Christian unity demands sacrifice of old ways

 — July 12, 199612 juil. 1996

by John R. Quinn for the National Catholic Reporter 32.34 (Jul 12, 1996): 13.

Following are excerpts from Archbishop John R Quinn’s lecture on June 29, 1996, at Campion Hall, Oxford. Quinn is a visiting fellow at Campion Hall.

I. The challenge of John Paul II

… The pope himself, in apostolic discernment, sees that there must be new forms of exercising the primacy as the church approaches the threshold of a new millennium. He calls the Christian family to look at how the gift that is the papacy can become more credible and speak more effectively to the contemporary world. Those, of course, who respond to the request of the pope, must bear in mind the paradoxical nature of the project they are undertaking. The Holy Father asks for public consideration of new forms in which the Petrine ministry can be embodied and exercised But one can only advance the need for new forms if the past or current forms are evaluated as inadequate. To consider inadequacy seriously is to embark upon careful criticism. This obviously must be done if one is to give attentive and loyal response to the papal request. But that very response, which issues out of an obediential hearing, can be misread as carping negativity, a distancing of oneself from the Holy pope has asked us for an honest and serious critique. He has every right to expect that this call be heard and that this response will be especially forthcoming from those who recognize and reverence the primacy of the Roman pontiff -as the church searches out the will of God in the new millennium that is before us.

… The “new situation” for the primacy is indeed comparable to the situation that confronted the primitive church when it abandoned the requirements of the Mosaic Law and embraced the mission to the gentiles. This action required immense courage, vision and sacrifice. It was an uncharted path, a major change. There were grave reasons for keeping the Mosaic Law, not least of which was the fact that Our Lord himself had observed it. Yet, trusting in the Holy Spirit, the apostles made that momentous decision. There was intense and bitter opposition to it, so much so that some scholars believe that there is founded evidence to show that it was ultraconservative members of the Christian community at Rome, opposed to the changes Peter and Paul had introduced, who denounced them to the Roman authorities and brought about their arrest and execution. Similarly today, there are strong divisions within the church and accompanying pressures pulling in conflicting directions. The decisions required by the “new situation” will be exacting and costly….

II. My personal experience of the papacy

When he appointed me as pontifical delegate for religious life in 1983, Pope John Paul told me that he had a very personal interest in this issue and that he wanted me to report directly to him and to come see him often. As a result, I did visit Rome frequently, and when I requested it, I was received by the pope at once and given all the time I needed. During these visits I was quite frank with him about my own views and convictions and set down my proposals for action with precision and clarity. In no instance did the pope reject my proposals or impose any preordained mode of action on me. He himself frequently spoke of the work as an act of collegiality. I found the experience to be in fact a brotherly collaboration in which the pope entrusted responsibility to me and supported me in carrying it out even in the face of some opposition both in the curia and in the United States. From 1987 to 1989, when I was a participant with two American cardinals on a papal commission charged to resolve problems in the Seattle archdiocese, I had a similar experience. ….

These examples show that the pope thinks in collaborative terms and that his personal style is marked by openness to ask for help and a willingness to listen. Yet those are instances not so much of collegiality as they are of collaboration by bishops in a task undertaken by the pope at his initiative. But in Ut Unum Sint he specifically mentions collegiality….

“Collegiality” is predicated of the bishops precisely because – with the pope they have from Christ a true responsibility for the whole church. Hence bishops by this fact have the responsibility from Christ to take initiative in bringing forward problems and possibility for the mission of the church. Collegiality does not exist in its fullest sense if bishops are merely passive recipients of papal directives and initiatives. Bishops are not only sub Petro. They are also cum Petro.

