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Pope Francis, “diaconal primacy”, and decentralization of the curia

Decentralization by no means guarantees better governance, but is much more theologically, historically, and practically defensible than the Roman centralization and personality cult of the pope we have been enduring for more than a century now.

Pope Francis speaks during his annual pre-Christmas meeting with top officials of the Roman Curia and Vatican City State and with cardinals living in Rome in the Clementine Hall Dec. 21 at the Vatican. (CNS photo/Claudio Peri pool via Reuters)

Pope Francis, in his year-end addresses to the curia, has often tended to take the tone of what the British cabinet minister Alan Clark, in his riotous political diaries, once described as a “pre-caning homily from the headmaster.” No pope within living memory has been as critical of curial sclerosis as Francis.

But this year there are some very hopeful passages alongside the more critical ones. Francis begins very broadly by talking about how “the Church of Rome would not be truly catholic without the priceless riches of the Oriental Churches and lacking the heroic testimony of so many of our Oriental brothers and sisters who purify the Church by accepting martyrdom.” He then notes that “the relationship between Rome and the East is one of mutual spiritual and liturgical enrichment.” (In February, here on CWR, I argued for some ways in which the West could be liturgically enriched by Eastern practices: “When it comes to liturgy we’re all mutually enriching mongrels.”)

As he moves from the general to the specific, Francis introduces a novel phrase he later repeats: “diaconal primacy.” This is leadership at the service of the supreme good and supreme law, which is, as he says, the salus animarum, the salvation of souls. All structures and processes in the Church must always keep this in the forefront.

Clearly Francis wants to shake those structures up if they do not serve the overall good of the Church and of Christian unity. And one such structure is that of the Roman Curia’s involvement in the appointment of bishops. On this he says we need “further study and review of the sensitive question of the election of new Bishops and Eparchs.” I wrote an essay about this in Commonweal more than a decade ago, noting that there was nothing in the teachings or theology of Vatican I or Vatican II requiring the pope to appoint bishops—a practice that was unheard of everywhere, including most of Italy itself, until late in the 19th century. It was only officially codified in the 1917 in a new canon that the historian Eamon Duffy has called a coup d’Eglise.

Certainly no Eastern Church ever had the pope attempting systematically to appoint her bishops in the first millennium, and in the third no Eastern Orthodox Church will ever submit to such a practice. In between, of course, some Eastern Catholic churches in the second millennium have indeed had the pope and his curia involved in their episcopal elections, replacing them in fact with direct papal appointment, for which there is, again, no theological justification. The pope is thus right to go on to say, “Everything should be done with the thorough application of that authentic synodal praxis which distinguishes the Oriental Churches.” That synodal practice includes the powers of legislation as well as election, and absent such a reclamation of these powers on the part of the Eastern Catholic Churches, the Orthodox, as they have made plain for decades, will continue to regard Roman rapprochement with great skepticism, rightly refusing to be ruled by the one-time imperial capital whose colonizing practices continue to manifest themselves in the Church of Rome’s curia.

Let us suppose for a moment that the Eastern Catholic Churches do manage, fully and everywhere, to reclaim their rightful prerogatives of election and legislation in their synods throughout the world. (This latter phrase is key, as current Roman practice—utterly incoherent—allows them to elect bishops for their so-called historic homelands, but nowhere else. Thus, e.g., the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church can elect bishops in and for Ukraine, but her territories in North and South America, Western Europe, and Australia all have to wait for Rome to appoint someone.) Neither set of practices could happen in isolation; both would require changes on the part of Rome, probably requiring the outright abolition of the Congregation for Oriental Churches (which has often functioned as the equivalent of the British Colonial Office), and the curtailment of the right of interference from other dicasteries, including that of Bishops, as well as the Secretariat of State, whose nuncios often play a role in picking bishops.

There would, then, have to be a decentralization of the curia concomitant with the reclamation of the electoral and legislative powers of Eastern Catholic synods. Fortunately, however, Francis knows this. He has been slowly chipping away at papal centralization for nearly five years now, often in small and largely ignored ways. Consider just a few of the more considerable examples.

