For more of the West’s history than not (from roughly 600 to the present), monarchy has been the preferred political order. Not until 1789 did constitutional republicanism become an alternative. Since then, republicanism (rule by the few) or democracy (rule by the many) have been the characteristic features of the West’s politics. Sure, we still have a monarch in England and the Netherlands, but they function more like furniture than political figures with real power.
This trend in the West’s politics has not transferred to the West’s ecclesiology. Rule by one (episcopacy) is still popular (even sacred) for some of the West’s Christians, while rule by the many (congregationalism/independency) dominates the worlds of New Calvinism, Baptists, charismatics, and beyond. Rule by the few (presbyterianism) is practiced by a few.
A deacon who runs a Catholic website that criticised bishops, theologians and lay groups for being out of step with church teaching has been asked to stop posting material.
Deacon Nick Donnelly has been asked by the Bishop of Lancaster to stop posting on his Protect the Pope site and undergo a “period of prayer and reflection”.
A spokesman for the Diocese of Lancaster said that Bishop Campbell had asked Mr Donnelly to “voluntarily pause” from publishing in order to reflect “on the duties involved for ordained bloggers/website administrators to truth, charity and unity in the Church.”
The site, however, is being operated by his wife, with the latest posting encouraging readers to submit their own articles. Mr Donnelly, who has agreed to his bishop’s request, told The Tablet that his wife was running the site on her own and he has “no say” over what is posted.
Protect the Pope, which received 100,000 hits a month, regularly criticised groups and individual bishops and took issue with several Tablet articles for being at odds with church teaching.
One of the curious aspects of this story is that it conflicts with what George Weigel tried to teach us about the pope’s power: “Popes, in other words, are not authoritarian figures, who teach what they will and as they will.” Well, when have monarch’s ever not been authoritarian figures except when they ran up against a constitution or parliament that supplied checks and balances? And if bishops (rule by one) have power to act unilaterally within their dioceses, why doesn’t Pope Francis have similar authority to reign in priests, deacons, bishops, and church members in the universal church?
And that makes Pope Francis’ affect all the more remarkable because at times he seems more interested in playing the court jester than the king:
“I want things messy and stirred up.”
This statement by Pope Francis to youth on Copacabana beach last summer in Rio de Janeiro during World Youth Day will no doubt become one of the iconic quotes from this papacy, not only because it is a pithy sound bite, but also because — we are learning — it seriously represents Francis’ modus operandi. He stirs things up and then waits to see what will rise out of the chaos.
Francis’ delight in stirring things up is no more evident than in the preparation for the October’s Synod of Bishops. Even before the Vatican officially announced an extraordinary Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization of the family, there were signs that this event would be different.