You Gotta Serve Somebody

Will it be the Bible or the magisterium? Massimo Faggioli worries that papal audacialists are turning into magisterial fundamentalists:

Now, four years into the pontificate of Francis, only the traditionalist wing still uses the hermeneutics of “continuity and reform” versus “discontinuity and rupture” in interpreting Vatican II; Francis has never used it. But the damage is done, and not just in Rome or in the Vatican. For while on one side there is the minimizing of the role of critical thinking about Church history, on the other there is the cultural turn to an emphasis on identity studies. Even at those universities where a historical-critical approach to Church institutions and magisterial texts persists, things tend to gravitate around “religious studies” instead of theology.

This poses a problem for history and religious studies as disciplines: trying to understand the past lives of Christians without a theological line of credit open toward the faith of those Christians limits the ability of the historians to understand the lives of those Christians. But it’s an even bigger problem for theology. The historical-critical method is facing some pushback today even when it comes to biblical studies, as seen recently in overblown reactions to what the new general of the Jesuits said about the interpretation of the Gospel a few weeks ago. Paradoxically it seems more acceptable in today’s Catholic Church to bring the historical-critical method to bear on Scripture than to documents of the magisterium; it’s become more acceptable to critique divinely inspired authors of Scripture than a pope writing on sexual morality. A creeping magisterial fundamentalism toward the encyclicals of this last century is part of the “biopolitical” problem of Catholicism. This is clearly visible in the debate over Amoris Laetitia. But it would also be worth exploring how naively and uncritically Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum is sometimes used (or misused) in the U.S. church to make arguments about Catholic social teaching.

But with a reduced papacy, what separates Roman Catholicism from Anglicanism? And without the audacity of the papacy, how do you argue for Rome’s superiority to Geneva?


The License of Moral Authority

Moral authority is a phrase that some have used to describe Pope Francis’ recent public appearances. For instance, the always insightful historian, Leslie Woodcock Tentler, writes:

The longest and presumably most consequential of those addresses was delivered to the joint meeting of Congress. The pope spoke slowly, in heavily accented English, and with an air of humility. (He did not use the papal “we.”) But his moral authority was palpable.

When you think about any authority the papacy might have upon citizens and residents of the United States, you begin to scratch your head. Wasn’t the point of anti-Catholicism that Roman Catholics would not be good Americans since they were subject to a foreign prince? But now we learn that the pope has moral authority. Doesn’t this raise the stakes? Not only does he have authority over Roman Catholic officials and citizens, but since morality of some kind is binding on all people, now Pope Francis even has authority over President Obama. Which is odd because Woodcock Tentler includes in her essay a frank acknowledgment that the papacy lost authority at Vatican 2:

The Church itself has changed. The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) made official Catholic peace with religious liberty and the religiously neutral state, liberating popes from what had become a pointless ritual battle against nineteenth-century liberalism. Catholic immigrants to the United States saw their children and, more frequently, their grandchildren become socially mobile. Especially after 1945, a rapidly growing Catholic population—fully one-quarter of the nation’s total by 1960—moved in large numbers into the ranks of the middle and upper-middle class. Newly affluent Catholics were less reliably Democratic in their voting behavior than their immigrant forebears, emerging in recent decades as a crucial swing vote in national elections.

Not to worry about papal supremacy in a more conciliar church. Even more than temporal or spiritual authority, the papacy has moral authority. Or is it a function of the man who is holds the papal office? Does the pope have moral authority or does Jorge Bergoglio by virtue of his manner and conduct? Did Ratzinger have moral authority? (And why does a pope need a new name when a bishop doesn’t? Rowan Williams was still Rowan Williams when he was Archbishop of Canterbury? Fancy shoes and funny hats. . . )

So if a pope has moral authority which gives him license to address climate change, economics, international affairs, what does a Protestant minister have? Does a Protestant minister even have authority? The traditional answer was always that by virtue of ministering God’s word, the minister has authority. His office implies some authority, but even more the authority whose word he ministers, adds even greater weight to his authority.

But Andrew Wilson thinks that pastors have as much scope in their jurisdiction as the papacy:

A pastor, by contrast, is a generalist and does not have the luxury of specializing. The people that pastors serve do not restrict their concerns according to their areas of expertise, so neither can pastors. No pastor collared by an anxious congregant who wants the Christian take on divorce, the state of Israel, spiritual gifts, or same-sex marriage can deflect by muttering, “It’s not my field.” They can do their best in the moment and then promise to learn more. But they cannot duck an issue because they don’t know much about it. Their people look to them for theological guidance, and since all of life is theological, they have to know something about everything.

