Do the Roman authorities attribute excessive importance to law?
From the twelfth century onwards, in the Western church, powerful legal structures began to develop. They became particularly helpful in unifying the church and directing its activities in the counter-reformation period, which lasted from the sixteenth into the twentieth century. They did more, however they caused a shift in the Catholic mind. Both the hierarchy and the faithful gradually attributed increasing importance to laws in preserving the unity of the church. (15)
15. The Council of Trent, without ever intending it, had put the church on a course where legal correctness increasingly overshadowed some greater values. The Council created the idea of legal authenticity; for instance, it declared the Latin translation of the Scriptures known as the Vulgate the authentic text, to be used in all instructions and disputations; there followed the neglect of the original and inspired text. The popes after the Council declared that the authentic meaning of the Council can be given by the Holy See only and forbade access to the original acts; there followed an ignorance of what happened and a reliance for the true meaning of a text on an authoritative (jurisdictional) pronouncement.
Such procedures led to the development of a mentality which gave an overriding importance to legislation and jurisdictional acts, but felt little need to return to the original sources.
The steady expansion of a centralized administration is a result of this mentality. Vatican Council II 1aid the theological foundations for the reversal of the trend, and the authorities in the church have taken important steps toward promoting decentralization. At the same time, undeniably, new efforts toward increased centralization appeared as well. (16)
16. In our post-Vatican II church there is a great deal of de iure decentralization, but there is also a steadily increasing amount of de facto centralization. This de facto centralization is manifest when, e.g., the episcopal conferences can approve certain liturgical rites (they have the power in law) but only after Rome has reviewed the issue (they must not do so unless authorized to act); the chancellor of an ecclesiastical faculty has the right to grant tenure but he must not do so until he has received a nihil obstat from Rome. Also, there is a steady stream of instructions to bishops and others directing them how to use their judgment when by law they would be free, e.g. in the administration of the sacraments. It would be difficult for an impartial theologian to argue that such developments are in the spirit of Vatican Council II.
From: The Church: Learning and Teaching, by Ladislas Örsy, Michael Glazier 1987, chapter 4. Read the whole chapter here.
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