Papalism triumphant: John Paul II
From Papal Power by Paul
published by Harper Collins 1997, pp 97-123
Published with the necessary permissions on our website
The papacy of John Paul II has brought the Catholic Church to a crossroad. Never before has the papacy been so powerful. Its theological claims are now supported by the global reach of modern communications. Pope John Paul's ability to use his office and his personality to project his vision of the Church has brought him superstar status. This gives him a peculiar ability to impose his agenda on the Church. By his constant travel he has de facto turned himself into a kind of 'world bishop.' Television and the speed and facility of air travel have created an entirely new situation in Church history: the seemingly omnipresent papacy. Previous popes, such as Innocent III and Boniface VIII, had claimed a universal jurisdiction and pastorate, but they did not have the facilities to realize it. The peripatetic John Paul II has made this a reality- He has taken the notion of primacy as defined at Vatican I to its logical conclusion. In its entire history, the Catholic Church has never, in fact, been more centralized. In the popular mind and in television images, the Church and the papacy have become identified. The pope has given a new lease of life to the papal monarchy.
There is no doubt that John Paul II has met the needs of some people. He has made the papacy seem present. People see him, especially on television, where he is a consummate performer, as an accessible and humane figure who stands for justice and for a return to traditional values. Despite his often unpopular message, he is still admired by many. He is no longer remote, like the 'quasi-divine' Pius XII, but a man of the masses. This certainly meets the religious needs of some people in a world of disintegrating values and changing meaning structures. For some Catholics the Wojtyla papacy has become the point of stability in a world of rapidly changing values. De Maistre's theory of traditionalism maintained that God's revelation is handed down through the unbroken line maintained by the papacy. John Paul sees it as his task to maintain that tradition into the postmodern world. That deeply non-historical view of reality is the antithesis of the view put forward in this book.
In this exaltation of the papacy, the notions of collegiality and subsidiarity are pushed into the background. The notion of subsidiarity is derived from Catholic social teaching and refers to the fact that large institutions should not usurp the prerogative of lower, more intimate ones. The role of larger institutions is to support decision-making processes at the lower level. It was first enunciated by Pius XI in the 1931 encyclical Quadragesimo Anno.
Local leadership, and local bishops and communities, fade into insignificance beside the papal star. It is the captain, not the team, that is highlighted. If, for instance. John Paul came on his visits to learn from the local church and bishops, and, after genuine dialogue, to reinforce the priorities of Catholics to confront local realities, the visits might have some real pastoral value. But there is no discussion, and local participation is vetted well in advance. While there is a certain limited consultation on the content of the papal speeches, no views are allowed to be expressed except those approved by Rome. The local church is simply silenced. The identification of pope and Church is reinforced.
This triumphalism is in sharp contrast to the real sense of despair that is palpable among those middle-aged and older Catholics who committed themselves with energy and generosity to the renewal of the Church after Vatican II. They now feel there is nowhere to go and that their good will has been betrayed. Much of the passion and enthusiasm has gone out of the best people in the Church. Bishops and priests have turned inward, and only a small minority are now willing to stand up and offer leadership. Younger, idealistic people are forced to look outside the Church for the commitments that direct and develop their generosity. Part of the reason for this is that, unlike the more synodal structures of the other Christian churches, the Roman Church seems impervious to the wishes and priorities of its members. Decisions are made far from the grassroots and simply imposed from on high. There are few structures of consultation, and Catholics do not even have a say in the appointment of their parish priest (if they have one), let alone in the appointment of their bishop. Some of those who are still committed to the Church look inward to the development of personal spirituality, or they commit themselves to issues at the local level and simply block out wider issues. Among Catholics there is a deep, unspoken sense of alienation and a feeling that the Church that once challenged them has now failed them.
The reason for this is clear: it is the failure to resolve the disjunction inherent in many documents of Vatican II, but especially in Lumen Gentium. In the first two chapters the Church is described as a sacramental community along New Testament lines, but in chapter three it is portrayed primarily as a hierarchical structure. I referred to this disjunction a decade ago in Mixed Blessings and nothing has changed.(1) The usual line is that the two models are complementary, and that. the hierarchy exercises a genuine leadership in a community church.
[But] Catholics are discovering that the two models are not only not complementary, but that their side-by-side existence has created an enormous tension. Many Catholics (including some in the hierarchy) view the Church fundamentally as a community. Many others (including a lot of laity) view the Church, fundamentally as a hierarchy. It cannot he fundamentally both. Father J. Rémy has said that these two models are ''mutually exclusive' and 'mutually corrosive.(2)
Rémy is right: the corrosive results of the disjunction are clear to anyone with perception. An absolute monarchy cannot be superimposed on a more democratic-synodal structure. A community model based on New Testament images of the Church, and a hierarchical model based on an imperial notion of sacra potestas, are simply incompatible, and the time has come to acknowledge this.
John Paul's use of the power of both his office and his superstar influence, his treatment of the synod of bishops as a mere rubber stamp for his own views, and his increasing identification of his personal agenda with the established teaching of the Church have heightened the destructive tensions inherent in the disjunction. The community-oriented, consultative vision of the Church that emerged at Vatican II has simply never been embodied in Church structures. This is the most important issue on which the Catholic Church has failed over the last thirty years. The reason why acknowledgment ol this problem has been put. off for so long lies in the Vatican's persistent refusal to surrender any of its power. Nothing will change during John Paul's pontificate and the schism of indifference will continue.
The crisis in the priesthood(3)
Another example of the corrosive disjunction inherent in the documents of Vatican II, and another clear symptom of the pervasive malaise in the Church, is the crisis in the role of the priest. Significantly, this is also an issue that John Paul emphasizes. The fact is that the contemporary clerical priesthood is in crisis. The leadership cadre of the Church has lost confidence in itself, as well as losing the confidence of many of the Church's members. Catholics arc alienated not because they have lost faith, but because they do not perceive that the Church is showing leadership in addressing the issues that are important to them. The priestly leadership of the. Church has become increasingly self-engrossed with problems of identity, lifestyle, and role. Also, the criminal sexual misbehavior of some priests has understandably led to a very negative perception of the Catholic priesthood in popular opinion and in the media.