Wow. So much for the sufficiency of Scripture.

That understanding of a pastor’s scope of concern may explain why the press, Roman Catholics — observant and non-observant, and onlookers were so overwhelmed by Pope Francis. If an ordinary pastor gets to speak on everything that his church members bring him, how much more a pastor with universal and moral authority?

The funny thing is that of the oldest legal professions, attorneys and physicians have much more leverage when telling your average Christian what to do either about legal affairs or health. Generally speaking, when my professional advisers tell me what to do, I follow their counsel. The reason has a lot to do with their speaking on the basis of their professional authority and competency.

So why do pastors think they have the competency to talk about everything in the world? Might they not be in danger of compromising their real authority? Maybe pastors should go back to ministering God’s word and priests should go back to liturgy and canon law and let the rest of us lay people figure out the material (as opposed to the spiritual) world.

Not Universal, Parochial

Ines San Martin thinks that local circumstances may affect papal interpretation/teaching:

Just as Pope St. John Paul II’s papacy was shaped by Poland’s experience under communism, and Benedict XVI’s by Western European concerns such as relativism and secularism, Francis’ pontificate is defined in large part by the problems he encountered over several decades as a Latin American pastor and bishop.

A catalog of those core themes would include marginalization, illiteracy, inequality and poverty, sexism, corruption, governments of socialist inspiration, what South Americans often call “Jockey Club elites” who dominate their societies, as well as racism and ecological devastation.

Meanwhile, John Allen reports that Pope Francis is teaching the popes are fallible (because creatures of their times?):

As Benedict XVI put it in July 2005: “The pope is not an oracle; he is infallible [only] in very rare situations.” Benedict reinforced the point when he published his book “Jesus of Nazareth,” actually inviting people to disagree with him.

At the popular level, however, those limits often haven’t registered. Many people assume Catholics are supposed to accept everything a pope says as Gospel truth — or, at least, that it’s a major embarrassment if a pope is caught in a mistake.

In that context, it’s especially striking that Pope Francis appears determined to set the record straight by embracing what one might dub his own “dogma of fallibility.” The pontiff seems utterly unabashed about admitting mistakes, confessing ignorance, and acknowledging that he may have left himself open to misinterpretation.

Whether such candor is charming or simply confusing, leaving one to wonder if the pope actually means what he says, perhaps is in the eye of the beholder. In any case, it’s become a defining feature of Francis’ style.

During a 65-minute session with reporters, Francis embraced his own fallibility at least seven times:

Asked about a border dispute between Bolivia and Chile, Francis said he wouldn’t comment because “I don’t want to say something wrong” — an indirect admission that he’s capable of doing precisely that.

On a controversy in Ecuador over what he meant by the phrase “the people stood up,” Francis replied that “one sentence can be manipulated” and that “we must be very careful” — an acknowledgement, perhaps, that he hasn’t always shown such prudence.

Asked about tensions between Greece and the Eurozone, Francis said he has a “great allergy” to economic matters and said of the corporate accounting his father practiced in Argentina, “I don’t understand it very well.” For a pontiff who’s made economic justice and global finance a centerpiece of his social rhetoric, it was a fairly breathtaking acknowledgment.

Also on the situation in Greece, Francis said he heard a year ago about a United Nations plan to allow countries to declare bankruptcy, but added, “I don’t know if it’s true,” and, remarkably, asked reporters traveling with him to explain it if they happened to know what he was talking about. (Francis may have been referring to a UN debate in 2014 over an international bankruptcy law.)

On blowback in the United States about his rhetoric on capitalism, Francis said he’s aware of it, but declined to react because “I don’t have the right to state an opinion isolated from dialogue.”

When challenged about why he speaks so much about the poor, but relatively little about the middle class, Francis bluntly conceded, “It’s an error of mine not to think about this,” and “you’re telling me about something I need to do.”

Asked whether he’s concerned that his statements can be exploited by governments and lobby groups, Francis said “every word” is at risk of being taken out of context, and added: “If I make a mistake, with a bit of shame I ask forgiveness and go forward.”

Might these be reasons why the majority of Roman Catholics in the U.S. don’t seem to pay attention to papal teaching?

The Appeal and Limits of 2k

For some like John Stackhouse, keeping the church out of politics is a big duh (via the juicy ecumenists):

10. Because no one trained you properly to get involved with politics—and a little seminar, however exciting, won’t make up for that yawning deficit. (Do you think politicians can be trained to be pastors by attending a seminar?)