Ill. Moral vs. structural reform

To ask the question about new ways of exercising the primacy “open to a new situation” is to raise the issue of the reform of the papacy. Yvés Congar, the distinguished theologian, named cardinal late in life, has pointed out the inadequacy of a purely “moral” reform, by which I understand him to mean an attitudinal reform. He believes that any true and effective reform must touch structures

What does a realistic desire for unity demand in terms of changes in curial structure, policy and procedures? What do the signs of the times, the desire for unity, the doctrine of episcopal collegiality, the cultural diversity of the church, the new technological age, call for in curial reform and adaptation to what the pope calls “a new situation”? What does all this demand of the pope himself?…

IV. The Roman curia and the search for unity

… The curial system was not created by Pope John Paul II. Though the curia existed in some form since the time of Gregory I in the sixth century, it goes back, as we know it, to Pope Sixtus V in 1588. And so if we are to search for new ways of exercising the papal ministry, we must go beyond the personal style of the pope and consider the curial system itself… Yet it must be honestly acknowledged that many Orthodox and other Christians are hesitant about full communion with the Holy See not so much because they see some doctrinal issues as unsolvable, not because of unfortunate and reprehensible historical events, but precisely because of the way issues are dealt with by the curia. It must also be said that this is a concern all over the world. Recent events in Switzerland, Austria, Germany and France, in Brazil, Africa and the United States are only one indication of how widespread this concern is. The concern has to do with the appointment of bishops, the approval of documents such as the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the grave decline in the numbers of priests and the consequent decline in the availability of Mass for the people, the cognate issue of the celibacy of the clergy, the role of episcopal conferences, the role of women and the issue of the ordination of women. Two things are involved in these issues: the decision of the Holy See on a specific issue and the way in which these decisions are reached and implemented. For instance, are such decisions imposed without consultation with the episcopate and without appropriate dialogue? Are bishops appointed against an overwhelming objection of people and priests in a given diocese? Where the answer to these and other such questions is affirmative, there are serious difficulties for Christian unity.

The importance of a major structural reform of the curia cannot be underestimated.

(Here Quinn proposes his three-member presidency and working commission to develop a proposal for reform.)

… The curia is the arm of the pope. But the curia always runs the real risk of seeing itself as a tertium quid. When this happens, in place of the dogmatic structure comprised of the pope and the rest of the episcopate, there emerges new and threefold structure: the pope, the curia and the episcopate. This makes it possible for the curia to see itself as exercising oversight and authority over the college of bishops, to see itself as subordinate to the pope but superior to the college of bishops. To the degree that this is so and is reflected in the policies and actions of the curia, it obscures and diminishes both the doctrine and the reality of episcopal collegiality.

Yet the Second Vatican Council points out explicitly that the curia is in the service of the bishops …

The same risk exists also in regard to papal nuncios who can easily assume too great a directive power in regard to the episcopate of a nation, weakening the authentic collegiality of that episcopate. Nuncios, of course, can also be a source of great strength to episcopates under duress…. And nuncios can play an effective role of reconciliation in countries where an episcopate is divided.

VI. Collegiality and the teaching office

… I would like to bring up some specific instances that I believe illustrate how the “way of exercising the primacy,” as well as the curial system, have an important bearing on any realistic hope for unity. I begin with the first of the threefold offices of Christ in which the bishops participate, the office of teaching. It is significant that it was Pope Pius IX, who defined the dogma of papal primacy and infallibility, who also vigorously upheld the public statement of the German bishops that bishops are not mere legates of the pope. This doctrine was more amply articulated in the Second Vatican Council. Such a doctrine cannot be affirmed in theory and denied-in practice. Yet there are practical instances which are tantamount to making bishops managers who only work under instructions rather than true witnesses of faith who teach – in communion with the pope – in the name of Christ.

(Here Quinn criticizes the Vatican’s rejection of the English-language version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church)

… In addition, a collegiality which consists largely in embracing decisions which have been made by higher authority is a very attenuated collegiality and the question must be asked how such limited collegiality truly responds to the will of Christ and how it responds “to the new situation.” For instance, bishops and episcopal conferences feel that such grave questions as contraception, the ordination of women, general absolution and the celibacy of the clergy are closed to discussion.

