The Problem with Universal Jurisdiction

Maureen Mullarky fears a resurgence of anti-Catholicism in response to Pope Francis’ discussions of economic and political matters:

As Francis’ insinuates himself into geopolitics and seeks to influence America’s immigration policies, Blanshard’s long-dormant question—Is this a foreign power?— begins to stir. Catholics themselves recoil from his will to inflate the episcopal jurisdiction of the Chair of Peter into an imperial mandate to determine secular agendas. Catholics and non-Catholics alike wince at the spectacle of Francis grinning delightedly with Iran’s President Rouhani. They shrink from his embrace of Raúl Castro, wonder at his regard for major figures of liberation theology, and resent his effort to undermine American authority over its own borders.

A solution to this would be a pastor who only ministers God’s word.

But the complications of universal jurisdiction become more complex. Imagine what a Roman pontiff will do with a Donald Trump presidency:

the Vatican is surely worried about the candidacy of Donald Trump. Vatican diplomats tend to be drawn from the same families, attend the same schools, and read the same magazines and newspapers, as their secular counterparts. It is no secret that the governments of Europe are appalled and frightened at the prospect of a Trump presidency, and that fright is surely shared at the Vatican. And, because opposition to immigrants is such a central part of Trump’s political rise, and concern for immigrants has been such a central focus of Pope Francis’ articulation of the Church’s social doctrine, it surely occurred to the Vatican leadership that an archbishop who has spent the last nine years in Mexico could be uniquely valuable at this point in time. As well, immigration is one issue on which the U.S. bishops are not only united, but on which they are totally in sync with the Vatican.

Again, the solution may be to worry less about worldly matters and attend more to the keys of the kingdom, the one not of this world.

But what if having all that power and having so much to say about the world’s affairs leads to pride?

Pope Francis, it seems to me, is described as a “humble” leader for a few reasons:

He rejects various aspects of papal ceremonial.
He moved out of the papal apartments.
He says things like bishops should “smell like their sheep.”
He emphasizes the “bishop of Rome” title.
He says he values decentralization and dialogue, has had a Synod and tweaked the Curial structures just a bit.


But perhaps it is also fair to ask…

..knowing the role of the Pope, and understanding how easily misunderstood the role of the Pope is by most people today, is it a mark of humble leadership to allow your own words to become the dominant public face of Catholicism – on a daily basis?

So here’s the paradox. No, the contradiction: to brush away certain external expressions of papal authority while actually doubling down on the authority. Communicating in one way the supposed diminishing of the role while at the same time using the role to speak authoritatively to the entire world out of your own priorities on a daily basis.

If this isn’t clear, think of it this way: Change up the situation and imagine it happening in your workplace, your school or your parish with a new boss, principal or pastor.

What would you think then?

Here’s another comparison:

The Catholic Mass developed over time as an elaborate ritual in which the priest-celebrant was hidden behind a mysterious language, ceremony and vestments. It was, it was claimed, necessary to strip all of that so that the people could more directly encounter Christ. The end result is that all we have to look at now is the priest, and the “proper” celebration of Mass is completely dependent on his personal manner and how his style makes us feel.

One wonders if this is the best way to encourage humble leadership.

For all the reforms of Vatican II, the legacy of papal supremacy haunts even the least hierarchical of popes.

The Liturgical Calendar Jesus Founded

Maureen Mullarkey confirms Puritans’ objections (via Rorate Caeli):

It is easy to forget that Christmas as we know it is something of a latecomer. It was not celebrated in the early Church. Christians in the first two or three centuries understood themselves to be an Easter people, persecuted inheritors of the promise of the Resurrection. The death and resurrection of Jesus was the heartsblood of the faith. Within a community marked for martyrdom, it was the death date that earned commemoration. Death marked the day of initiation into eternal life, into the stunning mystery of Christ’s victory over death.

Absent the Resurrection, there was no counter to the words of Jeremiah: “Cursed be the day on which I was born.” Origen was emphatic on the matter:

Not one from all the saints is found to have celebrated a festive day or a great feast on the day of his birth. No one is found to have had joy on the day of the birth of his son or daughter. Only sinners rejoice over this kind of birthday.

Prior to the fourth century, there is scarce, if any, written evidence of an annual celebration of the Nativity on December 25th. Not until the fourth century—as newly unshackled Christianity spread northward from Jerusalem, north Africa, and the Mediterranean, into central and northern Europe—did popular custom ingest facets of those pre-Christian winter festivals that greeted its arrival.