The French Dominican Christian Duquoc claims that there is an essential conflict between the post-Tridentine theology of a cultic priesthood outlined in the Vatican II Decree on the Ministry and Life, of Priests and the same decree's stress that priestly ministry consists in an 'openness to non-believers ... profound involvement in everyday life ... [and] service of the poor.(4) Duquoc says that this places the priest in an irreconcilable bind between the demands of a modern ministry and an outdated theology of priesthood.(5) He argues that this underlying tension manifests itself in all of the other contemporary problems related to the Catholic priesthood. Pope John Paul has actually heightened this tension by his constant emphasis on this inadequate and outdated theology and spirituality.
One of the most serious problems facing the Church is a complex set of questions relating to the priesthood and sexuality. The question of the actual observance of celibacy has been raised in the two recent books of A. W. Richard Sipe.(6) He claims that at most only about forty percent of clergy in the United States actually practice celibacy at any one time. The same is probably true of other countries in the West. It is the secrecy that Sipe especially emphasizes.(7) Because of the nexus between secrecy and power. Sipe argues that once secrecy is broken clerical power will then be challenged. This public discussion has understandably made most priests wary of public leadership, and especially public controversy. Personally, I am ambivalent about Sipe's books. Much that he says is true, especially the connection between celibacy, clericalism, and power, and the way in which this is all maintained by secrecy and compromise. Perhaps my ambivalence is because I am a priest and cannot face the hard truth about myself and the clerical system. But my problem with Sipe's view is that my life is not defined exclusively in terms of my sexuality and. like everyone else, I would not want to be judged in terms of my worst behavior.
Sipe's exclusive focus on sexuality actually distorts an even more complex issue. Nowhere does he mention the disjunction indicated by Duquoc. nor the massive process of adjustment and change that priests have had to face during the thirty years since Vatican II. They have had to face more fast-moving, ambivalent, and complex situations, both institutionally and ministerially, than any other generation of clergy before them. Not the least of the issues that they have had to confront is voluntary disempowerment, as they hand over aspects of their former role to the laity. They have also had to face the problem of the departure of so many of their friends and colleagues from the active priestly ministry. None of this context is to be found in Sipe. And he is not the only one to write about this. Recently there has been a spate of books, some serious, some merely "kiss and tell' stories, about relationships between priests and women. It is not surprising that many priests are increasingly on the defensive.
However, there is also a sense in which Sipe is right. There is a connection between secret sexuality and power, even though most priests do not experience themselves as powerful. In fact, many of them feel powerless and frustrated, caught as they often are between the expectations of the laity and the immobility of the established Church. But it is clear that some priests have seriously abused their position of influence and trust. It is becoming almost commonplace now to open the newspaper to read of another priest found guilty in the courts of criminal sexual misbehavior. The accusations reach to the top of the hierarchy and include an Austrian cardinal and an Irish bishop, but it is largely in common law countries, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, and Australia, that culprits are being brought to book.
The widespread nature of this scandal indicates that its causes are pervasive and deeply embedded in the institutional Church. Its repercussions affect not just bishops and religious superiors, but the whole Catholic community. The blame for this cannot be shifted to the media, or to anyone outside the Church. It is a problem embedded at the core of its institutional and clerical structure. It is also true that many priests justifiably feel that they are the 'fall guys' who have to bear the understandable but often undifferentiated anger of the laity, not only over sexual issues, but also over the way in which renewal of the Church has completely stalled. As the most accessible Catholic authority figures, priests feel that their good names, personal relationships, and ministries are unfairlybut constantlyon the line.
The fact is that the underlying problem does not lie with local bishops and church leaders who are struggling to deal with these issues. The core issue is the attitude of Rome. For example, in Ireland throughout 1995, the Alice in Wonderland attitude to celibacy has been publicly manifested for all to see. Ireland has been shocked by a series of clerical scandals of which the Bishop Eamon Casey case was only the first. Recently the prime minister of Ireland was forced to resign over the attempted delay of the extradition to Northern Ireland of Brendan Smythe, a priest later found guilty of abusing children. Public discussion in the Irish media has been dominated by clerical scandals. As a result., several bishops modestly suggested that obligatory celibacy is an issue that needs to be openly discussed for the good of the Church. For their pains these bishops were quickly assured by Rome that this issue was 'beyond discussion.' They were also publicly chastized by the Irish Primate, Cardinal Cahal Daly, and the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops. Cardinal Bernardin Gantin. But all of this is a symptom of something deeper. The crisis of obligatory celibacy and clericalism points beyond itself, for both are key elements in the institutional structure of the Church. It indicates that at the heart of the hierarchical and clerical lifestyle there is a pervasive dysfunction that is slowly becoming more obvious. The issue is not one of individual priests, but of an increasingly dysfunctional institution that serves neither the needs of those within it nor the needs of the ministry. Abusive priests are actually a symptom of the disease at the center of clericalism. One is reminded of Marcellus' comment in Hamlet, where the imagery of disease and rottenness points beyond itself to the secret corruption at the core of the state: 'Something is rotten in the state of Denmark" (Act 1, scene 4).
Research into dysfunctional, addictive families can help us understand this rottenness. As Neil and Thea Ormerod suggest, the present-day clerical structure of the Catholic Church can be compared to a problematic and dysfunctional family.(8) In these families the addictive father sets up a pattern of control and abuse. In order to survive, everyone colludes and tries to appease and placate him by turning inward to protect the family's reputation. The dominant abuser determines everything that the family will do and think; loyalty to him becomes the test of membership. In this process everyone becomes co-dependent in the addiction, and thus the system continues. The only way to break this pattern is for someone in the family to have the courage to recognize what is happening, to name the reality, and break out. This can give courage to others to follow the same path to freedom. But this can release terrible anger, accusations, expulsion from the family, and attempts at revenge. It is not an easy path to take.
There is, of course, no exact comparison between clericalism and the dysfunctional family, but there are suggestive parallels and connections. In order to tease these out 1 want to begin with something apparently unconnectedthe ecclesiastical priorities that have emerged during the Wojtyla papacy. Over the last few years the pope has increasingly identified his personal theological agenda with the established teaching of the Church. In this context it is significant that he has consistently highlighted the importance of the sexual issues linked to Humanae vitaecontraception, and celibacy. He sees Humanae vitae as infallible. But in the process of emphasizing this, he has seemingly distorted the traditional theological priority given by the Church to questions about God, the divinity and humanity of Christ, the role of the Holy Spirit, and the living of a faith commitment. Also, his apparent conflation of the ordinary and infallible magisterium is very worrying. As a result of this, he has made issues such as loyalty to Humanae vitae and the support of obligatory celibacy for priests the litmus tests of genuine Catholicism.