13 March 2013: On the loggia he notes the task of the conclave is “to give Rome a bishop,” a word he uses six times in a short speech, never once using “pope” or “pontiff” or anything else. I was especially struck that night that he quoted St. Ignatius of Antioch (albeit obliquely) and his famous observation that it is “the Church of Rome which presides in charity over all the Churches”—the entire Church, not the pope alone.

24 November 2013: In a little-noticed paragraph (no.32) in Evangelium Gaudium, which was otherwise not really focused on ecclesiological questions in the strict sense, the pope inserted this bombshell:

I too must think about a conversion of the papacy…. Pope John Paul II asked for help in finding “a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation”. We have made little progress in this regard. The papacy and the central structures of the universal Church also need to hear the call to pastoral conversion…. Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach.

14 June 2014: The pope approves and orders the publication of a decree from the Oriental Congregation permitting Eastern Catholic bishops anywhere in the world to ordain married men to the priesthood. This overturned an (unjust) 1929 Vatican ruling that forbade such ordinations in North America, restricting them to the “homelands” of Eastern Catholics.

17 October 2015: In a landmark speech on the 50th anniversary of the creation of the so-called synod of bishops, set up by Pope Paul VI as a powerless and purely consultative body, the pope called for the creation of a more “synodal church,” where, he said, “it is not appropriate for the Pope to replace the local Episcopates in the discernment of all the problems that lie ahead in their territories. In this sense, I feel the need to proceed in a healthy ‘decentralization.’”

3 September 2017: The new motu proprio on liturgical translations, letting the various regions take primary responsibility for translating texts on the basis of their own indigenous linguistic expertise. These translations now only need a confirmatio from Rome rather than a line-by-line examination. This was followed up by a rather rare and therefore striking letter, dated 15 October 2017, of the pope to Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, telling him explicitly that contrary to what Sarah had said in introducing the motu proprio, the pope’s point was to decentralize matters out of Rome and back to the regions.

And that seems clearly to be in the pope’s mind as we arrive at the end of 2017. He knows that papal centralization is not traditional: it is really a very modern, very recent innovation, and not always a healthy, still less a necessary, one. It began in earnest under Pope Pius IX, and has gotten worse under every pope since then. (Already by 1910 it was getting so bad that the wonderfully eccentric English priest and scholar Adrian Fortescue, in a letter to a friend in 1910, asked acerbically: “Centralisation grows and goes madder every century. Even at Trent they hardly foresaw this kind of thing. Does it really mean that one cannot be a member of the Church of Christ without being, as we are, absolutely at the mercy of an Italian lunatic?”)

Decentralization by no means guarantees better governance—there are, of course, potential “lunatics” in the regions as much as in Rome. But nevertheless decentralization is much more theologically, historically, and practically defensible than the Roman centralization and personality cult of the pope we have been enduring for more than a century now. Those novelties are really indefensible. As a bonus—for those who think Francis the worst “lunatic” of all—at the rate he is going, he is making his office less and less important and giving greater responsibility back to others, where it belongs.

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About Dr. Adam A. J. DeVille 108 Articles
Dr. Adam A. J. DeVille is associate professor at the University of Saint Francis in Ft. Wayne, IN., where he also maintains a part-time private practice in psychotherapy. He is the author and editor of several books, including Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy (University of Notre Dame, 2011).


  1. I trust absolutely nothing that emanates from this disasterous pontificate with its predilection for deliberately fomenting ambiguity and confusion and for attaining by stage-managed subsidiarity and local proxies what it cannot to do directly.

    The author’s thesis that Roman centralization is theologically unsupportable and historically untenable certainly creates quite a conundrum. For over 50 years we have been told that papally-centralized Vatican II and its subsequent papally-centralized governance juggernaut of theological, liturgical, disciplinary, ecumenical, political, and “pastoral” changes were all the work of the “Spirit” creating a “New Pentecost” and new “models of the Church”. If the Roman sources of these “novelties” are now “indefensible”, an ecclesiastical fraud on a universal scale has been practiced on the Church. One cannot have it both ways. If decentralization is “theologically, historically, and practically” normative, then Vatican II has to be seen as a monstrous deviation and corruption.