… Far from signaling a lack of loyalty or defect in faith, raising such questions respectfully and honestly is in reality an expression of both faith and loyalty.

… Many bishops feel that issues which they would like to discuss responsibly cannot come up, such as those mentioned above, as well as others, such as divorce, remarriage and the reception of the sacraments. I am not here taking a personal position on any of these issues. My point is simply to underline that issues of major concern in the church are not really open to a free and collegial evaluation and discussion by bishops, whose office includes being judges in matters of faith. A free discussion is one in which loyalty to the pope and the orthodoxy of faith of those who discuss these issues are not called into question. In subtle ways and sometimes in very direct ways, the position of the curia on these issues is communicated to bishops at synods and intimidates them. In addition it is made clear that certain recommendations should not be made to the pope at the conclusion of a synod.

… The procedures of the synod are outdated and not conducive to collegiality in its fuller sense. They would, in fact, prove alien to many of those seeking unity who are used to parliamentary procedures and more free exchange and debate on issues. A new way of structuring and holding these synods could have a significant effect on the search for unity and the exercise of true collegiality.

It would make the synod more truly a collegial act if the synod had a deliberative vote and not merely a consultative one….

Reflecting on a way of exercising the papal ministry more suitable to the times, we need to recapture the importance of ecumenical councils in the life of the church….

A council is a witness of the unity of the whole church, of the bishops with the pope and the pope with the bishops. It is a witness that amid the certainties of faith, still the church does not have all the answers ready-made, that she must struggle and search for the truth, as the primitive church struggled over the doctrinal and disciplinary issue of the Mosaic Law.

(Here Quinn calls for an ecumenical council to mark the new Millennium and to determine how often councils should be held in the future.)

VII. Collegiality and the sanctifying office

… Inculturation of the liturgy is another source of tension in many episcopates. Here the fundamental question must be raised and discussed: the principle that the Roman rite must serve as the rite in the Latin church…. The Roman rite, with its hieratic, measured gravity, greatly appeals to many people and rightly so. But there are other cultures which are not well suited to this approach. Bishops as judges of the faith and as those who preside over the liturgy and prayer of their churches should have the opportunity in synod or council to address this question more openly and in light of their experience.

VIII. Collegiality and the office of governing

… Here I would instance the policies regarding the appointment of bishops. The process as we have it in the United States begins when a given bishop presents names of candidates to be discussed at a meeting of the bishops of a particular region called a provincial meeting.

At the provincial meeting, the names and qualifications of candidates are discussed in strict confidence and a vote taken. The names with accompanying information are sent to the nuncio in Washington, who forwards the list and the assembled information to Rome to the Congregation for Bishops. The nuncio’s judgment is generally thought to have the greatest weight, more than that of the local episcopate. The material is then presented to a meeting of some 15 cardinals and a few bishops who are called “members” of the Congregation for Bishops. This body discusses the candidates and votes on them. They usually, but not always, endorse the candidates as proposed by the nuncio. When the voting is completed, the cardinal prefect of the Congregation for Bishops brings the results to the pope and the pope personally makes the final selection.

It is not uncommon for bishops of a province to discover that no candidate they proposed has been accepted for approval. On the other hand, it may happen that candidates whom bishops do not approve at all may be appointed. There have been instances of priests of religious orders being named bishops without the knowledge of their own provincial superior and of diocesan priests appointed bishops when their own bishop was not consulted. Under the existing policy, collegiality in the appointment of bishops consists largely in offering bishops an opportunity to make suggestions. But the real decisions are made at other levels: the nuncio, the Congregation of Bishops, the Secretariat of State.

There are, indeed, certain things to recommend the existing procedure. It distances the appointment of bishops from local factions and pressures…. Yet honest, fraternal dialogue compels me to raise the question whether the time has not come to make some modifications in this procedure so that the local churches really have a significant and truly substantive role in the appointment of bishops.

