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A blueprint for papal reform

The Reform of the Papacy :
The Costly Call to Christian Unity

By John R. Quinn, Crossroad, 1999, 189 pages, $19.95

Review by Robert Blair Kaiser

In his May 1995 encyclical, Ut Unum Sint, the pope said that the church needs a new understanding of papal primacy that the rest of Christianity can live with (as it has not been able to do for almost the entire millennium). He wanted suggestions from the church at large, even from Protestants and the Orthodox. How should the church re-define primacy?

This book is, in effect, Archbishop John R.Quinn's answer to the pope’s question, Quinn, once the Vicar of Christ in San Francisco, says that problems of primacy will be solved not so much by what the pope says, but by what the whole church does. The pope has to become more collegial, not only with the world’s bishops, but also with all the people of God (Collegial is a code word. For Americans, the best translation is democratic.)

But the pope hasn’t become more collegial. If anything, he has become more dictatorial, though Quinn does his respectful best not to level charges against the pope. He thereby proves up one of his own propositions, that a mystique has come to surround and engulf the pope since the 19th century, a mystique that “creates a deep psychological barrier to speaking in critical terms about policies, declarations or actions of the pope.”

As Quinn could tell you from personal experience (but doesn’t in this book), the Vatican has ways of keeping bishops in line, especially those who are deficient in the mystique department Quinn gave a lecture at Oxford on papal primacy that drew wide media attention back in June 1996, and the curia made him pay for it by disinviting him to the Synod for America in 1997, even though he was elected by his fellow U.S. bishops to represent them.

What is the case for collegiality? According to Quinn, this was not a revolutionary idea invented at Vatican II, but something prefigured at Vatican II, and (sic) later endorsed Pius IX in 1875 when the German bishops insisted they were not mere functionaries of the pope. “The pope is bishop of Rome,” they maintained, “not bishop of any other city or diocese, not bishop of Cologne or Breslau.” Pio Nono explicitly agreed with that .

At Vatican II, the fathers of the council expanded and elaborated on the notion, and found solid theological backing for collegiality “in the will of Christ, in the sacrament of Holy Orders and in the nature of the church as communion.”

On paper, John Paul II agrees. In Ut Unum Sint, he lays down seven ways the pope can and should exercise his primacy (which Quinn endorses) and then adds, “All this, however, must always be done in communion. When the Catholic church affirms that the office of the bishop of Rome corresponds to the will of Christ, she does not separate this office from the mission entrusted to the whole body of bishops, who are also Vicars and ambassadors of Christ” The bishop of Rome is a member of the ‘College’ and the bishops are his brothers in the ministry.”

In practice, says Quinn, the pope (and/or his curia) go right on with their autocratic ways, and thus continue to alienate Orthodox and Protestant Christians. He quotes Paolo Ricca, a Waldensian scholar in Rome: “John Paul II must be convinced that the papacy as it is today has no real ecumenical chance. To have one, it must change.”

How to change

How change? Quinn suggests the Pope should:

· Get off the monarchy train. For a thousand years, the pope didn’t act like a king, but “a servant of the servants of God.” then a monk named Hildebrand came along at the beginning of this millennium and, as Pope Gregory VII, turned the church from a communion of autonomous churches into “a juridical monarchy” that had no precedent.

· Let bishops be bishops. By ancient tradition, bishops are the watchers of the faith. (The word bishop comes from the Greek episkopein, to watch over.) According to Vatican II, they are “Vicars of Christ every bit as much as the pope.” But there’s a currently powerful bloc in the church, writes Quinn, that thinks the pope can at any moment and for whatever reason intervene in the affairs of any diocese or even of any parish.. This is the mentality that identifies primacy with sovereignty and regards the desire for a truer collegiality in the church as a plot to take power from the pope and turn the church into a democracy!

· Encourage local churches to select, even elect, their own bishops,as they did in the beginning. Quinn here leans on the scholarship of the late Dominican Cardinal Yves Congar, whose work took the fathers of Vatican II back to the (sic)July primitive church for ideas that would help them bring the church up to date in the 20th century. According to Congar, “the election of the time of the apostles?”

Bishops continued to be elected for hundreds of years. Ss. Ambrose and Augustine were chosen by a vote of the people and the clergy. The rationale: Quinn cites one ancient canonical principle: concerns all should be discussed (sic)a wed by all. In fact, until 1829, tells us, most bishops were not appointed by Rome, but either by cathedral chapters or by the kings and queens of Europe. Now, in a democratic age, Quinn suggests, we must think of more democratic ways to run the church. Electing our own bishops would be a good first step.

An election? What kind of bishops would the people of God vote for? Quinn suggests people would vote for candidates “who are not only orthodox in the true sense, but who are also endowed with critical judgement, imagination and who are open to new ideas. Fidelity to the mission of the Church requires candidates who can listen to the world, listen to people, who have the spiritual discernment and critical judgment to endorse what is good, reject what is evil, and not stifle the Spirit.”

Does this describe your own bishop (who, odds are, was appointed by John Paul II) No? Then may be you understand what Quinn is driving at.

Quinn gives chapter and verse about the Vatican’s absolutist ways, sometimes with examples close to home — like the long and disedifying battle between the U.S. bishops and Rome over inclusive language in the U.S.lectionary — and sometimes with examples from afar. Cardinal Franz Konig’s (carefully unnamed) successor in Vienna, says Quinn, was selected most un-collegially, with no consultation, either with Konig himself, or even with the Benedictine monk’s religious superiors.

What Quinn does not report (but could have) is that this appointment was steam rollered through because the pope once had one personal encounter with this man, Ham Hermann Groer, and liked him, and made him the cardinal-archbishop of Vienna on a whim. This is the same (sic)Order who not 10 years later had to quit his post in disgrace after public accusations that he was an ephebophile.

