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Shared governance of the Church by pope and bishops needs to be restored

FEBRUARY 28 2014
Good evening and my thanks to each one of you for being here. Thank –  also to Professor John Loughlin of the Von Hugel Institute for inviting me to give this lecture.
The subject is Church governance – the Church in question is the Latin Rite Catholic Church, sometimes called the Roman Catholic Church of which I am a member.
The subtitle of this talk is – the imperative of collegiality. The word “imperative” is designed to strike a chord of urgency and necessity. The word “collegiality” is shorthand for the modernisation of Church governance and in particular the development of , or more accurately according to some historians, the restoration, of shared collegial governance between the Pope and the bishops. This issue was hotly debated in the 1960’s at the Second Vatican Council but nothing changed in practice.
When Francis became Pope a year ago, Church governance was the same unreformed creaking feudal monarchy it had been for generations before the Council, prompting Nicholas Lash to ask if the shutters were not coming down on Vatican II and lamenting that the Church’s quasi- civil service known as the Roman Curia had actually intensified its centralised control and in so doing had frustrated the episcopacy in the “recovery of a proper sense of episcopal authority and the development of appropriate structures of collegial governance.” That word recovery is important here for it is a reminder that the early Church had been synodal and collegial in its governance rather than exclusively primatial. There are some encouraging signs from Pope Francis that significant changes to the governance of the universal Church may be on his radar- and that they are directed towards both collegial governance and Christian unity.
Fifty years ago Pope John XXIII set out to radically update the Church when he convened the Second Vatican Council. He famously wanted a church that was a garden and not a museum. With his dying breath almost a year later he pleaded for Christian unity in the words, ut omnes unum sint. Things have not turnd out as the Council hoped and Francis has lamented the fact that there has been “more about the law than about grace, more about the Church than about Christ, more about the Pope than about God’s word.”
The Council subject to the Pope’s approval had power to change doctrine and to legislate for the universal Church. In a welter of declarations, decrees, and constitutions the elitist, imperial Church was swept away, at least on paper, particularly in the Council’s dogmatic constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium. Leaving papal primacy intact Lumen Gentium provided for future collegial governance of the Church by the College of Bishops with the Pope as its Head, a critical issue for Church unity as well as for more open governance. There was to be greater decentralisation and subsidiarity with enhanced powers at local level for diocesan bishops and episcopal conferences as well as new structures for sustained real engagement with the laity at parish and diocesan level. The old fixed pyramid with the pay, pray and obey laity firmly at the bottom, and always talked down to, was to be replaced with a vision of the equality of dignity of all the People of God, clergy and laity alike, and each with a share in the Church’s tasks of preaching, teaching and governing. The new structures were supposed to ensure closer two-way communication between all levels in the Church. And we did for a while experience the surging energy of change particularly with regard to the liturgy and the new focus on ecumenism. It took almost twenty years to translate the Council’s decisions into the new 1983 Code of Canon Law but by then the gravitational pull of powerful centralised conservatism had already stalled the Conciliar momentum. While the faithful and the world moved on the Curial Church remained even further behind the curve.
The great church scholar Ladislas Orsy remarked several years ago, that we have to see the Council not as an immediate revolution but rather a “slow burn” involving a long and complex process of reception that can take centuries rather than decades. However somewhat prophetically at a Conference in Rome in January 2013 he pointed out that the fifty year mark had proved to be a turning point at other councils and could also be for the Second Vatican Council. We are now at that point and unexpectedly we have a new Pope whose talk is all of fulfilling the Council.
Rather disarmingly Francis admitted some months into office that he himself learnt the hard way that his own once authoritarian way of making decisions created problems. He added that “Eventually people get tired of authoritarianism”. That is a perfect and succinct summation of the feeling of many contemporary pro Conciliar Catholics who had been living in what James Carroll described to me as “internal exile” , in a Church that was being hollowed out by what Francis has called an “excessive centralisation, which rather than proving helpful complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach.” But an anti-authoritarian Pope is in itself no guarantee that the Church will change and Francis has said he wants change. Many will already be aware of his stated intention to reform the Curia and his appointment of a group of eight cardinals to advise him on Curial reform. It is headed by Cardinal Maradiaga of Honduras. No group is closer to the Pope than this kitchen cabinet is at the moment. But Francis’ plans are considerably more extensive than that and they involve root and branch reform.
Francis has prioritised first the attitudinal changes and then the structural changes he believes are needed to make the Church more pastoral and less bureaucratic. In his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium of last November he set out a broad program for changes at all levels. Consultation is to involve the entire People of God not just the bishops. Parish (cf. EG 28) and diocesan (cf. EG 31) structures are to become more participative and inclusive. There is to be a “sound” decentralisation ( cf. EG 16) and greater subsidiarity at diocesan and episcopal conference level, a better elaborated juridic status for episcopal conferences to underpin their genuine doctrinal authority because they have yet to fulfill their potential to contribute to the “concrete realisation of the collegial spirit” (EG 32).
It does not take a genius to recognise the source of Francis’s proposals. The language and content are very, very familiar, so familiar that to paraphrase Seamus Mallon, Evangelii Gaudium can truly be called Lumen Gentium “for slow learners.”
So the new Pope has set a clear reform agenda designed to loosen the tight ecclesial knots and let the joy flow but most ecclesiastically literate eyes are focussed on the big question; will he continue to govern entirely primatially as the sole-decision maker for the Church or will he as was argued at Vatican II and as Christian unity requires, share decision-making with the bishops? And if so how? Crucially, Pope Francis has said that structural governance changes especially to the Synod of bishops will have to move in a collegial and ecumenical direction.
Cardinal Schönborn recently gave an insight into the unhealthy silencing effects of exclusively primatial rule when he said that he regretted that the Austrian Bishops had not dared to speak out openly on necessary church reforms. “We were” he said “far too hesitant.[…] we certainly lacked courage to speak out openly.” So the nub of the matter today is whether Pope Francis intends to move to a system in which the bishops are encouraged, not to be “yes men” but leaders who can speak freely, are not merely consulted but who themselves consult widely at local level and then make decisions collegially for the universal Church along with the Pope.