9. Because no one hired you to get involved with politics. (And if they did, they shouldn’t have: See #10.)

8. Because pastors are supposed to call us toward the ideal and the ultimate, while politicians have to compromise over the real and the immediate.

7. Because the Scriptures (your main area of intellectual expertise—right?) are, at best, only suggestive and regulative over the field of politics (a quite different area of intellectual expertise—right? See #10 again).

6. Because you’ll alienate a considerable part of your constituency who see political matters differently, and will hold that difference against you, thus losing the benefits of your pastoral care and authority.

5. Because you need to consider the troubling fact that you’re not alienating a considerable part of your constituency, so why is your church so uniform in its politics?

4. Because governments come and go, and you need to reserve the sacred right to prophesy to whoever is in power.

3. Because politicians come and go, and you need to reserve the sacred right to comfort whoever is not, or no longer, in power.

2. Because politics brings out the worst in people, and you’re supposed to bring out the best in people.

1. Because politics brings out the worst in people, and unless you’re an exception (like Tommy Douglas), politics will bring out the worst in you.

But for others, the world would be a better place if the church were “running things”:

The fate of the world in every epoch since the Incarnation has been bound up with the state of the Church. The Church’s power to renew the face of the earth­ involves not only a restoration of faith, hope and charity in the souls of men, but also the defense of natural reason against the onslaughts of sophists in every age. She alone has upheld the correct synthesis of fides et ratio.[20] The Church’s success in accomplishing this mighty work throughout history has always depended upon her vigor in advancing what she calls the Social Kingship of Christ. But it is precisely Christ’s social reign that the “modern world” has rejected, while churchmen fall silent regarding the claims of Christ the King on men and nations. Today, she not only retreats from any confrontation with “the rulers of the world of this darkness” and “the spirits of wickedness in the high places,”[21] but seeks obsessively to dialogue and collaborate with the very forces that desire nothing more ardently than the Church’s final surrender to the spirit of the age.

And yet the truth remains. As Pius X insisted at the turn of the 20th century: “Society cannot be set up unless the Church lays the foundations and supervises the work; no, civilization is not something yet to be found, nor is the New City to be built on hazy notions; it has been in existence and still is: it is Christian civilization, it is the Catholic City. It has only to be set up and restored continually against the unremitting attacks of insane dreamers, rebels and miscreants. OMNIA INSTAURARE IN CHRISTO.”[22]

. . .
The ecclesial crisis and the intimately related civilizational crisis will end only when the Church’s offer of social metanoia is renewed once again. But only the Vicar of Christ can effectively extend that offer to the world. Only he can end what amounts to an unprecedented de facto suspension of the Church’s true mission in the name of a Council whose restless “spirit,” moving far beyond even the problematical conciliar texts, has produced what Benedict XVI, speaking just days before his mysterious abdication of the papacy, described as “so many disasters, so many problems, so much suffering” in the Church.[25]

Therefore, we implore the reigning Roman Pontiff to reverse the Church’s course of the past fifty years, abandoning a disastrous “opening to the world” and an endless “dialogue” and fruitless collaboration with the Church’s implacable opponents. With respect to the Synod, we urgently petition the Pope to put a stop to all further efforts to use the synodal process to undermine the indissolubility of marriage—and thus the entire moral edifice of the Church—by means of a sophistical disjunction between doctrine and practice, making a mockery not only of the words of Our Lord Himself but also of the teaching of John Paul II that “only by the acceptance of the Gospel are the hopes that man legitimately places in marriage and in the family capable of being fulfilled.” [26]

Which makes me wonder yet again if theonomy, neo-Calvinism, and Covenanting (Scottish style) are gateway drugs to Roman Catholicism. (But it does show how much Roman Catholicism has changed since Vatican II.)

Imagine If This Applied to Church Members

Jacob Wood continues the discussion that haunts conservative Roman Catholics about whether a pope can be a heretic. He draws on the works of Francisco Suarez and Robert Bellarmine:

Bellarmine was more hesitant about the whole question. Unlike Suarez, he did not take it as a given that the pope could be a formal heretic. Actually, Bellarmine considered it “probable” that God would prevent the pope from ever being a formal heretic (he says it twice: De Romano Pontifice 2.30 and 4.2). Nevertheless, Bellarmine was willing to consider what would be the case if the pope could fall into formal heresy.