Another example says What is wrong — ecumenically speaking — with absolute power. In 1998 the pope came out with a document on “protecting the faith”—Ad Tuendam Fidem — that, among other things, set back years of productive (sic)ecu-menkal conversations between Catholics and Anglicans. In a commentary accompanying that document, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said that an 1897 decree of Leo XIII denying the validity of Anglican ordinations must be held “definitively.” That meant, “No more discussion, boys.”

The timing of that statement, reports Quinn,shocked most Catholic theologians, the late Cardinal Basil Hume and the Vatican’s Cardinal Edward Cassidy. According to Quinn, none of them had been consulted. As president of the Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cassidy wouldn’t have approved—which is probably why he was ignored.

Which illustrates another point that Quinn makes in passing: Some of the men in the curia (there are no women with any rank) are good guys. But they pay a price: As the Cassidy case proves, it means that in a place where information is power, they are often kept out of the loop.

Episcopal conferences? Quinn tells us the pope castrated the conferences in 1998 with another motu proprio. (The phrase itself, “on his own motion” is also revealing of the monarchic mindset). This one decreed that regional conferences had to have unanimity before issuing a doctrinal declaration. Nowhere else does the church require a unanimous vote, not even in an ecumenical council or in the official meetings of the curia itself. Writes Quinn: “This requirement rules out a doctrinal role for an episcopal conference.”

But why would Rome want to do that? Power games, again. Someone, Quinn suggests, was trying “to diminish the importance of conferences.” He is loath to point a finger at the pope. He doesn’t have to. We know who signs motu proprios: Popes do.

Quinn speculates: “The fear also arose that the conferences were becoming a threat to papal authority... The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is a special threat, because it has so many resources and such access to the media. The whole world hears what happens in the United States, and other episcopal conferences take note of what the American bishops do. Hence the fear that theAmerican bishops’ conference could become a counterforce to the policies of Rome.”

Space prevents a reviewer from giving all the other examples cited by Quinn, but a history of church synods— even those held since Ut Unum Sint — makes it clear that these periodic gatherings of (mainly) bishops are also designed to shore up the centralising power of the papacy.

Quinn tells of the Asian Synod of April and May 1998. There, subsidiarity and in-culturation were constant themes, “because the bishops of Asia felt a lack of freedom to address issues of their churches according to their own judgment as pastors: the Vietnamese bishops, the archbishop of Nagasaki; Japan], the Syro-Malabar bishop, the auxiliary bishop of Seoul, [South Korea], and bishops from the Philippines, Indonesia and India.”

The forbidden word

But those writing the synod’s final report to the pope were forbidden to use the word subsidiarity. I have learned that the ban on this word was given by Cardinal Jan Schotte, the synod’s secretary general, on the grounds that it was “not a theological term.” Schotte was asked for a substitute word. “Try decentralization,” someone said. So the editors used decentralization. That didn’t fly either. That word (and the entire concept) was deleted from the Asian Synod’s final report.

Quinn understands that some Catholics will be shocked to see an archbishop writing critically of the modern papacy: “If you love,” says the current Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, “you do not criticize.” Quinn counters that with a long list of papal critics, from Fra Angelico to Dante, from St. Bernard to St. Catherine of Sienna. They loved, and, because they loved, they had to lodge their objections.

Hard to say what affect this book of Quinn’s objections will have on Pope John Paul II or on his waning restorationist papacy. For years now; cardinals from the hinterlands have been telling the pope he had to be more collegial and it hasn’t done much good A long-retired cardinal told me in August: “The pope used to nod and tell me I was right; he should consult more with his bishops. But he never did.”

Curial leaders at the most recent Synod for Europe, which ran three weeks in October, scuttled every new idea. Their most telling move came when they tabled a proposition from Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini of Milan urging that the synod take another look at the exercise of collegiality.

Catholic public opinion doesn’t need much more enlightenment. Nor do Catholic opinion makers. Members of the Vatican press corps have given up on reform from this pope.“We will just have to wait,” they say, “and see what the next pope will do.”

I would suggest that some reader of NCR who had a good year in the market buy 120 copies of Quinn’s book and make sure every cardinal gets one, because it is (still) the cardinals who will elect the next pope. When the cardinal-electors meet, I suspect collegiality will be a top item on their agenda. They will have to ask themselves which one of their number will not only say the right things about collegiality, but actually come up with ways of being collegial.

As Quinn suggests in the book’s sub-title, the call to papal reform will be a costly one.

But costly to whom? He doesn’t say. Common wisdom is that the pope (and certainly the papal court) will have to lose some power when the last absolute monarchy in the world finally joins the 20th century. (And here it is, now, you say, the 21st? Yes, the church moves slowly.)

But Quinn wonders about this supposed loss of power. If the curia does not change, and decentralization does not take place, there will be great disorder in the church because an “omnicompetent central bureaucracy” won’t be able to keep up with the rapid pace of change in the world. Quinn concludes: “It will be the paradox of the insistence on central control being, in reality, the loss of control”

As Quinn points out, we had a pope in the 20th century who gave power away (and, as a result; in my opinion, gained more consequent moral authority, if not institutional control). It was Saint John XXIII.

He “took a great risk when he convoked the council” thereby handing power to the world’s bishops, so that they, not his courtiers, could write a charter for the 21st century. As the bishops (and their theologians) proceeded on what turned out to be a four-year, rather startlingly democratic assembly, it was always clear that they were working away with John XXIII’s early admonition in mind.

They were “listening to history ”—which is another way of saying they were listening to the people of God.

Robert Blair Kaiser, who covered Vatican II for Time magazine, is living in Rome and writing a book on the future of the church. You can reach him on e-mail at kaiser@ibm.net


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