A close look at how Francis has approached this issue repays the effort.
On June 29 2013, to an audience of new archbishops, Pope Francis spoke about “the path of collegiality” as the road that can lead the church to “grow in harmony with the service of primacy.” But he asked “How can we reconcile in harmony Petrine primacy and collegiality? Which roads are feasible also from an ecumenical perspective?”
Let’s look for a moment at how he might answer these questions that have been hanging in the air, unanswered since Vatican II.
At the moment Francis makes all doctrinal and legislative decisions with occasional advice from two bodies, one is the highly influential College of Cardinals, (all members are papal appointees), best known for their role in electing the Pope, and the other body is the Synod of Bishops, which is an occasional gathering of bishop delegates from episcopal conferences around the world, tasked with advising the Pope on a particular subject. Francis has described both as important places for real and active consultation but currently he believes they are much too rigid in form. He says he wants “real, not ceremonial consultation.” So we can expect more lively debates in both fora and indeed one of his first acts as we have seen was to appoint a group from the College of Cardinals to advise him on reform of the Curia. But better consultation is not the same as sharing in decision-making. It would make no impact on the governance obstacles to Christian unity nor would it deliver Conciliar collegial episcopal governance.
The real test of Francis’ attitude to collegial episcopal governance of the universal Church involves only two bodies and they are the Synod of Bishops and the much more important and considerably bigger College of Bishops.
The Council acknowledged that the Pope governs with supreme and full primatial authority by divine rule but it also taught for the first time that the College of Bishops, with the Pope as its Head, also has “supreme and full authority over the universal Church by divine authority in a direct line of succession from the Apostles, but this power cannot be exercised without the consent of the Roman Pontiff”.
The Council and now canon law set out three ways in which the College of Bishops can exercise that extensive power of Church governance. Not one has been used since the Council.
The first way is in an Ecumenical council. Only the Pope can call a Council and all decisions require his approval. There have been four councils in the past five hundred years and 21 in 1700 years. They are cumbersome affairs which have traditionally brought together all the bishops from around the world. Since the Second Vatican Council the number of bishops has doubled to over five thousand making physical convocation of the entire college logistically more difficult though modern communication technologies might make other forms of convocation feasible.
The second way is through “the united action of the bishops dispersed throughout the world provided that the Pope has publicly declared or freely accepted such an exercise of power”. Canonical experts are unclear as to what was intended by this provision but it too could conduce to global episcopal consensus formed without physical convocation.
But it is the third way that gives Pope Francis the best scope to develop collegial episcopal governance because under the law he has complete power to decide the ways in which the College of Bishops may act collegially with regard to the universal Church, according to the needs of the Church. This papal power has never been activated, but of course it could be.
The Pope could for example, create a new process or structure through which the College of Bishops could co-govern the Church with him or he could designate an existing episcopal structure for that purpose. The obvious candidate for the latter would be the current Synod of Bishops, which is a much smaller body of a few hundred delegate bishops drawn from episcopal conferences around the world. But the relationship between the Synod of Bishops and the College of Bishops is one of the great canonical riddles of our time and things are not as easy as they might appear.
First, canonical commentators disagree about whether the College of Bishops can lawfully delegate its powers of governance to a smaller representative body.
Second, the Synod of Bishops was created by Paul VI during the Second Vatican Council but it was not created by the Council. In fact it is suspected it was set up precisely to stop the Council from creating a synod that could in law represent the College of Bishops. Those who later drafted the Code of Canon law deliberately omitted any reference to the Synod as a body representative of the College of Bishops for fear of the unresolved constitutional implications. The argument goes that if the Synod was legally representative of the College of Bishops, it would operate effectively as a mini-ecumenical council with the full governance powers of the Council. That scenario was emphatically rejected by the then Cardinal Ratzinger.
The Synod has never operated as anything other than an advisory body to the Pope in the exercise of his primatial power. It has never been involved in church governance and that has major ramifications for Christian unity. Synodality and collegiality in other Christian traditions including Anglican and Orthodox are not simply about giving advice or being consulted but about decision-making. The difference is crucial. Archbishop John Quinn put it forcefully back in 1996 when he wrote:
Large segments of the Catholic Church as well as many orthodox and other Christians do not believe that collegiality and subsidiarity are being practised in the Catholic Church in a sufficiently meaningful way. The seriousness of our obligation to seek Christian unity sincerely means that this obstacle to unity cannot be overlooked or dismissed as if it were the quirk of malcontents or the scheme of those who want to undermine the papacy.
In its 1998 report, the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission while acknowledging convergence on the “need for a universal primacy exercised by the Bishop of Rome as a sign and safeguard of unity within a reunited Church” pointedly asserted “the need for the universal primate to exercise his ministry in collegial association with the other bishops.”
The way the Synod of Bishops has operated to date does not meet that test of collegial episcopal governance but there are two possible ways, open to Pope Francis, of transforming the Synod into a decision-making body, one involves taking the bull by the horns and making the Synod legally representative of College of Bishops and the other does not.
Taking the second one first. Under canon law, the Pope can give decision-making powers to any Synod. No Pope has ever done so and Pope Benedict is on record as being against doing so. Yet this is by far the most straight-forward way of creating at least an embryonic form of collegial episcopal decision-making in the Catholic Church. The decision making powers would be delegated by the Pope and not by the College of Bishops. Whether it would meet the test of collegiality necessary for Christian unity is not certain but it could be legitimately seen as a reconciliation of sorts between primatialism and collegial episcopal governance. It could even be road-tested quite soon.
The Pope has called both an Extraordinary and an Ordinary Synod of Bishops. The first will meet in October to discuss the challenges facing the family in the context of evangelisation. Its role is to urgently advise the Pope on the state of the question and bring forward proposals. The role of the Ordinary Synod which will meet in 2015, will be to identify and suggest to the Pope, new working guidelines for the pastoral care of the human person and the family.