If we assume that the pope could be a formal heretic, Bellarmine thinks Suarez’s opinion is wrong. Suarez allows the bishops to judge the pope. But one of Gratian’s basic rules is that no one can judge the pope. Sure, Suarez has Christ carrying out the judgment, but it is only because the other bishops of the Church have pronounced the judgment first.

Instead, Bellarmine adopts the position that Suarez rejected: the pope loses his office immediately by committing the sin of formal heresy, because people who commit that sin cease to be members of the Church, and God deposes a pope who is no longer a member of the Church. It’s true that the bishops could still get together and make a declaration that God had deposed the pope, but their declaration would not be a judgment in any real sense, only an acknowledgement of what God had already done. (De Romano Pontifice 2.30)

What is curious about this argument is that imagine how many Roman Catholics just lost their salvation (as in no salvation outside the church) by virtue of holding heretical views. Wood may take encouragement from the notion of papal audacity. But by so raising the stakes, Wood just made the work of the church a whole lot more onerous, first for the bishops and priests who need to police the sheep and second, for the sheep who may be guilty of mortal sin.

(BTW, with this kind of immunity for popes, you understand that the chances for substantial reformation are fat.)


Notice how Woods estimates papal reliability in terms that Protestants reserve for Scripture. First he quotes Gratian:

. . .no person can presume to convict him of any transgressions in this matter, because, although the Pope can judge everyone else, no one may judge him, unless he, for whose perpetual stability all the faithful pray as earnestly as they call to mind the fact that, after God, their own salvation depends on his soundness, is found to have strayed from the faith. (Decretum, Part 1, Distinction 40, Chapter 6)

Wood interprets: “So, no one can convict a pope of being remiss in his duties, because no one stands above the pope in judgment—unless the pope is a heretic, and then… Then what?”

This is the dilemma that Protestants face when they consider errors or discrepancies in Scripture.

But also notice how the Roman Catholic objection to Protestant diversity in interpreting the Bible becomes the diversity of Roman Catholics interpreting infallible popes. Here’s just the latest example of people without charism interpreting the fellow who is way above their spiritual pay grade:

It’s a misreading to see Pope Francis as seeking to impose a concrete solution to anything. He sees himself as initiating and overseeing a process, which is basically of the Holy Spirit. His own criteria for discernment are: If you get people together who are faithful to the magisterium, who speak boldly from their own experience and listen humbly to each other, and you give the process sufficient time for a proper discernment, then, if there is a convergence at the end of it, you can be confident that is of the Holy Spirit.

From my own research into his life, it became very clear to me that this actually is a subject that has occupied him since his 30s [and derives from] his deep reading of theologians, but also his understanding of how Church councils worked and his own experience of Church governance, first with the Jesuits and then the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires and with the presidency of the bishops’ conference. [These have] taught him a lot of lessons about how the Church develops, as it were, under the Holy Spirit and how it can avoid the temptations that can beset any exercise of Church reform, which is splitting into parties. So that’s how I see the process. I see him enacting the process that is, in fact, very, very deeply thought through.

So how different (read superior) is the Roman Catholic paradigm from the Protestant one if both result in the same number of opinions about each’s infallible source of truth?

Running Things

In Miller’s Crossing, after gaining the upper hand over, Leo, the Irish mafia boss, Johnny Caspar, the Italian boss, complains that “running things” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Administration takes a lot of time and leads to a lot of compromise and loss of focus.

So, when the Renaissance popes built their capital city and their ecclesiastical office, did they ever consider what they might have done? How do you administer a global church with 1.2 billion souls and bodies? One way is through bureaucracy. Thomas Reese explains:

The Roman Curia is made up of the Secretariat of State, nine congregations, 12 councils, three tribunals, and a host of commissions, academies, institutes and other offices. Each of these was created in response to a perceived need or priority of a previous papacy.

But how do you reform these structures? You need one part Urban II and one part Peter Drucker:

Reforming the Roman Curia requires a theological vision for the Petrine ministry, a sense of what the church needs today, and a practical understanding of how to organize people to implement it.

First, what is the theological vision of the Petrine ministry? Is the pope an infallible, absolute monarch in whom all wisdom resides, or is he first among equals who acts collegially with the college of bishops?

If it is the former, then all important decisions will be referred to the pope or to those to whom he has delegated decision-making power in the Curia. Any issue that is in doubt must go up the chain of command.

If it is the latter vision, then the church needs a system for encouraging discussion and consensus building in the college of bishops. Here, the Curia is in service to the pope and the college of bishops; curial officials are not decision-makers.