What is the connection between the papal agenda, the increasing dysfunctionality of institutional Catholicism, and problematic families? Firstly, it is clear that the pope is willing to force his personal agenda on the Church, to make it normative for all 'loyal' Catholics. Any dissenters, especially those who are perceived as having an important role in the Church, are expelled. A recent example of this is the scandalous treatment of the French Dominican, Jacques Pohier, but there are many better known theologians, such as the American Charles Curran, who have been driven out of the Catholic system and forced to teach in secular or Protestant universities. This threat of expulsion and punishment goes right through the system. Local hierarchies and superiors of religious orders are expected to toe the line and 'deal' with critics and dissenters. They might resist for some time, but they normally give in 'for the greater good' of the family. What is really encouraged is external conformity. It does not matter what you think personally, or say in private. As long as you never confront problems publicly. But there is a highly critical underground. Anyone who knows priests well, knows what they say to each other about the pope, their superiors, and the system in which they work. Most of them feel powerless to change anything. But no matter what they say in private, they are rarely willing to speak out when given the opportunity. The malaise has pervaded the whole clerical system. Because it is pervasive, it is hardly ever noticed.
Sipe argues that control of sexuality has historically been used by the Church as a form of power over people, especially women. This is not to say that most priests are motivated by a lust for power. In fact, the contrary is probably true. Even the most healthy priests feel powerless in the face of the hierarchical institution that employs them. They feel they cannot change the system and are forced to make constant compromises to remain within it and to continue the ministry to which they have given their lives. A considerable number feel trapped in the only lifestyle that they know. Some think themselves unqualified for anything else.
All of this adds up to a major crisis of leadership at both the local level and the broader level. The fundamental problem facing the Church is a crisis of credibility of leadership. Given the widespread nature of the problem, the only solution can come from a general council. But before I turn to solutions I want to look at what theologians have been saying about the papacy since Vatican II.
Contemporary theologies of the papacy
Between Vatican II and the 1990s, several theologians have examined the role and function of the papacy. The background to this examination was the encyclical. Humanae vitae. Despite the fact that the topic was contraception, the encyclical actually focused discussion on the role of the pope. Vatican insiders persuaded Paul VI to ignore the report of the Birth Control Commission that approved contraception. Their argument was clear: any change in the teaching on contraception would gravely weaken papal teaching authority. But the irony is that the widespread dissent from the teaching of the encyclical has highlighted the question of papal authority even more. It has raised questions: What is the status of a teaching that was ignored on such a widespread scale? Is this a case of non-reception? Emphasis on the encyclical and its status has had the result of focusing theological attention on the question of infallibility. Most theologians argue that Humanae vitae is an exercise of the ordinary magisterium. But the problem is that John Paul clearly thinks that it is infallible. This leads to the further problem of the confusion and even the conflation of the ordinary and infallible magisterium.
John Paul 11 told the United States bishops in 1988 that 'the charism of infallibility' is not only found in 'the solemn definitions of the Roman Pontiff and of ecumenical councils,' but also in the 'universal ordinary magisterium' which can be regarded as the usual expression of the Church's infallibility.'(9) This is an extraordinary statement that goes well beyond the careful distinctions made at Vatican I. That Council made it clear that the 'charism of infallibility' only operated under the most restricted and solemn circumstances. Infallibility cannot be somehow injected into the 'universal ordinary magisterium.' A definition is either infallible or it is not. Something cannot be quasi- or semi-infallible. It is reasonable to argue that if the pope, or the pope and the bishops, make a statement it has an authoritative status. But that does not make it infallible. And if it. is not infallible, it can be changed.
But this modern focus on infallibility and the status of the papal magisterium has meant that the theology of the primacy has been neglected. Combined with the issue of the ordinary magisteriuni, this is where the real problem of modern papalism lies. Despite the confused conflation of the ordinary magisteriuni with infallibility, the doctrine is hedged in with considerable restrictions. But there were far fewer restraints built into the definition of primacy at Vatican I. Primacy also has the worst ecumenical consequences. Unlimited papal power is simply not acceptable to the Orthodox, Anglicans, or Protestants, although in one form or another they may be willing to accept some form of papal leadership of the Church. In a more ecumenical Church of the future, there would have to be considerable limits placed on papal power.
Hans Küng's Infallible? An Inquiry
At the beginning of Vatican II, two youthful German-speaking theologians emerged as important influences on the Council: Josef Ratzinger and Hans Küng. Of the two, Küng's books quickly became accessible in English, the most important of which was Structures of the Church.(10) Küng described an ecclesiology that drew on the broad tradition of the Church and thus offered an alternative to the more recent monarchical-papalist model. His vision of the Church stressed its synodal structure and the role of the laity. Ratzinger, at that time, shared a similar vision of the Church.
Küng has always believed theology is done within the context of the living Church. Thus Küng's Infallible? was a response to Humanae vitae.(11) Most bishops and theologians had seen Humanae vitae as an exercise of the ordinary magisterium and, for that reason, despite a lot of anguish, felt that Catholics of fertile age could, in good conscience, ignore the encyclical's teaching. Few, however, were prepared to say openly that Paul VI was wrong. Many contorted arguments were advanced to explain the encyclical away. Küng was more honest. He argued that in the Roman view the encyclical was infallible, and this raised the stakes if the teaching was widely rejected within the Church. Taking this as his starting point, Kiing went on to argue in Infallible?that the whole doctrine was seriously flawed, that the processes of Vatican I had limited the freedom of the conciliar fathers, and that the validity of its acts could be questioned. He further maintained that the traditional arguments for infallibility were completely unconvincing.