Normally such Synods advise the Pope and he makes the decisions. But it would be politically masterful for Francis to make one or other or both these Synods, decision making bodies (with him of course at its head and all decisions subject to his approval). He has the power to do so and may well have the contextual impetus.
The preparations for the Extraordinary Synod have involved canvassing grass roots opinions on a range of controversial subjects from artificial contraception to access to the sacraments for divorced and remarried Catholics from inter-communion in mixed marriages, to cohabitation to gay marriage and much more. When the results are analysed the bishops and Pope are likely to face overwhelming evidence of a strong disconnect, certainly at least in the Western world, between the faithful’s opinions and the Church’s teaching and practice in a number of areas. If significant doctrinal or procedural changes are to follow they could be much more impactful if they came from a collegial decision of the Pope and the Synod Bishops. Given the grass roots input, filtered through the episcopal conferences, those decisions could truly be said to have evolved from a process that involved each tier of the People of God. It would be a first for the Church.
That is one way to create a closely primatially controlled form of collegial episcopal governance cum Petro et sub Petro. The Synod in such a scenario would not be a standing decision-making body but at the Pope’s discretion could on occasions be purely advisory and at other times decision-making.
The other way and by far the most exciting, would be for the Pope to use the third way allowed by the Council, and designate the Synod of Bishops as a standing decision-making body representative of the College of Bishops (whether by partial or full delegation). The Synod’s powers would be those delegated by the College of Bishops and not those delegated by the Pope. The Synod could indeed become a mini-ecumenical council with supreme and full power of governance or with partial delegation requiring a majority of the entire College canvassed say by post or email. This is the more radical and difficult option constitutionally and for that reason probably the least likely in the short-term but it is the option which would have the least difficulty meeting the test of Christian unity and true episcopal collegial governance.
So now we know Francis can transform the Synod into a collegial decision-making body but will he? We know he plans to change the Synod in some way. He had said: “Maybe it is time to change the methods of the Synod of Bishops, because it seems to me that the current method is not dynamic. […]This will have an ecumenical value, especially with our orthodox brethren. From them we can learn more about the meaning of episcopal collegiality and the tradition of synodality. […] In ecumenical relations it is important not only to know each other better but to recognize what the Spirit has sown in the other as a gift for us.” In Evangelii gaudium he opened up the debate further saying:
Since I am called to put into practice what I ask of others, I too must think about a conversion of the papacy. It is my duty, as the Bishop of Rome, to be open to suggestions which can help make the exercise of my ministry more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it and to the present needs of evangelization. Pope John Paul II asked for help in finding “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”. We have made little progress in this regard. The papacy and the central structures of the universal Church also need to hear the call to pastoral conversion.
Last November at the Press Conference announcing the Extraordinary Synod, the General Secretary to the Synod stated that “with regard to the methodological renewal, the idea is that of transforming the synodal institution into a real and effective tool of communication, through which the collegiality hoped for by the Vatican Council is expressed and achieved[…].” He spoke of changes to structure and methodology which would allow the Synod to “adequately perform its mission of promoting episcopal collegiality, cum petro et sub petro in the governance of the universal Church.”
These strong hints of changes to the Synod in the context of advancing both collegiality and church unity make absolutely no sense whatever unless they involve Synodal decision making. Anything less than that is merely the status quo, no matter what language it may be dressed up in.
Francis has warned that he will not move hastily. He needs time for what he describes as “wise discernment.” for he believes that “we always need time to lay the foundations for real, effective change”. And yet he has also spoken of the urgent need for a new balance in the Church otherwise as he has said “the moral edifice of the Church is likely to fall like a house of cards.”
Until now the centre has believed it could only hold through primatialism, and unquestioning obedience to the exclusively top-down teaching magisterium. That tight grip approach has had very damaging consequences for the Church in the modern world. The current grass roots response to the questionnaire from the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops could be a template for the kind of noisy, messy, argumentative Church the Vatican Council envisaged and that Francis seems comfortable with: not top-down, control-driven and passive, but a healthy vibrant communio of the diverse engaged in active listening and talking top down, sideways and bottom up, unafraid of bad news, unafraid of healthy debate. Plugging that grass roots debate into the Episcopal conferences and plugging the Episcopal Conferences into the Synod and plugging the Synod into the College of Bishops with the Pope as its head has the potential for a vibrant communio in rich diversity, a real leaven in the maelstrom of life.
A decision-making Synod, while historic, would not however change the fact that all decisions would continue to be filtered exclusively through the male, unmarried, clerical episcopacy. This already puts a very considerable brake on meaningful involvement of the laity and women in particular .The Synod on the Family is a particularly good example of how weak the expertise of that forum can be. It is an advisory body on “the family” comprised entirely of men who have consciously chosen not to be fathers or spouses or to live a family life. The absence of laity and in particular women from ecclesial decision making and high-level spheres of influence is a line that cannot hold, in fact it is a line that is rapidly leaching trust and credibility. Francis has openly acknowledged that but has not yet posited any practical solutions possibly because his scope for real as opposed to token change is so limited given the extant structures. Yet where he looks to bodies for advice only there are already very considerable opportunities for lay and female inclusion which are not fully exploited.
It is hard to know if the charismatic and popular Francis has time on his side. His refreshing approach seems to have slowed the tide of cynicism but whether he can turn the tide remains to be seen.
Somewhat despairingly I wrote a book on collegiality two years ago but dared at least to hope that somehow, something would oxygenate Orsy’s slow burn and fan it to a flame. At the end I quoted Teilhard de Chardin’s famous statement- “Some day after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity [we] shall harness …. the energies of love. And then for the second time in the history of the world we shall have discovered fire.”
A year later a man arrived from Argentina with a blow-torch in his suitcase. Now hearts are alight with something infinitely more impatient and unforgiving than mere hope, a driven thing called expectation. The Church has now entered the heady era of the imperative of expectation. Cardinal Maradiaga has said lately “I strongly believe that the Church has reached the dawn of a new era […] We have heard that before and yet I strongly hope that this time he is right.