Second, what are the needs of the church today? Does the church need more stability or change, unity or pluralism, clearer teaching or better witness? Should it be challenging or accommodating, devotional or prophetic?

Another way of asking this question is: What are the pope’s priorities? What does he want to focus on, and what does he want to delegate to others?

Third, all of this has to be organized into offices with people with specific responsibilities. Management experts note that different types of organizations are organized differently. An entrepreneurial startup is not run like an established utility. An emergency room is not a factory. The Department of Motor Vehicles is not the Marines. A business office is not a research lab.

Reform of the Roman Curia is difficult because there is no consensus on the Petrine ministry, the needs of the church today, or the practical issues of management.

While Jason and the Callers think that a magisterium fixes everything, they seldom notice that the very hierarchy that gives them such a sense of superiority lives life more like Johnny Caspar than John Wayne.

In But Not of America (part four)

During the Americanist controversy for Roman Catholics — Protestants had their own version with the Second Pretty Good Awakening — the question was how to bring U.S. bishops who promoted American patriotism and nationalism in ways the Vatican regarded as harmful into line with the papacy. What is remarkable about recent post-Vatican II history in the U.S. is that this question has shifted from the bishops to the laity (though only a few are raising the question). Jason and the Callers may want us to think that papal authority is just what overly opinionated Protestants ordered, but they don’t notice or try to account how their theory squares with the seemingly infinite variety of lay Roman Catholics who speak for the church in ways that used to be well above their pay, pray, and obey grade. In other words, the problem isn’t renegade bishops. It is laity who think they actually understand and can explain what a hierarchical church confesses, worships, and teaches.

Michael Sean Winters reminded me of this when he posted an excerpt from William F. Buckley, Jr.’s reaction to John Paul II’s encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis.

This Tweedledum-Tweedledee view of the crystallized division between the visions of Marx, Lenin, Mao Tse-tung, and Pol Pot over against those of Locke, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Churchill makes Christian blood boil with the kind of indignation that fueled the spirit of the Christian martyrs who have died by the millions since 1917 imploring God to relieve mankind of the curse of what at the hands of the Pope in this encyclical becomes merely one of ‘two systems’ grown ‘suspicious and fearful’ of the other’s domination. Obviously, in the 102 pages one can find the ritual Christian affirmations. But they are swamped by a theological version of the kind of historical revisionism generally associated with modern nihilists. One prays that the Holy Father will move quickly to correct an encyclical heart-tearingly misbegotten.

More or Less Powerful

The Vatican II sensibility of Pope Francis would seem to be making life awkward for apologists who insist on papal supremacy as the solution to the diversity of interpretations outside the Roman Catholic Church. Charles J. Reid, Jr., a professor of law at a Roman Catholic university, describes how the papacy functioned as Vicar of Christ:

Historically, you can plausibly contend that the popes were exercising civil authority by the later sixth century, when Pope Gregory the Great (590-604) was forced, thanks to the vacuum of power in Rome, to rally the City’s civil forces. The papal monarchy was placed on a more permanent footing in the year 756, when the Frankish King Pepin the Short, in gratitude for Pope Zachary’s complicity in overthrowing the Merovingian dynasty, made a formal gift to the Pope of lands he had conquered in central Italy.

Henceforth, until the late nineteenth century, the popes exercised full civil jurisdiction over a substantial swath of territory, extending north and east from Rome, across the heart of the Italian peninsula, all the way to the Adriatic. This expanse of land was known as the Papal State. Popes were fully responsible for the administration of secular laws. They enforced the criminal law, they commanded armies, they resolved disputes among local landowners. They ruled, in other words, in the same way, and by the code, as any European monarch.

And this pattern persisted all the way into the latter nineteenth century. Pope Pius IX, the famous Pio Nono (1846-1878) commanded an army of 15,000 men. He commissioned a navy (the marina pontificia), complete with steamships, schooners and a well-armed corvette, the Immacolata Concezione. Pius supervised prisons and even permitted executions to go forward. He was, after all, a secular monarch in addition to being the spiritual head of a world-wide Church.

And there evolved, at the at the court of this central Italian monarch, an elaborate court ritual. The popes were carried in the sedia gestatoria — essentially an elevated chair — as they processed to St. Peter’s Basilica or to St. John Lateran. They wore as their crown the triple tiara — a crown of jewels and gold layered together in intricate, overlapping patterns symbolizing their temporal and spiritual powers. And there was also a highly elaborate form of speech and address. The Pope, of course, was “His Holiness.” A cardinal is “His Eminence,” and so forth. Ceremonies featured elaborate modes of dress that bore all of the ornaments and adornments of the renaissance courts to whose world the papal monarchy still very much belonged.