    • The decentralization goes against the Petrine doctrine established by Christ Himself, making Simon the rock of the Church is the model the faithful have always followed. The decentralization is apostasy. The ideas that the enemies of Holy Church (protestants, pagans, etc.) Holy Church to have in order to divide and conquer the faithful. There is nothing going on in decentralization of the Roman Curia that does not help and support the adversary’s wish to destroy Holy Church.

  2. That commendation has validity only if local governance will be faithful to Christ. Historically it was always the Roman Pontiff that insured unity in one body, one faith, one baptism in Christ. The Latin Church developed from a relaxed confederation of dioceses always in acknowledgment of the primacy of Peter to a more centralized organization spreading the faith throughout the world. The Eastern churches were localized, esoteric, confined to cultures never missionary. And it was Rome that safeguarded universal doctrine on faith and morals. This Roman Pontiff is creating the opposite, the Church disintegrating into a doctrinal Babel. Disunity at this stage of history ensures further disunity and heterodoxy as already evidenced in several major national bishops conferences. You seem to believe distancing from Rome “and the worst lunatic of all” [is that you’re conviction also?] will save orthodoxy, whereas orthodoxy will be preserved not by philosophical musings and certainly not by Pope Francis. It will be preserved with fortitude and honor to Christ by that Mystical Body faithful to the Apostolic Tradition known as the One, Holy, Catholic Church.

    • “The Eastern churches were localized, esoteric, confined to cultures never missionary.”

      Not true. The Byzantine, Western Syriac, and Eastern Syriac churches were all missionary to one degree or another until they bumped against the power of the ruler or invaders.

      • Sol that holds true for Spanish Portuguese presence in S Am due to papal decree. Even there it was Spanish missionaries who fought for the rights of Native peoples and were often opposed by Conquistadors. It was Spanish and Portuguese missionaries who brought the faith many martyred in hostile Japan and throughout unconquered areas in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. It was French Jesuit missionaries who brought the faith suffered martyrdom to unclaimed unconquered areas of N America. Whereas in Protestant Britain’s possessions in Africa it was Catholic missionaries who spread the faith among Africans. The irrefutable point is who spread the faith.

        • The first point is, without those imperialist efforts there would have been no missionaries to go around the world. The failure of the Church to deal properly with the power of state/empire can be seen in the lack of proper catechesis in the New World and in other places.

          The second is that the claim that the Eastern churches were never missionary is false, especially when we remember the conflicts between the Jesuits and the native non-Latin churches that were already in certain areas (e.g. India).

          • Very true, SOL, and one must also remember that Russia itself was the result of missionaries. Eastern Christians were once widespread in China and other regions too. Unfortunately, as in the middle east, unfavorable governments drove them down.

  3. It seems to me that the centralization of the Church and the role of the popes from Pius IX to John Paul II was necessary to maintain the integrity of the faith and morals of the Church in the face of modernist influences that have made a shipwreck of the faith of many during the past 50 years. The monarchical papacy evolved the way it did for a very good reason. It has been the best safeguard against centrifical forces which have seriously affected both the Protestant bodies and the Orthodox Churches. The authority of the pope over councils, synods, and bishops is a well established principle. The teachings of the popes against modernist influences in the 19th and 20th century have been critical in preserving the integrity of the faith in the face of an ever invasive and radically secular culture. I just hope the attempts to deconstruct the monarchical papacy will not have serious consequences for the integrity of the faith and moral teachings of the Church and the undermining of papal authority.

  4. To what extent?

    Isn’t the author downplaying the danger that the current papacy has initiated on some doctrinal issues; that if this is Francis’s idea of “decentralization” the Church is where on the charism of infallibility? Different enclaves of clerics under a new decentralized ecumenism decide what is now “relatively true” that works for them?

  5. I’m all for Latin decentralization, when individual Latin bishops have the courage to excommunicate other bishops for heresy, schism, or dereliction of duty. Let’s have the first Latin bishop inveigh against the heretical errors of liberalism.