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  1. Gene Carr says:

    I read it down as far as the “James Carroll” reference. Credibility vanished instantly.

  2. Mary O Vallely says:

    “The current grass roots response to the questionnaire from the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops could be a template for the kind of noisy, messy, argumentative Church the Vatican Council envisaged and that Francis seems comfortable with: not top-down, control-driven and passive, but a healthy vibrant communio of the diverse engaged in active listening and talking top down, sideways and bottom up, unafraid of bad news, unafraid of healthy debate. Plugging that grass roots debate into the Episcopal conferences and plugging the Episcopal Conferences into the Synod and plugging the Synod into the College of Bishops with the Pope as its head has the potential for a vibrant communio in rich diversity, a real leaven in the maelstrom of life.”
    Oh Lord, hear her/my/our prayer. That this may be so. 🙂

  3. Funny I think I am really reaching the end of my tether with Catholic blogs… ALL Catholic blogs. I am fed up of the negativity, in-fighting, back-biting, division, silencing, dissent, agendas, self-serving, careerism, clericalism, boasting, and all the confusion, ambiguity, ineptitude, incompetence, and duplicitous words coming from almost all quarters and the highest levels. Fed up of the lot. It would make a man want to give it all up and live his life for God!

  4. Shaun@3, It just sounds as if you don`t like people. Mind you, serving God will be more difficult than you might think, if that`s how you see us, the same vision as Bosch in “Christ Carrying The Cross”, surrounded as He is by the ugliness and disease of humanity. But even if you were to join an enclosed order, presumably you would still be mindful of us, in sharing our defective human nature, like it or not.

  5. Thanks Gene, I looked up James Carroll and he has written some interesting books which I’ll look into.

  6. mjt, I do like people and have a fairly realistic view of myself. I just find the blogs are having an adverse effect on me. I think all the rhetoric and polemics (from both sides) is bad for the soul. And yet it’s so addictive. It’s all got much worse following Pope Francis’ election. The tone has changed.

  7. What a tremendous article!
    Mary McAleese has the great gift of being able to present a complex argument in such a clear and scholarly way. While many of us might theorize on new structures of Church governance, she, with expert precision, outlines possible routes open to The Pope which might begin to renew the Church and make it more relevant to us all, but particularly more relevant to the young people of Ireland – the next generation charged with the handing on of the faith.
    Our Church would be much richer if only the Irish Bishops’ Conference would engage her as an adviser.

  8. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    That was awesome. I believe little by little Pope Francis will come to the realization that this centrality or globalization is the very thing that prevents us from properly conducting both our spiritual and our daily lives in harmony. You can only be so far removed from the Holy Spirit on ground level. To break down these barriers are truly what the world needs right now. This applies to world governments as well. If the majority of people oppose war, then why is so much invested. I think the greatest feat of the greatest Pope will be making the papacy obsolete and from what I’m reading, Pope Francis may well be on his way.

  9. Con Devree says:

    Among other things, the selective nature of the sources quoted by Ms McAleese, the misrepresentations of Lumen Gentium and of Blessed John XXIII, the sweeping generalizations, the gratuitous theoretical prescriptions, the unilateral assumptions, render this article little more than an exercise in opinionisation.

    She confuses administration with Primacy-teaching authority. Ideas are expediently juxtaposed. One example is the phrase “…this issue was hotly debated in the 1960′s at the Second Vatican Council but nothing changed in practice.” This infers that a particular conclusion, convenient to her argument, was reached, which we are expected to take on trust.

    Reliance on random individuals as sources, all of whom are easily challenged, is unprofessional. This is particularly so given the enormous amount of material available on foot of the ecumenical interchanges that Catholicism has had with Anglicans, Lutherans and “Constantinople” on the issues of primacy and governance. The time is not yet ready for any lay person’s directive.

    Pope Francis is quoted at length. The fact that he is still clarifying his own thoughts is not fully appreciated.

    And where does it say in the Council Documents that the said Council desired a “noisy, messy, argumentative Church? Christ criticised the apostles for such. Pressure groups and activists thrive in such organizations. Arus an Uachtarain wasn’t one of them!!

    Is Ms McAleese aware that Pope Paul VI consulted with every bishop in the world before issuing Humanae Vitae.

  10. Lloyd @ #8 said:
    ”I think the greatest feat of the greatest Pope will be making the papacy obsolete and from what I’m reading, Pope Francis may well be on his way.”

    Christ @ Mt. 16:17-19 said:
    “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

    I hope to God Pope Francis isn’t scheming according to your hope.

  11. James Conway says:

    Con Devree@9
    I’m afraid I find Mary McAleese’s analysis, arguments, rhetoric and conclusions far more rational, persuasive and measured than your comment.

  12. Joe O'Leary says:

    Con Devree, you offer no rebuttal to a single one of Mrs McAleese’s theses. You say she does not attend to ecumenical discussions on primacy and collegiality, but in fact she refers to the crucial ecumenical importance of the theme many times, in a way that suggests she is fully aware of what you refer to. You say she confuses governance with the theology of “Primacy-teaching authority” (Are you yourself confusing governance and teaching authority?) — but even Vatican I wanted a church governance that reflected both primacy and collegiality, though the suspension of the council left its teaching incomplete. That Vatican II was very concerned with church governance that gave fuller expression to collegiality is so obvious that she did not need to prove it; and in any case have you not read her book, Quo Vadis? L. Orsy and Cardinals Schonborn and Maradiaga are not “random individuals”, and Mrs McAleese seems quite aware that Francis is going through a period of ongoing reflection. When you say the Pope has not made up his mind, you perhaps means that he has not yet come to agree with yourself!

  13. Con Devree says:

    Fr Joe O’Leary, James Conway Thank you for your responses.

    So sweeping are the statements of the article that an exercise in rebuttal would have required too much space. I went through the article and based each of my comments on some part of it. An article as written should stand on its own two feet without having to read the author’s book to understand it.

    Juxtaposing issues of Papal Primacy with issues of day to day administration by the Curia is not conducive to dealing with the question of Primacy. The Curia on the one hand and Primacy and collegiality on the other, are separate issues.

    In relation to governance, the article cited Lumen Gentium and the practices of other Churches in an unbalanced fashion. The article warped Lumen Gentium, especially paragraph 22. It did not reflect the totality of the ecumenical dialogues I listed and if she has studied them deeply the article didn’t reflect such; especially it did not reflect the responses of the CDF.