He asked directly if the doctrine should be abandoned.(12) He questioned whether it was possible to make 'infallible statements.' He argued that it is only since Descartes that theology had assumed that knowledge reflects reality.(13) Küng traces the connection between Cartesian rationalism and theology's attempt to attain definitive clarity.(14) From this, he says, it is an easy step to claim that clear, infallible statements can be made. But Küng argues that Cartesian rationalism (and the Neo-Scholasticism that apes it) has been shown to be fatally flawed.(15) It was specifically against the attempted closure of ongoing discussion that Küng protested. Basically, he said that all that scripture guaranteed was the indefectibility of the Church. It did not guarantee that the pope could speak infallibly, even on behalf of the Church, for infallibility was a philosophical impossibility.
There was an avalanche of response to Infallible? both for and against.(16) Most agreed with Küng's attack on the Church'sde facto extension of infallibility to any and every kind of papal statement. Many sympathized with the need to re-examine the scriptural and historical foundations of the doctrine, and for the need to revise customary teaching. But he was criticized as anti-authority and for the narrowness of his perspective. Küng returned to the fray in his introduction to August Bernhard Hasler's book on Vatican I, How the Pope Become Infallible.(17) In this Küng called for a re-examination arid reformulation of the Vatican I dogmas and for an investigation of infallibility by an ecumenical commission.(18) Peter Hebblethwaite says that it was this introduction that persuaded the Doctrinal Congregation to take action to cancel Küng's 'canonical mission' to teach Catholic theology.(19) Significantly, it was in the second year of John Paul II's papacy that Küng was deprived of his canonical mission.
If Paul VI never spoke about Humanae vitae again, John Paul II has regularly discussed the encyclical and the issue of its binding status.(20) He has not hesitated to declare it 'infallible' and to demand submission to it. In fact, his emphasis on the encyclical has threatened to distort the hierarchy of the truths of faith. This is the principle that arranges beliefs according to their relative importance. Clearly, the teaching on contraception is hardly as important as beliefs about the Trinity, Incarnation, or eucharist, yet one could be forgiven for thinking that the teaching on contraception is part of the core of faith!
Tierney and the origins of the doctrine of infallibility
Just after the publication of Küng's Infallible?, the medieval canonist at Cornell University, Brian Tierney, published his Origins of Papal Infallibility(21)Tierney was aware of the debate over Küng's book, but he says his purpose is to provide a historical description of the origin of the doctrine.(22)As Tierney points out. the doctrine was used in the nineteenth century to enhance papal power. However, it actually limits such power, for the pope is bound by the definitions of all his predecessors, as Paul VI learned in the lead-up to Humanae vitae. Tierney says: ''The earliest defenders of the doctrine [of infallibility] were much more interested in limiting the power of the pope than in enhancing it'(22) Modern protagonists of infallibility havemaintained that the doctrine reaches back to the origins of the Church, even though it was never actually mentioned. The reason for this was that everyone accepted it. However, Tierney says that the first evidence of the doctrine emerged in the years around 1300. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, Gratian and the canonists distinguished papal jurisdiction from Church indefectibility. They held that the pope had the right to pronounce on disputed questions of faith., but that he could and did err. For them the key question was Christ's promise to Peter that the Church would always survive. In the twelfth century, it was the Church, the congregatio fidelium., not the papacy, that could not err. The theory of a specific papal infallibility was first raised by the Franciscan Spiritual, Pietro Olivi (c. 1248-1298). He argued that Saint Francis' teaching on poverty exemplified the lifestyle that Christ taught the apostles.(24) The Spirituals persuaded the pro-mendicant Pope Nicholas III (1277-1280) to issue the bull Exiit qui seminat (1279), which stated that it was an official teaching of the Roman Church that the Franciscan way was the way of Christ.(25) Olivi maintained that no subsequent pope could change the teaching of Nicholas III on the superiority of Franciscan poverty. Thus infallibility was meant to restrict the power of future popes to change doctrine. Certainly the Avignon pope, John XXII (1316-1334), did not want his power restricted and he denounced Olivi's position on poverty as heretical.
It was only lateragainst Protestantism and Gallicanism that the popes slowly came to accept the notion of infallibility. Tiemey says that:
There is no convincing evidence that papal infallibility formed any part of the theological or canonical tradition of the church before the thirteenth century; the doctrine was invented in the first place by a few dissident Franciscans because it suited their convenience to invent it; eventually, but only after much reluctance, it was accepted by the papacy because it suited the convenience of the popes to accept it.(26)
If this is the case, then the Vatican I presupposition that the doctrine reached back to the origins of the Church is exposed as nonsense. This gives substance to Küng and Hasler's objections to the Council.
A theological responsePeter Chirico
A decade after Infallible? and the historical work of Tierney, the American theologian Peter Chirico tackled the theology of infallibility.(27) Küng had questioned the epistemological possibility of infallibility. It has become even more problematic in a postmodern world where all 'rneta-narratives' are summarily dismissed. Chirico's epistemological argument roots infallibility in the possibility of what the medievals called 'universals,' and what he calls 'universal meanings'which is very problematic for the contemporary mind. Chirico argues that there are perennial meanings that can be comprehended in every age and culture.(28) These meanings can be compared to the appeal of the work of great artists, such as Dante, Mozart. Shakespeare, or Beethoven, although one could argue that these artists really make sense only within the context of Western culture broadly defined. Chirico says that without these 'universal meanings' human communication would be impossible. Equivalent to these universal meanings there are, in the religious sphere, 'universal Christian meanings,' or 'dogmatic meanings.'
He then proceeds to apply this to infallibility. He argues that human beings are able to attain infallibility in the sense of being able to embrace and articulate universal meanings. Within the specific context of the Church he concludes that the pope or the bishops in council can articulate universal meanings for the belief of Christians.'(29)
However, he cautions that this does not mean that the pope and the bishops can know, let alone define, the fullness of Christian mystery. Infallibility, then, is the gift of being able to articulate the central issues of the Church's faith. Chirico's argument is that within the Christian context the pope and bishops can articulate beliefs through their perception of the significance of these beliefs for the Christian community. In this context infallibility is a process of discernment and then of articulating that discernment. The rest of his book is taken up with reconciling this with the teaching of Vatican I.