The logic of these elaborate pretensions was dealt a heavy blow in 1870, when the papal army was routed in the Siege of Rome and Garibaldi’s troops entered the Eternal City in triumph. Italy was now united politically for the first time since the Roman Emperors, and the popes retreated to the Vatican, where they still exercise secular as well as spiritual power over the precincts of that tiny (110 acre) city-state.

But once the papacy lost is monarchical mojo, post Vatican II popes settled for a role as “recognized voice of conscience”:

It was Pope Benedict XVI, not Pope Francis, who put the earth-shattering changes in motion. In what must be counted as the greatest, noblest gesture of his pontificate, he announced in February, 2013, that he would abdicate. This was unheard of. One does not renounce the weight of divine office. He was Pope by the judgment of God. And now he would surrender that title. Dante had poetically consigned Pope Celestine V (1294) to Hell for resigning the papacy. Benedict did not fear to take the same step. To his great, great credit.

And then came the circumstances of Pope Francis’ election. He appeared before the crowds of St. Peter’s Square dressed in a simple white cassock. As he robed for his appearance on the balcony, the master of ceremonies offered him the elaborate mozzetta that Benedict was so very fond of wearing. Francis politely declined, although the urban legend that sprang from the incident — which has the newly-elected Pope informing the startled master of ceremonies that “the carnival is over” — can at least be seen as a foreshadowing of future events.

Indeed, Reid thinks that Francis has adopted the right tone for the papacy:

The logic of the papal monarchy died in Garibaldi’s cannonades back in 1870. Ever since, the papacy has been transitioning to something quite different. And Pope Francis is accelerating that transition, making it complete. On his watch the papacy is rapidly becoming what it should be — a great voice and witness for world Christianity in the spirit of the Gospels. We can only wish him well in this difficult undertaking.

Reid does not explain why the Bishop of Rome’s voice should receive more attention than the Bishop of Birmingham, Alabama or see that all the years of the papacy’s monarchical bearing will not free the Roman Catholic Church from a papacy light. But his account does pose a problem for the apologists who rest so much of their case on an institution that is (and always has been) under flux.

Meanwhile, Mark Silk observes how Pope Francis is devolving church power from bishops and back to the directors of religious orders in ways that contravene John Paul II’s efforts to bring the religious under the supervision of the episcopacy. Here is what Francis said:

We bishops need to understand that consecrated persons are not functionaries but gifts that enrich dioceses. The involvement of religious communities in dioceses is important. Dialog between the bishop and religious must be rescued so that, due to a lack of understanding of their charisms, bishops do not view religious simply as useful instruments.

Here is what Silk thinks is going on:

These words recall the famous conflict between the nuns of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who staffed Los Angeles’ parochial schools, and the city’s archbishop, Cardinal James Francis McIntyre. As pointed out by Boston College’s Mark Massa in The American Catholic Revolution, the IMHs were inspired by the Second Vatican Council to recover the inspiration of their 19th-century Spanish founder, who established the order for women to live a life of service to the poor. McIntyre wanted fully habited diocesan functionaries. He appointed a commission to scrutinize the IMHs and in 1968 kicked them out of his schools.

Promulgated a decade later, Mutuae Relationes represents one of the John Paul II era’s efforts to restore hierarchical control in the wake of Vatican II. It made clear that religious orders were part of the local church — “the diocesan family” — and that their “right to autonomy” was subordinate to it. “Great harm is done to the faithful by the fact that too much tolerance is granted to certain unsound initiatives or to certain accomplished facts which are ambiguous,” the document warned.

It’s no stretch to relate Pope Francis’ comments to the investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) ginned up by the Catholic right four years ago and currently in the hands of the Vatican’s doctrinal office. Now again there are hierarchs who want nuns simply to be obedient to diocesan authority and who are hot and bothered by “unsound initiatives” and “ambiguous” facts.

In the spirit of Vatican II, which is very much his own, Francis is telling the bishops to give greater deference to the religious orders and what inspires them. The LCWR ought to be breathing a little easier.

So while Jason and the Callers and their fans think the rock of Peter is solid, it is shifting at the very same time that they insist the papacy vindicates their Christian preference. Of course, they may want to claim that Reid and Silk don’t possess the right paradigm. Or it could be that the JATC paradigm makes perfect sense when employed with head in sand.