    Pope Francis is my Pope and he has my complete loyalty. He gives the teachings of his predecessors a sharper, more challenging edge. I regard Pope Francis as a gift from the Holy Spirit. He has a weakness of course, of at times, using very disparaging, uncharitable language. Synodality is a developing process and I will accept this development as it develops within the Church. Individual Catholics should know better that to seek to impose, rather than offer, their imagined (imperative?) versions of it. As Evangelii Gaudium states Realities are more important than ideas (231-233). Ideas require humility.

    These “realities” are particularly relevant to the idea, the overall objective, of a “noisy, messy, argumentative Church.” In Evangelii Gaudium there is a heading “No to warring among ourselves” [98-101]. There are also references to Acts: Wherever the disciples went, “there was great joy” (Acts 8:8); even amid persecution they continued to be “filled with joy” (13:52). [EG 5] and “the believers were of one heart and one soul” (cf. Acts 4:32).[EG 31]. St Paul had something to say about “Paul and Apollus.”

    One detects a necessary subtlety in the Pope’s modus operandi. In Evangelii Gaudium he says a lot about structure, including “Changing structures without generating new convictions and attitudes will only ensure that those same structures will become, sooner or later, corrupt, oppressive and ineffectual.” [EG 189] “New convictions and attitudes” implies ongoing conversion among all. Changing Church structure as a method of changing Church teaching would be regarded by the Pope as “corrupt, oppressive and ineffectual.”

    It should be noted that for the majority of Catholics in the world – the poor, issues of Church structure are not significant. Faith and hope and survival are the bread and butter. Structure of itself, no more than signs and wonders, will never create faith. The structures akin to those advocated in the article have borne little fruit among the separated ecclesial communities, devoid as they are of an appropriate hierarchy.

    Cardinals Schonborn and Maradiaga are not quoted in the article.

  14. Con Devree says:

    8.45 pm Thursday
    My apologies to Fr Joe O’Leary. There is reference to Cardinal Maradiaga. I stand corrected. Given both his status as Cardinal, and his views on those who vote for abortion he is no “random individual.”

  15. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    Shaun at #10 said:
    I hope to God Pope Francis isn’t scheming according to your hope.
    I guess we have differences in opinion as to what Jesus was hoping for when he gave the proverbial “keys to the car” to Peter. You seem to hope that the hierarchical model that presents itself today like a multinational corporation just happened to be his very wishes.
    I don’t.
    Now if you truly believe that the modern day church is at the apex of its development and Jesus himself would be happy with both its structure and reputation through the ages, I clearly understand where you are coming from.
    My point is that a priest, equipped with the word of God in hand, with a great working knowledge of the ten commandments and understanding he reports to one true King, is no more equipped to do God’s work if you put a Bishop (king), Cardinal (king) or Pope (king) ahead of him. He alone is all it takes to spread the word of God. In my opinion, the more kings you put in front of him, the more that rock reverts back to its original form: sand and clay.

  16. Joe O'Leary says:

    Schonborn and Maradiaga ARE quoted in the article — perhaps you should read it again?
    Mrs McAleese is not dictating to the pope, merely hoping he will realize the Council’s vision of a collegial church. That there have been huge expectations about this and that they have been frustrated by the Vatican is not her idea but a perception very widely shared among church historians.
    To say that collegiality is of no concern to the poor is to miss how much the failure of collegiality, all the way down to parish level, has left the poor in the lurch.
    To say that collegiality has been tried and has failed in other churches is a sweeping claim that certainly does not reflect the self-understanding of these churches.
    Nor is it possible to divorce the theological realities of collegiality (going back to the New Testament) and primacy (going back a long way too) from such mundane matters as the Curia (which has usurped a role between pope and bishops, lording it over bishops instead of being at their service) and the practical treatment of bishops’ conferences (downgraded both practically and theoretically since 1968). The theological conundrum of reconciling primacy and collegiality has been around for a long time and figures prominently in ecumenical debate; the theological opacity of Vatican II on this has weakened the current Code of Canon Law as Mrs McAleese showed in her book; but even while that conundrum remains there are many ways of boosting collegiality that are not theologically problematic and to which the article points.
    An argumentative church is not equivalent to “warring among ourselves” — St Paul was one of the most argumentative people who ever lived and at the same time an apostle of harmony and charity.

  17. Con Devree says:

    Fr Joe O’Leary
    Father, I think that resorting to tit for tat stuff without substantive lines of reasoning is of little value. For instance, “expectations” and perceptions on the part of some, genuine though they may be, do not, even in one’s private day to day living, provide a basis for their own realisation. Expectation is not necessarily at one with reality.

    Those who work with the poor today, in areas like St Vincent de Paul or the provision of education for the disadvantaged would be hard pressed to find any link between their work and collegiality. Pope Francis’s option for the poor is not dependent on collegiality, but overtly on individual conversion. The Rice/McCauley/Nagles/ et al of the 19th century were not concerned with collegiality. I suspect you have a different (broader/looser) interpretation of collegiality from that contained in Vatican documents. Do they posit collegiality in the context of the Laity?

    As I read it, you make the same point as I do in relation to Primacy/collegiality and the Curia. The former is a matter of theology, the latter is a matter of management and control. If the postulated Curia usurpation is remedied then the (or your) proposed development of collegiality becomes a separate matter, a theological concern.

    Lumen Gentium is not opaque on Primacy. Canon Law derives from Church teaching. I leave the relationship between Canon Law and opaque theology to others.

    In relation to the separated ecclesial communities history shows that when the primacy of the Pope is rejected, there follows division and splintering in the Christian community. Martin Luther and Henry VIII both wanted to retain large elements of Catholicism. Once Papal Primacy was rejected, further changes immediately ensued, one aspect of which are the 40,000 plus Protestant denominations in the world today. One of course is free to view this positively or negatively, but its correspondence to unity is hardly clear.

    We know how Martin Luther launched his highwire verbal attacks on Rome, rightly accusing the Catholic Church of corruption and selling indulgences. Today pastor Johannes Block, Martin Luther’s successor, a committed Christian, vicar of Stadtkirche St. Marien zu Wittenberg, Luther’s own church, looks out over a mere 50 to 100 people in the pews: a tiny number in a city of 135,000, especially one whose official name is Lutherstadt (Luther City) Wittenberg. Nowhere in Germany is the share of Protestants lower than in Luther’s homeland.

