Pope Francis leads the Angelus from a window in the Apostolic Palace at the Vatican Aug. 18. (CNS photo/Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters)
Pope Francis is contemplating a major
reworking of the top-level administrative machinery of the Church.
Commentators sometimes describe this as "reforming the Roman
Curia," but if the Pope's own wordstogether with public and
private proposals intended to influence the resultare any
indication, the project could extend far beyond reshuffling
dicasteries and straightening out the affairs of the Institute for
the Works of Religion (the Vatican bank).
In all cases, "collegiality"
is said to be both the working principle and the objective of
reform. The word refers to the doctrine, revived by Vatican Council
II, that the bishops share in teaching and governing the universal
Church in union with the pope. The question that obviously raises is
how it's to be done.
One answer, a conservative one, is that
diocesan bishops make their most important contribution to collegial
governance by teaching and governing their own dioceses well. But
although collegiality in that sense is essential, it is no less clear
that the collegial principle extends to some form of collective
participation in teaching and governing the entire Church. Ecumenical
councils are conspicuous examples.
The world Synod of Bishops, a Vatican
II innovation, was intended as yet another instrument of
collegiality. But although the synod has occupied an honorable place
in ecclesial life for 40-plus years, its role so far has been
confined to advising the pope on questions he selects rather than
sharing in the actual making of decisions.
So where does collegiality go from
here? Enter Pope Francis' project and the maneuvering now underway.
In general terms, there currently are
two different approaches on the table. One points to a large-scale
decentralization of authority, the other, as might be expected,
toward dramatic centralization. Advocates of each cite the principle
of collegiality as their rationale.
Under the decentralization model,
diocesan bishops and, especially, national conferences of bishops
would have much greater authority for decision-making than they do
Liberals tend to favor that. This is
partly out of concern for collegiality and partly because they see it
as a way to realize such long-sought goals of theirs as married
priests, communion for the divorced and remarried, a more permissive
approach to questions of sexual morality, and in the long run perhaps
even the ordination of women.
By contrast, some conservatives favor
more centralizationand, paradoxically, for the sake of the
One such plan would call for the
creation of a permanent, synod-like representative body in Rome, its
members nominated by the world's bishops and selected by the Pope.
Acting in union with the pontiff, and never apart from him, it would
have the power to make doctrinal and disciplinary decisions for the
worldwide Church. Its advantage is said to lie in being an authentic
embodiment of collegiality that involves no diminution of papal
primacy while responding to the need of the universal Church for
speedy decision-making and unimpaired cohesiveness in an era of
instantaneous communication and globalization.
From October 1 to 3 Pope Francis will
meet for the first time with the special council of eight cardinals
that he has established to advise him on these matters. (Cardinal
Sean O'Malley, O.F.M. Cap., of Boston is one of the eight.) While
this will be the group's first face-to-face meeting, the Pope and the
eight are presumed to have been in frequent contact and have already
spent much time mulling ideas like those sketched here.
Catholics everywhere should be paying
close attention. The results could be of huge importance for the
future of the Church.