  6. “that he quoted St. Ignatius of Antioch (albeit obliquely) and his famous observation that it is “the Church of Rome which presides in charity over all the Churches”—the entire Church, not the pope alone.”

    Questionable — perhaps more a turn of language then really referring to the entire Church, or more precisely, to the leadership of the Church of Rome, whatever it may have been before the rise of the monoepiscopate.

  7. So if the Eastern Churches always seem to have it right, then why don’t we just become Eastern Orthodox?

    I believe in the universal supremacy of the Pope over the entire Church, I’m tired of theologians, and even our own prelates, constantly trying to erode and apologize for the very office that facilitates the Church’s unity, I do not want the Church to become broken up over competing nationalist/ethnic parties like the Orthodox nor do I want to see people literally campaign to be elected bishop like the Anglicans in Canada. The Papacy is what unites the majority of Christians in one Church. Let’s not meddle with what works,

    • I think Dr. DeVille is pointing to the unique role that the Eastern Catholic Churches, although small in size, can play when it comes to finding a proper balance. He’s well aware (as many of his other essays demonstrate) the problems with the Eastern Orthodox “model”, without the Petrine office. And he certainly doesn’t deny or want to do away with the proper, universal authority of the pope. Personally, I think there were good and understandable reasons for the centralization of the past 100+ years (modernity, modernism, globalism, technology, world wars, etc.), but there are serious problems with how things currently run. So, it’s not about denying the papacy, but reconsidering the ins-and-outs of the governance of the Church and the various bureaucracies (and that’s what they are) in Rome.

      • Andrew writes: “So if the Eastern Churches always seem to have it right, then why don’t we just become Eastern Orthodox?”

        That’s exactly what I did. All the boogeymen I was told to expect in Orthodoxy, the infighting, the ethnocentrism, etc., were curiously absent. The degree of most people’s adherence to Christian morality and practice in Orthodoxy is noticeably greater than in the Roman Church. After so much persecution and change over the last century, if the fact that the Orthodox are still generally following the Apostolic traditions isn’t a testament to the truth of our Church and our model of governance, I’m not sure what is.

        • What you state can be debated regarding practice of Christian morality among Orthodox. I’ve been to a few Orthodox majority lands and they were remarkably like everyone else living in modernity (sometimes worse). There are saints and sinners in both Churches.

          I’m glad you’ve had a good experience thus far and there is much that is beautiful in Orthodoxy but let’s not pretend the current Orthodox system of over laping jurisdictions and warring Patriarchates (Constantinople vs Moscow) is the model to emulate or reflective of the early Church. Moreover, the tendency of Orthodoxy to idolize the state also frightens me. For example, look at the Patriarch of Moscow’s cozy relationship with Putin. If that’s what’s offered as a model of papal reform I say no thanks! We as Catholics must not forget that the prerogatives of the Pope flow from Christ Himself. To modify that to appease Protestants and in fighting Orthodox is folly.

          • Infighting, warring Patriarchates, and church-state alliances are quite normal in Christian history. Allowing multiple low-intensity, localized pockets of dissent from the Gospel to compete with and check one another is a positive feature of the Orthodox Catholic Church, not a bug.

            What the centralization of the Papacy did in the western Church was amplify and globalize what likely would have been only localized religious corruptions. For example, if King Henry VIII could have compelled a crooked autocephalus English jurisdiction of the church to grant him divorces on demand, it would have been whispered about in other corners of Europe but generally laughed off. This happened a lot in eastern Europe. Then, the King would die, and things would go back to normal with his successors condemning him. Even the German situation with Luther might have been a minor, provincial squabble. It’s hard to imagine indulgences gaining much currency beyond Italy in a scenario where the Conciliarist triumph at the Council of Constance.

            Instead, the Papacy set the stage for the bloody and unprecedented Wars of Religion and Reformation that ravaged Europe for centuries and caused the rise of secularism and religious indifferentism. Turning the Pope into a competing temporal ruler with supreme power served only to raise the stakes of Christian-on-Christian violence and thrust doctrine itself into the realm of politics. Pope Francis is simply the latest chapter in this ongoing drama of centralization.