… Until 1829, it was the policy of the Holy See to leave the appointment of bishops to the local church where possible…. The present practice, therefore, is fairly recent. It has historic foundations in the chaos created in Europe by the French Revolution and the fall of Napoleon. … In default of any other responsible agent, Rome was suddenly confronted with the need to provide for hundreds of dioceses…. It is obviously not a practice required by the nature of the primacy but one which developed because of historical circumstances.

IX. Collegiality and subsidiarity

Subsidiarity (the principle that a larger social body with more resources does not routinely absorb the role or functions of smaller and less powerful bodies) in the church has been a continuing concern. A distinguished member of the curia, Archbishop Giovanni Benelli, while serving as substitute secretary of state, made this observation: ‘the real, effective power of jurisdiction of the pope over the whole church is one thing. But the centralization of power is another. The first is of divine law. The first has produced many good things. The second is an anomaly.”

This concern has been expressed now over a period of 30 years. The synod of 1967 voted to apply subsidiarity in the revision of the Code of Canon Law. The synod of 1969 voted in favor of applying it to episcopal conferences. And in the preface to the 1983 Code of Canon Law, we read that one of the important principles which underlies the new law is “the principle of subsidiarity which must all the more be applied in the church since the office of the bishops and their powers are of divine law. Notice that the reason given for subsidiarity is not because it is a sign of the times but for dogmatic reasons.

… Large segments of the Catholic church, as well as many Orthodox and other Christians, do not believe that collegiality and subsidiarity are being practiced 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….

X. The two Peters

… In considering the papal office and the call to Christian unity, we have to confront the challenging truth that it is not permitted to defer unity until there is a pope who can fulfill everyone’s expectations or agenda. We cannot hold unity hostage until there is a perfect pope in a perfect church. Christian unity will require sacrifice. But it cannot mean that all the sacrifices must be made by those who want full communion with the Catholic church while the Catholic church herself makes no significant sacrifices…. All will have to sacrifice. If we are serious about the goal of unity, we must be serious about the cost of unity.

… This admonition of St. Bernard (of Clairvaux, criticizing papal pomp under Pope Eugene III in the 12th century) … readily brings to mind the tension between the political model and the ecclesial model at work in the church. The fundamental concern of the political model is order and therefore control. The fundamental concern of the ecclesial model is communion and therefore discernment in faith of the diversity of the gifts and works of the Spirit. The claims of discernment and the claims of order must always coexist, for one cannot be embraced and the other rejected. They must always exist in tension. But it is always wrong when the claims of discernment are all but eliminated in favor of the claims of order, thereby making control and the political model the supreme good.

… The ultimate question that the pope – and all of us who seek the unity of Christians – must ask first and last is: “What is the will of God?” The question we must address is, in the last analysis, not a question of management; it is not how to reconcile differences or resolve disputes. The question is, “What is God’s will for Peter?” This is the courageous question Pope John Paul II has raised, the question he admits he struggles with and that he cannot answer alone.

… I am conscious that what I have said here today in (Cardinal John Henry) Newman’s Oxford has potential for distorted reporting and distorted appropriation by various extremes with their own agendas. These agendas are not mine. I speak completely in fidelity to the church, one and catholic. Indeed, in the Second Vatican Council many cardinals and bishops said much of what I have said here today.

My reflections, then, are offered as a response to the pope by one who wishes to walk with him in an unbreakable communion of faith and love on the costly journey of discovery as together we search for the will of God. It is the response of one who reverences the papal office and the person of the pope, who loves the church….

Most important, it is the response of one who prays to Christ each day as Newman did, “that I may receive the gift of perseverance, and die, as I desire to live, in thy faith, in thy church, in thy service and in thy love.”

Posted: July 12, 1996 • Permanent link:
Categories: OpinionIn this article: Christian unity, church reform, collegiality, papacy, subsidiarity
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