    According to Detlef Pollack, professor of religious sociology at Münster University the Lutherans’ problem is that “People don’t know what exactly the church represents.” “It’s having a hard time differentiating itself from other organizations within civil society, from trade unions or political parties.” (Quoted closely from http://mag.newsweek.com/2014/02/28/lutheran-religion-protestant-martin-luther.html)

    This is not a matter of comparison between Catholic and Lutheran. It shows the enormity of the task promoters of the above article face in establishing that the changes in structure it advocates, with their opaque outcomes, are beneficial to the integrity of the faith and to Church unity.

    Considerations of space and time prevent me from addressing the “St Paul” issue.

  18. #13 “Structure of itself, no more than signs and wonders, will never create faith.”
    That’s true – but structures that deny the need for regular free verbal communion between teachers and those they seek to teach can only undermine the authority of their teaching – by suggesting fear on the part of the teacher, rather than real confidence and faith. They also challenge a key component of Catholic faith – that all of us are equal in dignity.
    So the renewal of Catholic faith requires structures different from the ones we have. I sincerely hope that Francis is recognising this when he says in Evangelii Gaudium:
    “27. I dream of a “missionary option”, that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self-preservation.”

  19. Joe O’Leary you are so right! If there is not a return to an implementation of the vision of Vatican II then our churches in Ireland (like the churches in France and elsewhere) will be empty in thirty or forty years. In my diocese millions have been spent during the past forty years on refurbishing church buildings. Little or nothing has been spent on refurbishing or renewing the mystical body of Christ – the baptised, the living church. The result is a younger generation which is not interested. Faith transmission which worked for us ‘older’ folks is not working for the next generation. In my own diocese, I firmly believe that church structures militated against renewal and faith development generally but, particularly, for the vast majority of our youth.
    When I have this discussion with friends who blame secularism and the modern world for this demise and who tell me their own faith is strong and traditional, I ask them about their children’s faith and practice. They usually reply with hesitation and not as much certainty. They know that what worked for our generation is not working for the next.
    The sad thing is, that, for the past thirty years, proven renewal programs which created lay leadership and offered young people new hope were, at best, weakly tolerated or, at worst, ignored or stifled.
    I often wondered why there was this ambivalence and cynicism to these successful programs. I think I know now!

  20. Excellent, Joe,@16 I totally agree.
    Happy St. Patrick’s Day to all our friends and correspondents. My son, Patrick and I are off to Donegal early tomorrow morning to celebrate our feast day at home in Donegal.

  21. Willie Herlihy says:

    The Christian religion was founded by Jesus Christ, when he departed this earth, he left a Shepherd and eleven assistants in charge of his Church.
    He stated explicitly that his kingdom was not of this world.
    Fast forward two thousand years and what do we have?
    In the intervening period, the Church of Christ has morphed into an autocratic institution.
    The representatives of the eleven assistants, namely, the Bishops have been reduced to a collection of yes men.
    The power at the heart of the Catholic Church to day is the Curia,this corrupt civil service now controls our Church,some of its members would make Machiavelli proud.
    The Holy Spirit is definitely with us in the 21st Century,because he has sent us this humble Shepherd from Latin America.
    Mrs Mary Mc Aleese is certainly correct, Pope Francis is definitely endeavouring to change this monolithic structure of OUR Church.
    I thought my ears would fall off last Sunday, when the Priest read the pastoral letter. It contained instructions to establish Parish Councils throughout the Diocese.
    I think change is already happening, we should all pray for Pope Francis to ask God to help him in the oneroush task he is taking on.
    Dismantling vested interests is a dangerous occupation, at this time the Pope requires a few more people of the calibre of Mary Mc Aleese.

  22. Con Devree says:

    Sean O’Conaill # 18

    As I see it your comment has 5 important ideas – free dialogue between teacher and taught, “real” faith, authoritative teaching, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, and “suitable” channelling of the Church’s characteristics.

    Firstly could you expand a bit on the notion of “real” faith? Secondly, what impact, if any do it you consider it to have on authoritative teaching, and on a transformative missionary impulse?

  23. Is there an antacid tablet I can take to make Vatican II go away? It’s certainly caused/been the occasion of a lot of trouble.

  24. #22 Con Devree
    For me ‘real faith’ goes beyond mere passive assent to the Creeds. It involves also a dynamic trust in the near-presence of the kingdom of God – God’s power to move all of us into compassionate caring for one another. It unites knowing and loving because it understands the Creeds as a story of divine love, a love that must be felt and shared.
    Mere knowing can be a serious temptation to the ego, our tendency to need to be ‘right’. This may well by what Pope Francis is alluding to in Evangelii Gaudium 95: “Spiritual worldliness can be seen in some people in whom we see an ostentatious preoccupation for the liturgy, for doctrine and for the Church’s prestige.”
    Nowhere in the Gospel does Jesus say “Though shalt be right!” – so for me real faith gives priority to loving above knowing, without denying the importance of knowing. This is probably what Richard Rohr means when he advises us that when it comes to doctrine we should ‘transcend and include’.
    Could I appeal to the expert theologians here at this point to tease out for us what Francis refers to as ‘the hierarchy of truths’ (EG 36). The boundary between essential unchanging truth and teachings subject to change (e.g. on slavery) is not easy to discern and very subject to dispute. Surely we need to agree on the ‘basic core’ (EG 36), while discussing in mutual respect what does not belong to that?

  25. #22 Con Devree
    Re ‘a transformative missionary impulse’. It is clearly Francis’s grip on the ‘basic core’ that leads him to prioritise mission, outreach, above what might be called complete doctrinal conformity. People need to hear that they are infinitely loved by God – and have that reinforced by a loving Christian community – before they can receive the rest of what the church has to teach. Here again it’s clear that a teasing out of the ‘basic core’ will be vital to confident mission.