            Personally, it seems bizarre to me that something as important to the governance of the Church as papal infallibility would not be defined, and generally doubted, until as late as 1870. The Pope didn’t even bother to personally show up at Ecumenical Councils, and you’d think somebody would have been aware of his supremacy and infallibility, which could be expected to play a huge role in settling Christological heresies. Whether I’ve overlooked pros of a centralization in the papacy that outweigh the cons, the fact is, there is no evidence to suggest the papal claims are anything other than relatively late, predominately politically-motivated innovations.

      • I respect you and the author of the article greatly BUT let’s be honest, we didn’t hear such concerns about Vatican centralization in this or other orthodox Catholic publications during the JP2/Benedict years. In other words, the concerns about Vatican control seem to be a response to Francis and nothing more. I too have concerns about Francis but must we erode the papal office because of one man?

        • It’s a fair point in some respects, but Eastern Catholics have long had these concerns (and both Dr. DeVille and myself are Eastern Catholics), going back decades. Does some of this have to do with Francis? Yes, some. What this pontificate has shown, I think, is that not every pope is going to be a brilliant, orthodox, and globally-minded man who works to keep above the political frays, whether inside or outside the Church. I cannot argue it here, but I don’t see this as an erosion of the papal office, but a strengthening of what the papacy should be. There will be, of course, constant problems, as no pope is perfect and there will always be power struggles.

          • That’s a good point. Much to think about. I’ve just finished reading the biography of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre (no I’m NOT an SSPX guy; I attend a solid Novus Ordo parish) and it said that one of his concerns and other conservative bishops at Vatican 2 was that the Vatican 2 documents, with their dual focus on Rome and national bishop’s conferences, inadvertently eroded the authority of the individual bishop in his diocese. I think this is very true. Roman decentralization might be a good thing, but I would hate to exchange Rome for some national committee run by ecclesiastical politicians. I don’t know what the answer is. It seems everywhere (Catholic, Anglican and Eastern Orthodox) is messed up. Maybe this is where the Benedict Option comes in. Focus on the local and create small, faithful, orthodox communities capable of living and passing on the Faith in a dynamic and authentic manner; because when I look at many of our bishops I want as little to do with them as possible (it saddens me to say that btw).

          • Carl it’s also a fair point to say that DeVille’s views and yours reflect a choice of structure that is less open to liturgical change and which possesses an attractive stability. Similarly it’s a fair point to say that if it weren’t for the universal nature [definitive of Catholic] of papal authority, which largely took the initiative to unite the Eastern churches including Maronites there would be no union. “The whole discussion gravitates around a text of the twelfth century. William of Tyre (De Bello Sacro, XX, viii) relates the conversion of 40,000 Maronites in the year 1182. The substance of the leading text is as follows: ‘After they [the nation that had been converted, in the vicinity of Byblos] had for five hundred years adhered to the false teaching of an heresiarch named Maro, so that they took from him the name of Maronites, and, being separated from the true Church had been following their own peculiar liturgy [ab ecclesia fidelium sequestrati seorsim sacramenta conficerent sua], they came to the Patriarch of Antioch, Aymery, the third of the Latin patriarchs, and, having abjured their error, were, with their patriarch and some bishops, reunited to the true Church'” (New Catholic Advent). Also the current controversy regarding centralized authority has everything to do with this papacy. The structure of the Latin Church cannot simulate the Maronite structure of independent bishoprics and remain solvent. We see it’s disunity already in Germany.

          • As a former Maronite Catholic, Fr. Peter, I can assure you that’s not the history of the Maronite Catholic Church, unless you want to admit that the Roman Catholic Church commemorates a canonized heirisiarch on her calendar. Maro in William of Tyre’s book is none other than St. Maron, commemorated by both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches as a defender of Chalcedon. Please research further.