This is argued at length with considerable originality, but it is unconvincing. The basic reason for this is that Chirico seemingly ignores the warning that postmodernism highlights:that the relevance and meaning of any belief or institution is profoundly embedded in a particular cultural and historical context, and it is dangerous to forget that context. The Christian belief we have inherited was largely expressed within a European cultural framework, but it will survive today as meaningful belief only if it is reinterpreted in different cultural contexts. Certainly there is a continuing reality that is the mystery at the core of the belief. This is inexpressible and no definition will exhaust it. The problem with Vatican I is that it believed that the pope could give exhaustive, 'irreformable' definitions of Christian mysteries that were to be binding and valid for all time. But the very nature of mystery is that it cannot be expressed in any definition; it essentially defies such categorization and verbal expression. It can be talked about, but it has to be said that all such talk is essentially analogical and limited. Ultimately one has to say with Küng that the scriptural and traditional position of the Church is better represented by the notion of ecclesial indefectibility than by papal infallibility. Indefectibility means that the Church will ultimately be true to its founder, its tradition, and itself.
The question of primacyJ.-M. R. Tillard
Jean-Marie Roger Tillard is a Dominican teaching in Ottawa who is deeply interested in ecumenism. The title of his book The Bishop of Rome (1983) gives a clue to Tillard's approach;(30) This is the pope's original and primary title. Today he is usually called the 'Vicar of Christ.' This title only came into common use with Innocent III (1198-1216) and his successors. The more traditional term is 'Vicar of Peter' (or of Peter and Paul), but the pope's fundamental role is as Bishop of Rome.(31) Ecumenically the papacy has become an urgent problem and Tillard hints, without saying so directly, that it has also become a difficulty for the Roman Catholic Church itself. He points out that even those Orthodox well disposed toward Rome consider the definitions of Vatican I's Pastor Aeternus to be heresy. Tillard has sympathy with this view, for he thinks that the Council's definitions make the pope 'more than a pope' in ordinary Catholic attitudes.(32) He says bluntly that the attitudes of ultramontane Catholics 'obscure the essential characteristics of the Bishop of Rome's function.'(33) He cites numerous examples of popular theology from the period between Vatican I and Vatican II in which the pope is endowed with almost divine., and certainly heretical, qualities.(34)
Vatican II placed the teaching of Vatican I in a much broader context: that of the theology of the episcopate and the ecclesiology of communion.(35) However, Tillard stresses that while Vatican II emphasized the sacramental nature of the episcopate and stressed the power inherent in episcopal ordination to govern a diocese, it did not clarify the practical relationship between pope and bishops.(36) Tillard discreetly suggests that the theology of Vatican II is now being ignored and pope-centric notions have returned. He was writing, of course, in the early 1980s before the worst excesses of the Wojtyla papacy became clear.
Tillard sketches out an ecumenical model of papacy for the future. In this the pope is the center and heart of the Church. He helps the local churches take responsibility for their ministries, while drawing them together in a communion of churches united in the oneness of faith. Tillard takes Leo the Great (440-461) as a model for this.(37) But the practical problem remains: How is this to be realized when the papacy still has complete control over the entire Church, and still thinks of itself in terms of complete dominance over local communities? An immediate practical problem is the relationship of the local bishop and the Roman bishop. To which of the two do we owe primary allegiance? Tillard says that:
You share in ecclesial communion in so far as you are in communion with the bishop of your local church, who is himself in communion with all his brother bishops because he and they are in communion with the Bishop of Rome ... To speak only of communion with the Bishop of Rome while considering communion with the local bishop as 'incidental and secondary' is, to use an expression from the debates during Vatican I. to go ad destructionem Ecclesiae .(38)
It is a pity that those reactionaries who constantly go over the heads of their own bishops to Rome do not take this to heart. According to Tillard they are involved in the destruction of the Church.
The limits of papal powerPatrick Granfield
Patrick Granfield is a Benedictine who teaches at the Catholic University in Washington. He has written two books on the papacy: The Papacy in Transition and The Limits of the Papacy(39) Granfield shows considerable concern about the Wojtyla papacy. He cites a series of cases from, the 1980s in which theologians, bishops, and activists have been either silenced, dismissed, or investigated. Thus the program of John Paul II raises the question of the limits of papal power.(40) This is an important question, for there are many in the Church who believe that there are no limits to papal primacy. They think that the pope owns the Church and can do what he likes. To the theologian., of course, it is obvious that there are limits, for the pope is bound by God's law, the decisions of ecumenical councils, and the Church's established dogmatic teaching. But beyond these circumscriptions there are divided opinions about the limits to primacy. Granfield says that these limits are in the moral and religious sphere rather than the canonical. He cites the passage from 2 Corinthians (10:8) where Paul says that authority is given by God 'for building you up and not tearing you down,' and he says that the behavior of popes must be seen within the light of this. Papal actions must support the purpose and unity of the Church.(41) Granfield admits that this notion of 'building' is vague. It certainly is. How does one tell what 'builds up' the Church and what destroys it? The pope may well think that 'disciplining' a theologian is constructive, whereas many Catholics might disagree with him. Who is right? Without stated and defined legal limits, these pious statements about 'building up' the Church remain vague. A strongly self-opinionated pope, like John Paul II, simply interprets 'edification' his own way.
Granfield then moves on to examine the actual legal limits to primacy. We have already seen that the pope is bound by the divine and natural law. But is he bound by ecclesiastical law? Yes and no, says Granfield. Yes, he is bound by the spirit of the law, but no, he can change ecclesiastical law when and if it is his will. Granfield argues that the pope is further circumscribed by practical circumstances, such as his own limitations, lack of acceptance of his authority, hostile secular governments, and concordats with sovereign states. But despite all this, one is tempted to say: So what? The theory of unlimited papal sovereignty remains.
Granfield then discusses the theology of collegiality. He says that primacy and collegiality cannot be separated, for the pope is part of the episcopal college, not separate from it. All of his primatial acts have to be collegial.(42) But the fact remains that the pope does not have a legal obligation to act collegially by, for instance, holding a synod of bishops or consulting the bishops about major issues. Ultimately Granfield has to admit that, despite the fitful attempts of Paul VI to make it a reality, collegiality remains, in the words of Gabriel Daly. the 'sleeping princess' of Vatican II.(43) Collegiality will work only if the pope makes it work.(44)
Granfield then examines the relationship of the local churches and national episcopal conferences with Rome. Again, despite his discreet discussion, the picture is not good. He cites the notion of granting faculties to bishops as though they did not have governance in their own dioceses. He quotes the bishops of Scandinavia and Finland, who claim that most people have the impression that bishops are mere representatives of the pope and the Vatican.(45) This was seemingly confirmed by the treatment meted out to Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle, and more recently to Bishop Jacques Gaillot.