  26. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    Willie @21, so true what you say about disabling vested interests. One of the considerations maybe not thought of 2000 years ago was the importance of re-evaluating an ever forming culture (both socially and technologically). We have a pretty simple set of rules but unfortunately applying them to a multi-level, complex administrative-based world today is not easy. The natural law that guides us on a daily basis is not to be confused with the decisions that are made in daily governmental affairs or business relations. When this natural law is not applied, we see corruption take its place.

  27. Con Devree says:

    Sean O’Conaill # 25

    The notion of love is impregnable. How do you view the statement: “the faith is a claim to truth”?

  28. #27 Con Devree
    “the faith is a claim to truth”? If the statement is taken to mean that ‘the faith’ is to be identified with a series of discrete verbal ‘truth statements’ I have problems with that – again to do with our tendency to want to be ‘right’. When Jesus was asked ‘what is truth?’ he did not respond verbally – he merely stood there, embodying the truth.
    The fact that human beings have been immolated by us Christians for refusing to accept some formula or other should always give us pause – because that has far more seriously damaged the loving truth than any verbal error.
    I believe in the end that Jesus died rather than impose himself on us, and that the church has erred far more seriously in failing to follow that example than any ‘heretic’. Far more people are repelled from the church today by what they see as intolerance and lack of integrity than are attracted to it by its obduracy in defence of verbal truth. ‘Relativism’ will never be defeated by verbal argument, only by the mystery of an unconditional love that is fully true to the unconditional love of God.

  29. Con Devree says:

    However Christ did say he would send the Spirit to guide us in “all” truth.

    As you imply The faith is not just a series of formulas. And he did not say “beat it into the people.”

    But if he offered us truth, it is a gift of His, is it an indication that it is something we can pursue. Should pursue? Should share for the praise and glory of His name?

  30. Con Devree #29
    “But if he (Christ) offered us truth, it is a gift of His, is it an indication that it is something we can pursue. Should pursue? Should share for the praise and glory of His name?”
    Of course, Con. “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God.” I understand that kingdom now as having to do with simple relationship rather than as demanding a vast body body of knowledge. “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
    Francis is on to something when he tells us seek out those who suffer great hardship, because the latter leads people to pray with great attention, and to a wisdom that we also need – the wisdom that seeks to dwell within all of us, as spirit rather than as data.

  31. Sean@28, ” Far more people are repelled from the church today by what they see as intolerance and a lack of integrity than are attracted to it by its obduracy in defence of verbal truth.”
    That statement sums up perfectly one of the core causes– perhaps the core cause — for the startling decline of our Church over the last 20 years.
    I know many family and friends who could once have been described as devout Catholics but who have now been “repelled”.

  32. Con Devree says:

    Sean, this conversation began with a request – “Firstly could you expand a bit on the notion of “real” faith?” “Real” faith is a term used by Pope Francis of which more below.

    Among the conclusions I have come to (rightly or wrongly) is that your last statement is both an expression of a truth, a conviction, and at the same time an outcome of truth guided by faith. Without such statements we would not be able to express faith, and without faith we would not be able to accept truth as truth. I think we can see at work here the fulfilment of Christ’s wish in John 17:17 – “Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth.”

    I find it difficult to agree with your analysis of the Pilate incident. “I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” There are many in Pilate’s position today who pose the same question in the same manner. Of course Christ didn’t make any judgement on Pilate then.

    Pope Francis makes at least 25 references to truth in EG. In some/many of these he portrays an “inseparable bond between truth, beauty and goodness.”

    As I see it there is a very close correspondence between his treatment of truth and that of Pope Benedict. Both draw a distinction between the necessity of truth and preaching it in a repellant fashion, misrepresenting it, or reducing it in any way. “Wanting to be right” is not always the same as seeking the truth, or living by it.

    I don’t want to patronize but you might (“might”) find the following to your liking: (Contains reference to “real” faith)

    http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Blog/3000/pope_francis_on_knowledge_faith_and_demons.aspx#.Uy2SupWPMaI And if you have the inclination, there is:


  33. #32 Con Devree
    Thanks, Con, for those links. I especially like the second, from Francis himself.
    Re ‘the truth’, this especially strikes me, from Francis: “He (Jesus) was Teacher of the truth which is God.”
    When Jesus said ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’ he was surely also denying that Denzinger on its own (i.e. a minute listing of verbal truth formulae) is the place to look for ‘the truth’. We are only fully captured by ‘the truth’ when we are in relationship with the Trinity: we could know all of Denzinger and still be ‘outside’ the truth. And surely on the other hand the least sophisticated people can be fully captured by ‘the truth’.
    Here’s Evangelii Gaudium 35: “Pastoral ministry in a missionary style is not obsessed with the disjointed transmission of a multitude of doctrines to be insistently imposed……the message has to concentrate on the essentials.” It is inevitable that the more we elaborate the faith into a multitude of discrete truth statements (Denzinger), the more likely we are to lose sight of ‘the coherence of the faith’ (Schall) – i.e. of both ‘the essentials’, and the need for loving relationship with their Source.
    Again, it would be most helpful to hear more from Francis on what exactly he thinks those ‘essentials’ are.

  34. Con Devree says:


    The faith per se is not comprised of discrete truths. Should someone preach them, or only accept them, as if they are discrete, then that’s a different matter.

    I remember reading somewhere a piece by Janet Smith, claiming that a few days after the promulgation of Humanae Vitae, Fr Charles Curran stated that the said teaching could be discarded with easily as it was a stand-alone (discrete) piece of teaching. According to Smith, Fr Curran admitted ten years later that this statement was invalid. It was not a stand-alone bit of teaching. Bu,t Fr Curran claimed, it proved that the Church had been wrong about the related pieces of teaching as well.

    Newman is quite clear that no new teaching can have the effect of weakening a teaching already contained in the deposit of faith. In Paragraph 39 of EG The Pope writes “… no truth may be denied. The integrity of the Gospel message must not be deformed. What is more, each truth is better understood when related to the harmonious totality of the Christian message; in this context all of the truths are important and illumine one another. When preaching is faithful to the Gospel, the centrality of certain truths is evident …”

    The ultimate essential is that “God, monotheistically, is!” Tradition tells us that St Patrick began with this, moving quickly to the Trinity. Among other things, as I think you imply, God is Truth. As God He has to reveal himself through Scripture, Christ, and the Church in order to be known. The motivation for such is Divine Love. This is an unassailable, essential truth.

