and issues the final document after the synod is finished and the bishops have returned home.
This excessive control from the centre and heavy curial presence reinforce the perception that the Vatican II doctrine of collegiality ? that the Church is governed by the college of bishops with and under the pope ? is far from being realised. During the 1998 Asian Synod, the participants were informed by Cardinal Jan Schotte, the synod?s Belgian general secretary, that they were not to use the word subsidiarity in the concluding propositions submitted to the pope. Yet subsidiarity is explicitly taught by Pius XI in his 1931 social encyclical Quadragesimo Anno: it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and a disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organisations can do. This social teaching is repeated in John XXIII?s 1961 encyclical Mater et Magistra , and is applied to Chris-tian education and the social order in two of the documents of the Second Vatican Council.
How then can such an instruction to the Asian bishops be justified? They were told how to write their propositions for the pope. Yet according to canon law, bishops are not papal delegates: they possess ordinary, proper and immediate power (canon 381), are vicars and ambassadors of Christ and (canon 386) teachers in the Church.
Well known is the recent case of the letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship to Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee asking for detailed changes in the renovation of his cathedral. Weakland rightly insists that he has the canonical competence in this matter, as long as no liturgical laws are broken. He contends that the Vatican congregation has no competence to legislate on matters of taste and artistic judgment, and that the letter from the congregation undermines the rights and duties of a local bishop. Further, he notes that he was not given access to the document of complaint sent to Rome by a group in his diocese trying to stop the renovation.
The same Vatican congregation issued norms for the translation of liturgical texts into English without consulting the relevant national conferences of bishops, saying there was no time, though it found time to call a group of like-minded persons to scuttle the norms issued under Paul VI.
A senior Eastern-rite bishop from Syria says he does not know a single Orthodox hierarch who is interested in reunion with Rome. The Orthodox are only too aware of the grudging way that Rome treats the Eastern-rite Catholics, who have an Oriental liturgy, spirituality and church structure ? they have married priests, for example ? but are united with the pope. Vatican II?s Decree on the Eastern Catholic Churches says they have the right and the duty to govern themselves, but the Orthodox see too little evidence of this in practice. Similarly, excessive central control is a grave ecumen-ical concern for Anglicans and Protestants.
Another example: according to Roman norms a retired bishop can be elected to synods. Accordingly the US National Bishops? Conference elected Archbishop Quinn, retired Archbishop of San Francisco, to the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for America in 1997. Next day the bishops were informed by Rome that rules had been changed and it was no longer permissible for a retired bishop to be elected. Quinn, whose lecture on the reform of the papacy had been delivered in Oxford in 1996 before being published in book form in 1999, had to stand down. Yet two other retired bishops, a Panamanian and Italian, attended the same synod.
Are these and other like instances irritating dislocations in a basically sound system, cases of what Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, in his defence of Ratzinger, calls the perceived bad manners or clumsy arrogance of this or that Vatican official? Or are these real and grave abuses of power, serious systemic failures, wounds on the body of Christ?
In this context, the vital importance of the debate between Cardinal Ratzinger and Cardinal Kasper becomes crystal clear. The Curia?s fear of sharing governance of the Church with the bishops has its basis in a conviction that the universal Church must come before local Churches. This is the Magna Carta of the Roman curial style. Cardinal Ratzinger gave the theological rationale for this view when his doctrinal congregation issued a letter in 1992 stating that the universal Church is ontologically and temporally prior to every individual Church.
The cardinal rightly points to Galatians 4:26 and Hebrews 12:22?23 as teaching the mystery of the Church?s eternal pre-existence in the will of God. The difficulty with this argument, however, is that Ratzinger refers this pre-existent mystery only to the universal Church, as though God had eternally decreed only one aspect of the mystery of the Church (the universal Church), not the whole of the historical Church. Why does not the mystery of the pre-existent Church refer to both universal and particular Churches simultaneously? Cardinal Kasper contends that it does.
The unwillingness of the Roman Curia to restore the balance between the universal Church and local Churches by allowing the college of bishops to govern with and under the pope has prompted a number of car-dinals to speak out publicly, with varying degrees of explicitness. Among them are Cardinals Martini (Italy), K?nig (Austria), Murphy-O?Connor (England), Napier (South Africa), Husar (Ukraine), Danneels (Belgium), Lorscheider (Brazil), and the late Cardinal Winning (Scotland). The decisions of the Second Vatican Council are not being applied, Lorscheider said, and we all suffer. . . from a distant bureaucracy that is increasingly deaf. The late Cardinal Bernardin said that the princes of the Church were treated like altar boys in Rome. Kasper holds that the discontent is widely shared by bishops around the world.
In what way will this discontent sway the electing cardinals at the next conclave? Of course, all of them have the greatest love and respect for John Paul II, and almost all of them have been appointed by him. But that does not mean they will not envisage change.
Compare the situation at the conclave after the death of Pius X. Almost all the electors then were men whom Pius X had chosen, yet they voted against continuing his policies. After his death, not only was the international situation grave, but his bitter, sometimes frantic, crusade against Modernism hung over the conclave. Pius had tolerated a secret society which delated scholars to the Holy Office. Only when the condemnations appeared in the newspapers were the scholars even aware they were being investigated. The electing cardinals knew the situation had to change, and they knew that Cardinal Della Chiesa would do so. Accordingly, they elected him. He took the name Benedict XV and his first encyclical, Ad Beatissimi, indicates he knew he had a mandate. He called for concord among Catholics, reprobated name-calling, and asked that Catholics should not rush to judgment of the faith of others on the basis of theological differences.
In the conclave after the death of John Paul II, though other issues will be import-ant, the balance between the universal and local Church may be decisive. Theologically both pope and bishops are responsible for seeing that collegiality works, but the Curia has unilaterally written the rules for bishops and national conferences so as to make collegiality depend entirely on the will of the pope. In such a situation, the cardinals may see the next conclave as the one chance to remedy the situation. Only a strong pope with a mandate can effect the change.
Such a marked shift in policy would not mean a diminished papacy, or a less vigorous exercise of the Petrine office. In the words of John Paul II in Ut Unum Sint, the cardinals would not want the papacy to renounce what is essential to its mission. What is given to the bishops is not taken away from the pope. Nor would it mean that the pope could not intervene in a local Church or with national conferences of bishops if the unity of the Church were at risk. The Roman Curia would still have an important role. But the cardinals want the Church to practise what is already on the books. Canon 756 decrees: As regards the universal Church, the duty of proclaiming the Gospel has been especially entrusted to the Roman pontiff and to the college of bishops. The Church needs a better balance.