In working through both Tillard's arid Granfield's books one has the sense of encountering a reasonable and orthodox ecelesiology that is being largely ignored in practice by Rome. Reading these books one constantly thinks, 'Yes, but ... ' the 'but' here referring to the reality of the situation in the Wojtyla papacy. The simple fact is that the modern Vatican has long abandoned Vatican II and, in practice, acts out of a thoroughgoing papalist ideology.
Luis M. Bermejo's Infallibility on Trial(46)
Bermejo is a Spanish Jesuit who, until recently, taught at the Pontifical Athenaeum at Pune in India. He is a theologian who takes history seriously.(47) His work is remarkably brave; he does not resile from tackling some very hard issues. This is the result of his historical perspective. His context is ecumenical. It is now recognized that the doctrines of primacy and infallibility have created ecumenical gridlock. Bermejo says that attempts by theologians such as Avery Dulles to set Vatican I's Pastor Aeternus in the new context of Vatican II, and to promote a "moderate infallibilism,' have failed. The reason is simple: the universal magisterium and the authority claimed by Pastor Aeternus will always be rejected by other Christians. Bermejo takes this ecumenical rejection seriously.
Bermejo begins with a fundamental question: Where can we find today the Church founded by Christ? Can it be identified fully with any existing church?'(48) In the process of answering this question he sets out four fundamental ecclesiological principles:
1. He says that the Church of Christ subsists and is present in the non-Catholic churches in varying degrees, as well as in the Roman Catholic Church.
2. It is an accepted Catholic theological principle that the body of the faithful as a whole cannot err. This, Bermejo claims, should be extended to all Christian people, not just to Roman Catholics.
3. He then turns specifically to the councils of the Church and says that those held during the second millennium should be considered to be 'general' councils rather than 'ecumenical councils. In other words, the second millennium councils represented most of the Western Church, but not the whole, worldwide Church, because the Orthodox (and later Protestants) did not attend.
4. He claims that conciliar unanimity must be reached
fordecisions concerning the faith of the entire Church; that is,almost all of
the bishops must give assent to the teaching.
In the light of these principles Bermejo conducts a radical reappraisal of Vatican I. He focuses on two fundamental issues concerning Vatican I: firstly, the freedom of the Council, and secondly, the reception of the Council by bishops and the faithful. He also asks if this reception has now been withdrawn by faithful Catholics.
Firstly, was the Council free? In other words, were the minority bishops bullied into voting placet to Pastor Aetemus? Hasler had already argued that Vatican I was not free; Bermejo re-examines his evidence, plus several other documentary sources that have now become available.(49) His conclusion: there are serious doubts about Vatican I's freedom, but he emphasizes this is still an open question.(50) Secondly, Bermejo examines whether there was the required moral unanimity on Pastor Aeternus among the minority bishops. It is significant that we now know that between one-fifth and one-quarter of the bishops either opposed, or considered to be inopportune, the teachings of Pastor Aeternus., especially infallibility.(51) After detailed examination, he concludes that many of the minority bishops did not accept Pastor Aeternus. But how many is 'many'? And how do you establish ''moral unanimity'?
Would 100-120 negative votes be necessary to question the new dogma, or would only eighty suffice, or fifty? To my knowledge nobody raised that figure above 100-120 ... We saw ... that the final strength of the minority votes was at least 115, probably around 130. The required moral unanimity was not reached [at Vatican I].(52)
This is an important claim, for the lack of moral unanimity renders the Council's deliberations invalid.
Bermejo then examines the question of reception. Traditionally, this is a key issue for the ultimate truth of any Church teaching. Theology had neglected the notion of reception, but it has undergone a revival since Vatican II. Reception is the confirmation and acceptance by the people of the teaching of a council, a pope, or the Church's magisterium. If a teaching is not received then those responsible (bishops or pope) need to re-examine the teaching and the reasons for the lack of reception. (This is yet to be done in the case of Humanae vitae.) Vatican II's Lumen Gentium simply assumes reception for infallible teaching: 'The assent of the Church can never be lacking to such definitions on account of the same Holy Spirit's influence' (n. 25). But what happens when this assent is, in fact. lacking? Or what happens if reception is withdrawn?
Bermejo argues that a significant portion of the minority bishops at Vatican 1 only submitted under obedience, or out of fear of schism. Others simply never mentioned the definitions again. Bermejo thinks that reception is never valid unless it is free.(53) While he argues that Vatican I eventually was received, he admits that Hasler has created 'nagging doubts' about this. He points out that in the German-speaking universities as many as twenty theologians were excommunicated and two-thirds of Church history professors left the Church rather than accept the doctrine of infallibility.'(54) His conclusion is that ''one is forced to acknowledge that the papal dogmas met with considerable resistance, during and after the Council, from a qualified minority of bishops and theologians.'(55) There is no doubt that the doctrine was accepted by the vast majority of ordinary Catholics. But by extending reception to non-Catholic Christians, Vatican I was definitely not received by either Orthodox or Protestants. This non-reception continues today, which means that Vatican I is not received by about forty-seven percent of all the Christian faithful.
Bermejo argues that reception is an ongoing process.(56) He says that while Vatican II may have accepted Vatican I, there is considerable ambivalence among many Catholics today about infallibility. A growing number of Roman Catholic theologians challenge the doctrine by arguing the non-ecumenicity of the Council. Bermejo points out that the Second Council of Nicaea (787) laid down three characteristics of ecumenicity: universal participation by all five patriarchates, universal post-conciliar reception, and a vertical consensus with the apostolic tradition.(57) Vatican I lacks all three. Turning to the laity, the best that Bermejo can come up with, even among Roman Catholics, is that 'the overall impression is that whatever the reason, we can no longer speak of a peaceful, universal, and unquestionable reception of Vatican I'(58)
Overall, Bermejo shows that the Vatican I doctrines are based on problematic theological foundations and that serious questions can be raised about them. This may well become important in the future if and when Rome begins to take ecumenism seriously. Then the Vatican I doctrines might well have to be rethought entirely.