Bishops Talking, and Talking, and Talking

Patrick Deneen recently complained about the right-wing, GOP-supporting, critics of Pope Francis under the provocative title, “Would Someone Just Shut that Pope Up?” Deneen’s point was more to the effect that critics like Rush Limbaugh should shut up than the other way around. Either way, the piece brings attention to how much the papacy speaks and how much pundits or talk-show hosts speak more. We are surrounded by papal speech and responses to and interpretations of papal speech.

After looking at the Archbishop of Albany’s pastoral statements yesterday, I was unaware of all the speech that all bishops communicate. In fact, a quick surf around the interweb revealed that Archbishop Howard Hubbard (Albany) is restrained compared to other archbishops. Here, for instance, is a catalog of Charles Chaput’s statements, the archbishop of Philadelphia. Here are the statements of Archbishop Francis Xavier DiLorenzo of Richmond, Virginia. And here are the statements from William E. Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore. Compared to papal statements, these U.S. bishops rival in number the communications from popes like Paul VI or Gregory XVI.

Some of the bishops’ statements are trivial, such as this from Archbishop Di Lorenza on the relocation of a prep school:

An outstanding Catholic education has been provided to high school students in the Benedictine tradition at its three-story facility on Sheppard Street in Richmond’s Museum District since 1911. In 2011 the Diocese of Richmond purchased the Sheppard Street complex including the school building, the priory building, the gymnasium and the parking lot parking adjacent to St. Benedict Church to insure the viability of St. Benedict Parish.

Others like this one by Archbishop Chaput, explore tensions that Jason and the Callers sublimate:

Tocqueville saw public opinion as a great vulnerability for democracy. In a democracy – at least in theory — every man is his own final moral authority. But the reality is different. Men and women very soon discover how isolated and uninformed they are as individuals. In the absence of a strong religious or similar community, they tend to abdicate their thinking to public opinion, which is the closest that purely secular democracies ever come to a consensus. To the degree that public opinion can be manipulated, democratic life is subverted.

This is why the Founders saw religion as so important to the health of the public square:. At its best, faith creates a stable moral framework for political discourse and morally educated citizens to conduct the nation’s work. The trouble is, no religion can survive on its utility. People don’t conform their lives to a message because it’s useful. They do it because they believe the message is true and therefore life-giving. Or they don’t do it.

My point is this: The “next America” we now see emerging – an America ignorant or cynical toward religion in general and Christianity in particular — shouldn’t really surprise anyone. It’s a new America, but it’s made in America. We can blame the mass media, or the academy, or science, or special interest groups for the environment we now face. But we Christians – including we Catholics — helped create it with our eagerness to fit in, our distractions and overconfidence, and our own lukewarm faith.

Too many people who claim to be Christian simply don’t know Jesus Christ. They don’t really believe in the Gospels. They feel embarrassed by their religion and vaguely out of step with the times. They may keep their religion for comfort value. Or they may adjust it to fit their doubts. But it doesn’t reshape their lives because it isn’t real. And because it isn’t real, it has no transforming effect on their personal behavior, no social force and few public consequences. That sort of faith is exactly the same kind of religion that Symmachus once mourned. Whatever it once was – now, it’s dead.

Still others indicate the changes that were in the air after Vatican II, like this from Archbishop Hubbard in Albany:

When we speak of the Church, we are dealing with a living mystery. As the Second Vatican Council expressed it, the Church is a mystery prefigured in creation, prepared in the history of Israel, initiated by the Holy Spirit and reaching its fulfillment only at the end of time (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, par. 2). The Church is that mystery in which is made visible God’s saving presence in Christ Jesus. It is Christ’s mission that the Church is about; it is Christ’s message it strives to communicate to others and it is His ministry that it extends into the world.

Because the Church is a mystery, therefore, it cannot be totally understood or fully defined. But from its very beginning the Church has been revealed to be a community of people formed by the word of God, animated by the creative power of the Holy Spirit and sustained by the worship and service of its members. Its mission is both to proclaim the message of Christ for the enlightenment of the hearts and minds of people and to provide a place where His healing presence can be experienced. As such, the Church must always understand itself as not existing for itself but for the world. The Church can never be a mission or ministry to itself; rather it is to be a community of ministers charged with the task of bringing the healing presence of Christ to a wounded humanity.

We who belong to the Church today, then, are called to be the community described in the New Testament where all things were held in common; where Paul urged that competition should be in giving service; where Jesus said that those who would be great should be the servants of all people.