    The Pope says what you quote him as saying. In paragraph 36 The Pope also writes: “All revealed truths derive from the same divine source and are to be believed with the same faith.” As I see it, this practice of belief enables/requires us to pursue the actuality known as truth. Truth occurs in two linked realities in Catholicism. One is in the relationship with God in Love which you emphasise. The other is an ongoing growth in a rational theological understanding of God and ourselves grounded in faith. Both enrich faith. This is distinct from a philosophical pursuit outside the belief of faith.

  35. Con Devree #34
    The Council of Gangra, c. 340:
    “If anyone, on the pretext of religion, teaches another man’s slave to despise his master, and to withdraw from his service, and not to serve his master with good will and all respect, let him be anathema.”
    This statement was made part of canon law, and cited in defence of slavery for the next fourteen hundred years.
    Obviously, since this teaching has now been superseded it was never part of the irreducible core of the faith. So, some church teachings are obviously more central and binding than others. The trouble with giving all present church teaching the same status, and requiring equal faith in all, is that there then ceases to be an irreducible core – because history proves conclusively that a mistakenly derived teaching lasting over 1700 years can be changed.
    We need demarcation of the central irreducible core of what faith *requires*, and freedom to discuss everything outside that. For example, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis cannot be given the same status as the Creeds without diminishing the authority of the creeds. Our understanding of ‘faith’ is diminished by reducing it to assent to everything the magisterium teaches NOW. That is not faith in God – merely defensive loyalism in obeisance to the current church administration. That ‘faith’ would have maintained slavery into the present, defending it as required Christian belief.
    What else can it mean to say there is a ‘hierarchy of truths’ if not that some teachings have priority, while others are subject to ongoing discernment?

  36. Joe O'Leary says:

    Faith is a living response to what is present here and now — documents from the past are but props and crutches. How do we as a community respond to the call of our neighbors, who are often foreign and strange to us, and to the signs of the times, which are often times of radical change? It is in that response that we open up to the divine. It is that response which gives a criterion for discernment between what is living and what is dead in the religious legacies we have inherited.

  37. Con Devree says:

    Sean #35
    I’m not that well versed in the history of slavery in the Church but I do know that it is a contested one.

    Without the First Commandment there would be no need for the others. This is the sense of the hierarchy of doctrine. It does not imply that any derivative doctrine can be dispensed with. All the derivatives represent God’s requirements of people in terms of behaviour. Peter J Collosi’s idea (not mine) re the story of the woman at the well – “I am God, let me tell you about yourself” ties in well here. Similarly St Peter’s “To whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Truth is a central reality.

    Catholics are said to “embrace” the Catholic faith and in so doing are required to accept the teachings of the Church, the Magisterium. (I’m not ignoring different considerations of assent). “All revealed truths derive from the same divine source and are to be believed with the same faith.” (Sorry for the repetition re the Pope). I don’t think there can be demarcations. Lived experience and the secular disciplines are not the sources of this truth. They help in articulating it, but are really enlightened by it. The deposit of Faith absolves us of constantly reinventing the wheel. An integrated pattern of truth has gradually emerged over time, the “the harmonious totality of the Christian message.”

    Without truth, faith would be contentless, a fideism, devoid of reason. As Pope Francis says one can know and be profound about all the teachings and yet not have “real faith.” (Can try to be right all the time). But without truth we would know nothing of the God to whom we seek to relate, and of what He demands of us.

    Faith is more than the Magisterium. For instance the embrace of faith is greatly challenged in difficult moments by the need for trust (Hope) in Divine Love and by the demands of charity. People pray the St Ignatius’s Examen Prayer, aimed at “finding God in all things” without reference to the Magisterium but to Divine Providence, which is a belief based on faith, on truth.

    I have benefitted from this conversation.

  38. #37 Con Devree
    “An integrated pattern of truth has gradually emerged over time, the ‘the harmonious totality of the Christian message.'”
    If the ‘totality’ takes time to emerge, how can we be absolutist in insisting that it is already present in this era?
    The shutting down of debate on any issue speaks of fear, not faith – and refutes Vatican II on religious freedom: “Truth can impose itself on the mind of man only in virtue of its own truth, which wins over the mind with both gentleness and power.” (Dignitatis Humanae #1)

  39. Con Devree says:

    Sean #38
    Debate by its nature often develops a reaction of fear in any context.

    Could I suggest that development of doctrine occurs not in the context of philosophical debate as such but in a theological exploration within the parameters (obedience) of faith? The difference I suggest, is that philosophy begins with a question. Theology is rational engagement with the priorly given scripture and tradition and seeks in grace to throw more light on the issue, developing it rather than fundamentally changing it, with the Magisterium having the last word.

    For instance in the upcoming synod, marriage per se cannot but remain indissoluble but it is hoped some clarification, or development, or reinforcement, or change in preparation for marriage will emerge for the overall enlightenment or pastoral care of whoever. The guarantee of Catholicism confirms us in the maxim: “Be not afraid.”

    This may sound absolutist, but in the context of Catholicism it is no more absolutist than saying today is Friday. It comes from Christ Himself. It is in this sense I imagine that the Pope says “all of the truths are important and illumine one another.” Each truth or teaching is part of an historical succession, and integrated whole, not a series of separate propositions, where one may contradict the other.

    Can the quotation: “Truth can impose itself on the mind of man only in virtue of its own truth” be written thus: truth has to be accepted only on foot of its being “true”? Any conscious acquisition of truth (say a conversion) is characterized by the convincing, enabling power of the truth concerned and by its inherent gentleness both in its own light and its power to set free. Similarly, in terms of the faith being a claim to truth, the faith heals and strengthens to the extent that it opens knowledge to man – true knowledge, otherwise it would be no knowledge at all.

    Of course the notion of “gentleness” also refers to pastoral realities, and to the power of gentleness itself as distinct from an “authoritarian and moralist attitude.” (Maradiaga)

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