The unfinished achievement of Vatican II
There is a sense in which we are now in the post-Vatican II era. A whole generation has grown up for whom Vatican II and what happened before it are history. They know nothing except the contemporary Church. But the tensions and ambiguities created by both the past and the Council are still with us. This is because a combination of forcesthe peculiar agenda of John Paul II. the attitude of many in the curia, the aging and loss of energy for reform in the post-conciliar generation, the collapse of priestly leadership, and the activities of a tiny but determined minority of disgruntled reactionarieshave succeeded in halting the renewal set in train by Vatican II. This combination of forces has stopped the Church in its tracks, and created a high level of alienation and cynicism among many contemporary Catholics of good will.
The French writer Pierre Dentin expresses this in more positive terms. He describes Vatican II as La symphonie inachevée (the unfinished symphony).(59) He lists the great achievements of the Councilopenness to the world, ecumenism, and the development of a climate of joy and hope. He contrasts these achievements to the clerical elitisrn, hierarchicalism, and closed attitudes of the councils of Trent and Vatican I. and the Church in general, before what he calls the 'Copernican revolution' of Catholicism: Vatican II. 'Never before had the world known so remarkable a deliberative assembly.'(60) Dentin is right: it was an extraordinarily open and consultative achievement. It was a tremendous effort of the ecclesiological imagination. But he argues that, it remains incomplete. It is true that all councils remain unfinished, for they mark a new phase in the evolution of the tradition, the moment when a new approach first emerges. The work of a council simply points in a new direction. Vatican II remains incomplete because its ecclesiological revolution has never been encapsulated in structures. The direction in which it points has not been taken up because there has never been a commitment to turning the Council's insights into structural forms in the Church. The new Code of Canon Law was an opportunity to do this but, while it points in the direction of Vatican II, it never encapsulated the Council's insights in Church structure. Of course, in Church history several other councils have suffered the same fate. But none have been followed by the diametric opposite of what the conciliar decrees had proposed. There is a sense in which the high papalism of John Paul II is the very antithesis of the more balanced model of Church proposed at Vatican II.
This is illustrated by four significant ambiguities that Dentin says Vatican II failed to resolve. The first is what he calls La solitude du pape.'(61) By this phrase Dentin means that Pastor Aeternus left the pope in isolated splendor at the peak of the hierarchical triangle. 'Papal aloneness' leads straight to modern papalism, inwhich pope and Church become interchangeable. This 'solitude of the pope' has been reinforced by the superstar status of John Paul II. Ecumenically this is totally unacceptable to the other Christian churches, for, as the Orthodox Patriarch Athenagoras told Paul VI in 1969, the pope needs his brothers in the episcopate.(62) Traditionally the Bishop of Rome is not primus solus (first alone), but primus inter pares (first among equals). Ironically, one good thing that the Wojtyla papacy has achieved is that it vividly illustrates the papalist notion of La solitude du pape.
The second ambiguity that Dentin highlights is the doctrine of the episcopate.(63) Vatican II's Lumen Gentium says that bishops exercise their supreme authority in general councils, and the Council of Constance (1414-1418), in the decree Frequens., decreed that there ought to be a council every decade. Yet between Trent and Vatican I there was a break of over three hundred years and between Vatican I and Vatican II there were ninety-seven years. These are extraordinary breaks without the exercise of general episcopal authority. Moreover, the papacy has not had the same scruples as Peter when Matthias was elected by 'the believers' after the suicide of Judas (Acts 1: 15-16). The modern popes have broken that long tradition of episcopal election by priests and people, and in the appointment of bishops they act more like dictators. They have also taken to themselves the full panoply of episcopal titles, and claim the primacy of both honor and jurisdiction. So Dentin asks: 'If the pope is a universal bishop, where does that leave the episcopate?'(64) Vatican II tried to right the balance. It stressed the importance of the local church and the collegiality of bishops. Yet, as Dentin says, Rome is still 'allergic' to episcopal conferences, whether they be national, regional, or international.(65) Collegiality has been ignored in the Wojtyla papacy.
Dentin also points to a closely related ambiguity: what he calls 'the hegemony of the curia.'(66) While the curia has certainly been internationalized under Paul VI and John Paul II, the intellectual quality and attitudes of those who work in it have been widely questioned in the Church. For instance, while Josef Ratzinger is a serious theologian, there have been constant allegations that the doctrinal and other congregations are served by second- and third-rate theologians who live in cosseted worlds far away from the real frontier of ministry. The quality of other curial bodies varies widely. Some, such as the rather small Pontifical Councils for Justice and Peace, for Promoting Christian Unity, and for Inter-Religious Dialogue, are staffed by experienced and intelligent clergy with wide international contacts and experience. But much of the rest of the curia is run by unimaginative bureaucrats with limited theological and pastoral backgrounds. And finally there are reactionary pockets whose attitudes are antithetical to any change or development in the contemporary Church.
The last and most important ambiguity resulting from Vatican II that Dentin highlights is the division between the two priesthoods.(67) This corrosive disjunction is the separation between the common priesthood of all believers and the ordained priesthood. In the New Testament, baptism marks a new birth in Jesus Christ, an entry into the bodily structure of Jesus' existence. The First Letter of Peter says that all Christians form 'a holy priesthood' (2:5), and later refers to them as 'a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation' (2:9). So the New Testament is quite clear that baptism is the fundamental condition of entry into the priesthood of all believers. But in practice in Church history the word 'priest' has been largely confined to the ordained ministers of the Church. There is a sense in which the New Testament's doctrine had been 'forgotten.' The New Testament doctrine was revived by Luther during the Reformation, and he emphasized the priesthood of the laity at the expense of the clerical priesthood. The Council of Trent (1545-1563) reacted to Protestant theology and defined the ontological superiority of the clerical priesthood over that of the laity. Trent's teaching was reinforced at Vatican II, and, in a sense, Lumen Gentium (n.10) went further than Trent. The problem embedded in this issue has not been referred to very often in post-Vatican II theology, but it is an important ambiguity in the Council's teaching. Vatican II argues that the ministerial priesthood is essentially different from the priesthood of all believers, and that it is not merely a difference in degree. The Council, in fact, created a double difference: (1) of naturethe priest undergoes a "metamorphosis' from an ordinary Christian, to become (2) a superior 'superchristian' whose priesthood is essentially different from that of the baptized.(68)
Vatican II says that the priesthood of all believers is ordered' to the ministerial priesthood. Whatever that means, the question has still not been resolved as to what ordination adds to baptism. Dentin tries to explain it by saying that:
ordination is a public ecclesial sign of commitment to the Kingdom of God, the giving of one's existence to the pastoral ministry and, in the case of priests of the Roman rite, the personal consecration of one's most intimate being in celibacy through love for Christ.(69)
Celibacy aside, surely anyone can give one's existence to the pastoral ministry? Also, why talk about priestly ordination in terms of ontological or 'essential' change? The question concerning the relationship between the two priesthoods remains to be resolved.