In 1978, I suggested that the Second Vatican Council had given us a concept that enables us to be the Church, the community of God’s people in our day: the concept of shared responsibility. Put succinctly, shared responsibility means that each of us, by virtue of baptism, has the right and the duty to participate in Christ’s mission of praising and worshiping the Lord, of teaching His word, of serving His people and of building a community here on earth in preparation for the fullness of life together in the kingdom of heaven.

Through baptism, in other words, every Christian is brought into an intimate, personal and abiding union with Jesus and with all other Christians. This sacramental dignity unites popes, bishops, priests, deacons, religious and laity in the one body of Christ which is the Church. It also serves as a mandate to each of us to use his or her talents so that the mission of Christ and His Church may be fulfilled.

. . . the Church is a community of collaborative ministry. That is a community in which each member is challenged to see his or her baptism as a call to holiness and ministry; a community which seeks to help its members to discern the personal charisms given them by the Spirit and to enable them to employ their gifts in the mission the Church; a community whose ordained and vowed ministers see the fostering of greater participation in the work of the Church as essential to their responsibility as leaders.

This understanding of the priestly ministry which belongs to the entire Church and this emphasis on collaborative ministry have profound implications for ordained ministers, religious and the laity.

Bishops, priests and deacons, for example, must recognize and appreciate that their ordained ministry arises from the priestly call that is given to the entire Church and exists for the purpose of enabling the whole Christian Community to be a priestly people.

Still, no matter how much the bishops talk, no one except for perhaps a very few in the church pay attention to their bishop’s statements. For instance, the pastoral letter from Jose H. Gomez, Archbishop of Los Angeles, a reflection on the new evangelization called for by Benedict XVI, failed to gain any press coverage outside Roman Catholic news agencies. (A search at the Los Angeles Times produced the proverbial crickets).

So why do church members and journalists and pundits pay so little attention to any bishop who is not presiding at Rome? Don’t these non-Roman bishops have charism? Are not they successors to the apostles? And what happened to the collegiality for which Vatican II called? Did St. Peter only have one set of keys made? Are non-Roman bishops chopped liver? (Ask Alexander VI.)

My explanation is that the doctrine of subsidiarity notwithstanding, the qualities of celebrity, publicity, historical associations, and nostalgia for the imperial capital all point to the papacy as an institution that detracts from the pastoral work of local bishops and priests. The government of the United States is a perfect analogy. How much do I know about the mayor of Hillsdale or the governor of Michigan compared to the news I easily follow about the president and congress of our national government? (How much, for that matter, do I know about Chinese or French politics and economics compared to what I think I know about the Affordable Care Act or the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan?)

I understand from some interlocutors that I don’t know what I’m talking about (on many things) when it comes to subsidiarity. Some have tried to instruct me that subsidiarity only applies to society, which is even what the church’s catechism teaches. But that same catechism defines as society as “a group of persons bound together organically by a principle of unity that goes beyond each one of them. As an assembly that is at once visible and spiritual, a society endures through time: it gathers up the past and prepares for the future” [1880]. Since the church is a society — “The church, as has been seen, is a society formed of living men, not a mere mystical union of souls. As such it resembles other societies. Like them, it has its code of rules, its executive officers, its ceremonial observances” — I don’t see why what’s good for one society is not good for another, natural law, grace completes nature, and all that (especially since for more of its history than not the papacy ruled over a temporal society).

If that is the case, then I (all about Protestant me) do not see why this interpretation of subsidiarity does not apply to all the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church:

One of the key principles of Catholic social thought is known as the principle of subsidiarity. This tenet holds that nothing should be done by a larger and more complex organization which can be done as well by a smaller and simpler organization. In other words, any activity which can be performed by a more decentralized entity should be. This principle is a bulwark of limited government and personal freedom. It conflicts with the passion for centralization and bureaucracy characteristic of the Welfare State.

This is why Pope John Paul II took the “social assistance state” to task in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus. The Pontiff wrote that the Welfare State was contradicting the principle of subsidiarity by intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility. This “leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending.”

Why subsidiarity does not apply to the relations among the local bishops and the pope is hard to figure. Could it be that the Vatican does not trust local authorities? If so, this suspicion has not kept the bishops quiet. They have been more talkative that most church officials. Maybe with the help of subsidiarity, the spotlight can shine less on Rome and more on places like Lansing, Michigan and Cheyenne, Wyoming.