      • Sorry Carl, I can’t agree with you on this.
        “Centralization” is another term for the Church’s ultimate triumph over lay investiture in the 19th century. We all can be grateful for its full realization in Pope Pius XII — our Pastor Angelicus, “the Pope of Our Youth” as Benedict XVI called him in 2008.
        The poison that is rotting the Church today is lay, lower clergy and episcopal officiating. We need guys like Sarah, and Ratzinger, and Rigali — experienced “players” at the highest level who can weed out bad shepherds.
        No, what Francis wants is what Paul VI (who did his share and more to actualize it) called the “auto-demolition” of the Roman Church. The Roman Church in its full rigor has saved what’s left of Christendom –something the Eastern churches weren’t up to. Sorry once again, but I’m not buying any version of Bergoglio’s St. Gallen/Martini/Aparecida/Lavender Mafia “decentralization”.

  8. “, rightly refusing to be ruled by the one-time imperial capital whose colonizing practices continue to manifest themselves in the Church of Rome’s curia.”

    Nothing like a fair, unbiased author without an axe to grind, is there?

  9. As for the for many odious “Roman centralism”, it can be thanked for the fact that we still actually in the Catholic Church. From the period of Conciliarism after the Great Western Schism, there was Gallicanism and later Febronianism and Josephinism which if they had been successful would have converted the Catholic Church into something like the Orthodox autocephalous Churches, which as is clear from the recent attempt at a Panorthodox Synod which was a failure.
    As for the selection of bishops, certainly, the system can and should be improved, as the crop of bishops we now have would clearly indicate. However, let us not forget that the system of popular acclamation, whilst it gave the Church some of the most outstanding bishops such as St. Ambrose and St. Augustine, it also provoked even riots with as many as 100 dead at the election of Pope Damasus I in 362. In the 16th century,when the appointment of bishops was in the hands of the King of Spain for his dominions, he appointed some excellent bishops such as St. Toribo of Mogrovejo, who was Archbishop of Lima in Peru for 14 years and he spent 17 of them making pastoral visits to many parts of his huge diocese, and is now the Patron Saint of Latin American Bishops.

    Pope Francis has also proposed giving doctrinal authority to Bishop’s Conferences and this is a very bad idea as is already apparent. This is seen as an application of the dangerous doctrine of Collegiality as it is presented in Lumen Gentium which is a novelty in the tradition of the Latin Church and would tend to convert the Pope into a kind of Prime Minister. This doctrine needs to be reviewed.

    As for the reform of the Curia, it seems to me that Francis has already failed in this effort and he has gone about it in a very wrong fashion. He has continually belittled and insulted the members of the Curia and according to Cardinal Muller and others, there is a very negative atmosphere there. If he wants to reform it, he might have consulted those who work by means of questionnaires and he might have personally gone to visit each dicastery and listen to them so that they would see that their input has been taken into account and they are on board. PF is now 81 and they know that he cannot last long, so they can go back to business as usual when he passes away. He needed to have a positive attitude, for it is impossible to think that everyone who worked in the Churia is a knave. Positive motivation is always better than berating.
    Pope Paul VI, who had worked in the Churia for some 30 years reformed it, but he placed much of the power int he hands of ht Secretariat of State, where he himself has worked. Cardinal Muller has stated that Doctrine should be given primacy and not diplomacy. For that, power has to be taken away from the Secretariat of State, but Francis has even increased it by adding a new subsection to it. The failure of the financial reforms has been due to a good degree to Francis having given into the pressures of the Secretariat of State and others unwilling to relinquish theirs.

    • And whatever happened to the high-level 2012/2013 report on the Lavender Mafia that Benedict turned over to Bergoglio? Like “the dubia sent, did it fall into an air vent?” Or maybe it was received under the new rubric: But who am I to judge? (You’re the Pope, Jack, judging is your job).
      The Church needs more “centralization” in the Supreme Pontiff, not less — less has been the disastrous “los von Rom” modernist program of the last 60 years. I hate to say it, but what we really need is a more worthy man than the St. Gallen/Lavender Mafia-packaged nightclub bouncer Bergoglio, with his entourage of power-hungry thugs, on the throne of St. Peter.