The ambiguity between the two priesthoods has been exacerbated by the contemporary shortage of clergy, their widespread collapse of confidence, and criticism of their performance and behavior. More and more laity are moving into various forms of ministry and priests are perforce surrendering many areas previously under their control. The ministerial priesthood is retreating to the purely sacramental area and is even confined to specific aspects of that: the laity have always been able to baptize and to minister the sacrament of marriage. They are now involved increasingly in preparation for many of the sacraments. But as laity they still have no potestaspower in the Church. They are clearly called to ministry, but they are granted no corresponding authority to carry out that ministry. In the New Testament, gift and authority are always linked; if you have the call to a specific ministry you are granted the authority to carry out that ministry. Yet authority is still confined to priests, and more particularly to bishops, but it is increasingly the laity who are doing the work. This disjunctive ambiguity is crying out for resolution.
The Church needs a broad consultative process whereby these ambiguities can be resolved. The only solution that would involve a broad enough cross-section of Catholics is a general council. Here, once again, we are back at the need for a new council. But before we turn to that subject, we need to sort out a way into the future.
1 Collins, Mixed Blessings, pp. 53-8.
2 Ibid., p. 56. Emphasis in original.
3 See my article 'Coming Clean'Eureka Street, March 1996, pp. 32-5.
4 Christian Duquoc, 'Clerical Reform,' in Giuseppe Alberigo (ed.), The Reception, of Vatican II, Washington: Catholic University of America Press, 1987, p. 298.
5 Ibid., p. 299.
6 A. W. Richard Sipe, A Secret World: Sexuality and the Search for Celibacy', New York: Brunner/Mazel, 1990 and Sex, Priests, and Power: Anatomy of a Crisis, London: Cassell. 1995.
7 Sipe, Sex, Priests and Power, p. 111.
8 Neil and Thea Ormerod, When Ministers Sin: Sexual Abuse in the Churches, Sydney: Millennium, 1995, p. 80.
9 OsservatoreRomano, 16 October 1988.
10 London: Burns & Gates, 1964.
11 Infallible? An Inquiry was published in English in 1971 by Collins (London). In 1994, an edition with a new introduction was published by SCM (London) and Continuum (New York) as Infallible? An Unresolved Inquiry.
12 Küng, Infallible? An Unresolved Inquiry, p. 103.
13 Ibid., p. 135.
14 Ibid., p. 138.
15 Ibid., p. 140.
16 For a useful summary of the response see John T. Ford, 'Infallibility: A Review of Recent Studies,' Theological Studies, 40 (1979), pp. 273-305.
17 Hasler, pp. 1-26.
18 Ibid., p. 25.
19 Peter Hebblethwaite, The New Inquisition? Schillebeeckx and Küng. London: Collins/ Fount, 1980, pp. 81-5.
20 Tad Szulc, Pope John Paul II. The Biography, New York: Scribner, 1995, pp. 253-5, makes the unlikely claim that John Paul, as Cardinal Wojtyla, was a drafter of Humanae vitae.
21 Brian Tierney, Origins of Papal Infallibility 1150-1350: A Study on the Concepts of Infallibility, Sovereignty and Tradition in the Middle Ages, Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1972.
22 Ibid., p. vii.
23 Ibid, p. 6.
24 Ibid, p. 97.
25 Ibid, pp. 97-8.
26 Ibid, p. 281.
27 Peter Chirico, Infallibility: The Crossroads of Doctrine, Wilmington: Michael Glazier. 1983.
28 Ibid, pp. 53-4.
29 Ibid, p. 163.
30 J. M. R. Tillard, The Bishop of Rome, Wilmington: Michael Glazier, 1983.
31 Ibid, pp. 58-60.
32 Ibid, p. 18.
34 Ibid, pp. 20-34.
35 Ibid, p. 35.
36 Ibid, pp. 42-3.
37 Ibid,, pp. 123-4.
38 Ibid., p. 129.
39 The Papacy in Transition, Dublin: Gill and Macmillan. 1981 and The Limits of the Papacy: Authority and Autonomy in the Church, New York: Crossroad, 1990.
40 Granfield, Limits, p. 7.
41 Ibid., p. 61.
42 Ibid., p. 83.
43 Quoted in ibid., p. 81.
44 Ibid., p. 86.
45 Quoted in ibid., p. 118.
46 Luis M. Bermejo, Infallibility on Trial: Church, Conciliarity, and Communion, Westminster: Christian Classics, 1992.
47 Ibid., p. 310.
48 Ibid., p. 43.
49 Ibid., pp. 118-43.
50 Ibid., p. 143.
51 Ibid., pp. 143-67.
52 Ibid., p. 167. His emphasis.
53 Ibid,, p. 196.
54 Ibid., pp. 196-7.
55 Ibid., p. 197.
56 Ibid., p. 199.
57 Ibid., pp. 70-4.
58 Ibid., p. 219.
59 Pierre Dentin, Les Privilèges des Papes devant I'écriture et l'histoire, Paris: Les Editions du Cerf, 1995, p. 191.
60 Ibid., p. 201. Translations from this work are my own.
61 Ibid., p. 209.
63 Ibid-pp. 211-17.
64 Ibid., p. 214.
66 Ibid., pp. 220-5.
67 Ibid., pp. 217-19.
68 Ibid., p. 218.
69 Ibid., p. 219.
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