  10. In a way, the question of Rome’s decision to exercise authority in a centralized or decentralized way is moot for the Orthodox.

    For the Orthodox, the point is this: according to current Catholic teaching, it is the pope’s prerogative (and his alone) to decide which way he wishes to exercise his authority. That is the issue at heart.

    Even a proponent of Roman decentralization as noteworthy as Cardinal Walter Kasper (sic!) points this out in his book on the Church (translated several years ago into English). As he says, any restrictions on papal authority to do things (e.g., I might offer by way of an example, the ability of Eastern Churches to appoint bishops in their ‘home’ territories) is always a self-limitation on the part of the Roman pontiff. As Cardinal Kasper notes, this is how things work in the current Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (CCEO): the pope has elected to hold back the exercise of his power; it is only through this self-circumscription that the Eastern Churches exercise their own synodal prerogatives, etc. The corollary (unstated by Kasper) to this is clear: at any time, the pope may elect to cancel these self-restrictions. (Indeed, Pope Francis change the CCEO’s prescriptions on marriage law several years ago by his fiat with a motu proprio.) As long as that is the case, and there is no check on papal power that is absolute, Orthodox Churches will never accept papal authority. But how can the Catholic Church do that? Vatican I is fairly clear about the pope’s universal jurisdiction as dogmatic, and Vatican II (in Christus Dominus) only re-affirms this teaching in the clearest terms.

    • Honestly, the only way would be for Vatican I & II to be rejected as anti-councils due to a catastrophic failure of the Papacy. That may be what Providence is working toward by allowing unchecked centralization and faith in an infallible and supreme Pope to despoil the Roman liturgy, devestate religious life, wipe out vocations, introduce blatant contradictions to reveal the absurdity of the Acta Apostolicae Sedis, etc. Even in wider society, the chaotic cultural and sexual revolutions of the 1960s and 70s are hard to imagine without Vatican II unsettling a critical mass of believers who would have otherwise confidently opposed the societal shifts.

      • Not anti-councils, but local councils of the Roman Patriarchate, with dogmatic statements that are not binding on any other patriarchate/particular Church unless so ratified.

        I don’t see it as a catastrophic failure of the papacy, but the living reductio ad absurdam of one model of the papacy.

  11. Maybe we need to remember what the two previous pope’s had to say on this not-new issue of centralization. Decentralization of bureaucracies is not the same as the unfortunately and predictably co-mingled elevation of geographic conferences of bishops. In Pope Benedict XVI’s image, the collegiality of bishops is an ellipse with two focal points, the primacy and the episcopacy, rather than being a mimic of either a political monarchy or a democratic national assembly (God’s Word: Scripture, Tradition and Office, Ignatius Press, 2008). The several national Catholic conferences of bishops do not qualify as a sort of presumptive local church parliament. They exist rather to support “the inalienable responsibility of each bishop in relation to the universal Church and to his particular Church” (St. Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter, May 21, 1998). This form of Church is not the same as the autocephalous Orthodox Churches, nor the Protestant ecclesial communities, nor, incidentally, Islam whose sectarian self-understanding is as a “congregational theocracy” — unlike the what the Second Vatican Council still affirmed as the Catholic “hierarchical communion” (Lumen Gentium).

  12. Perhaps a re-reading of papal primacy is in order, regardless of how it has been exercised historically. Biblically, the Twelve needed constant correction by Christ for sorting out who was first; including Peter.

  13. This article would be interesting if it were not so naive. The main problem is that decentralization is only as good as the local powers into whose hands decentralization plays. With weak, heretical, and often power-hungry local ordinaries and episcopal conferences, decentralization is simply one more step in the autodemolition of the Church about which Paul VI sadly spoke (and to which, alas, he himself contributed by the unprecedented dismantling of the Roman Rite).

  14. You quote Adrian Fortescue (quite approvingly): “Does it really mean that one cannot be a member of the Church of Christ without being, as we are, absolutely at the mercy of an Italian lunatic?”

    The Person he was calling an “Italian lunatic” was Pope St. Pius X.

    That pretty much takes care of any respect I might have had for Fortescue’s opinion

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