Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Successors of the Apostles

"Justin" just posted this comment, it is interesting because I am told a few years ago a leading liberal Jesuit theologian suggested, in private and possibly in his cups, the same thing. It is Ultramontanism gone mad, the Spirit of Vatican One ad absurdum:
Can someone tell me, in this day and age, with the internet and communication so quick and evident, what is the point of having multiple dioceses and the local Church?
I can understand the necessity of it back when communications were difficult and it was important for one person, on the ground, to hold fast to the deposit of faith, and have immediate and personal authority - a local ordinary.
But given the speed at which things can be communicated now, and the ease of access to information of the faithful - as the media keep telling us we are a 'global' church (universal is the more accurate word but I digress).
What is to stop the suppression of every single Latin diocese except Rome, and bring us all into one big mega-Diocese of Rome. The current ordinaries can become titular bishops of Arundel, etc. and act as Vicars General to a particular "area" within the mega-Diocese of Rome with no personal authority but carrying out the orders of the Roman Pontiff. If we truly believe in Papal Infallibility, that surely should not be a problem?
It is contrary to the very nature of the Church as Jesus Christ founded it. It springs from an idea of Bishops as being delegates of the Pope rather than successors of the Apostles in their own right. Christ founded a Church on twelve Apostles not one.

I said recently that one of the important things that Pope Benedict did was to restore the title of "Bishop of Rome" certainly as first amongst equals, which follows from his being successor of the Apostle Peter but nevertheless it is important he identifies himself as a bishop amongst many rather than the singular Pope.

However as Justin says the world in which the Church exists has changed, technology means most Catholics can find out the Pope's shoe size more easily than what their own bishop teaches on the Incarnation. Indeed most Catholics would identify themselves not so much with their own diocese, which Lumen Gentium describes as, "the Church in much fullness", or their province or their national episcopal conference. For good or ill this is where we would diverge from the Orthodox. For Catholics their identity is stretched between their parish and Rome.

The diocesan identity for most Catholics is minimal. For most, even priests, the relationship with their diocese is really of an administrative, functional nature. As Vatican I is known as the Council of the Pope, Vatican II is known as the Council of Bishops, a great deal of Lumen Gentium is spent defining the Bishops role, it speaks of collegiality and subsidiarity, its presumption is that bishops are in a deep and profound communion with the Church, and are faithful bearers of the Tradition. The fact that both subsidiarity and collegiality are still minimal is for some a reflection of the failure either of the implementation of Vatican II or the impossible optimism of the Council.

An Orthodox correspondent reminded me that in Orthodoxy the Metropolitan has a duty of oversight over bishops in his Province and Metropolitans are answerable to the structures which govern national Churches and in theory the Patriarch has oversight of National Churches. In the Catholic Church there is no structure between the diocese and Rome. The lack of accountability and oversight (management structure?) for bishops has lead to rogue, even heretical bishops. One can ask whether the lack of accountability has lead to child abuse crisis. I am not sure that Orthodoxy is entirely without problems, certainly one would be the eirenical relationship with the Church and state.

One of the main issues many suggest Benedict's successor needs to address are the problems within the Curia, since Vatican II the Church's management structure has become larger and larger, and more and more under strain. It is worth comparing the administration of the Vatican and the Phanar.


Anonymous said...

Orthodoxy is certainly not without problems. One thing I have noticed though is that our relationship with our bishops is much more personal than I see in RC dioceses. Of course, somewhere like the UK where Orthodox Christians number somewhere between 400 and 500 thousand and there are multiple jurisdictions (heresy!) most bishops can more easily stay in close connection with their spiritual children. But even in very large dioceses in Orthodox countries, I have observed that the relationship is still very close more often than not.

The Rad Trad said...

Surely this fellow wasn't serious?

johnf said...

Totally impracticable. The Internet is divided into 'nerds' of which I am one, who spend a lot of time on the Internet and the rest of humanity, who have a life.

A quick canter around Church websites in our Deanery indicates that a large number are quite rudimentary perhaps indicating a lack of Internet capability. There have been complaints that many websites are not being kept up to date.

So we are far from a the 'Valhalla situation' of a fully wired up Church!

Anagnostis said...

Ix54 rightly makes the point that our bishops are much closer to us. I think most Catholics would be astonished (and frigid-rigid Traddies scandalised) by the ease with which a Cypriot will amble up to the throne, during the Liturgy, and engage Despota on something or other. As for the multiple jurisdictions, obviously it isn't the ideal, but I've happily read for both British Archbishops, and they've been quite happy to hear me. Presumably the anomaly will get sorted out in due course.

The important thing is that Orthodox and RC ecclesiologies are really quite radically different under the surface. Much misunderstanding and misconstruction arises from failure to grasp the fact that Orthodoxy is not "Catholicism Minus the Pope".

Anonymous said...

I think the comment that prompted the post was ultimately a lament on how extremely poorly managed many of us perceive our dioceses to be, with lay-run ministries out of control, spreading heresy unchecked, abuses at Mass ongoing for years if not decades, top-heavy bureaucracy (eg: Diocese of Dallas had an administration of 12 in 1962, mostly clergy, while today over 300 work in the 5 story chancery building) with few if any postive, tangible results. I think many people have the idea that the Church was much better run prior to Vatican II's focus on collegiality. Certainly, heresy and abuse were not nearly so rampant and open. Doctrine was upheld. So the comment may have been a paean to a perceived better day.

Suffice it to say, the Church did function for many decades/centuries in modern times without the collegiality and bloated bureaucracies brought on by Vatican II. Do the national conferences serve any useful purpose? Do they bring people closer to God and spread his evangelizing mission. I don't know about England, but in the US the answer is largely and tragically no: the denizens of the USCCB are concerned almost entirely with their bureaucratic purview and many bishops seem to have gotten sucked into the bureaucrat's mentality. They are far more worried about avoiding hassle and scandal than boldly witnessing for the Faith, and I think the structures stood up since Vatican II play a large part in that. The Holy Father has said as much himself. But I don't think abolishing Dioceses is the answer, as you say, that would be extremely counter to Scripture and Tradition, let alone impractical.

I would like to think that recentralizing much administration and authority in the Curia a la Pius XII would help matters, but with the current state of the Curia I don't think that's realistic. It's going to take further decades to begin to unwind this mess. I'm not sure the "out of control" administration we've read about in the waning years of Blessed Pope JPII's pontificate has been reigned in much since 2005.

Dom said...

Diocese that don't adhere to orthodox teaching could be demoted to vicariates apostolic and those that do can be given more autonomy. If a bishop is leading his see to error then dethrone him.

Fr Ray Blake said...

By what Laws can a bishop or dioces be degraded?
We are not robbers - God is Just, so must we be.

William Tighe said...

IIRC, and as I was informed in the 1970s, it was the late Fr. John Coventry, SJ, who made the suggestion, in an address, and in the 1950s, about the pope becoming "the bishop of the world."

RJ said...

In earlier times, when communications were not so good (perhaps before the invention of the telegraph?) I guess the local church must have been more significant. The internet means that I can know what the Pope is saying and doing almost instantly from day to day. His central role makes him the focus of greater attention, certainly for me: I have to confess I don't often visit the diocesan website - it doesn't have the same 'draw'.

Gatepost productions said...

But just imagine the scope: Micro-chipping at baptism; bar-coding at marriage would restrict adultery; reformatting in the confessional; and a point-of-soul checkout at death.

George said...

Part of the problem causing this whole discussion is that we've lost sight of the raison d'etre for particular churches.

Most of us haven't grown up seeing the importance or purpose of bishops.

We don't generally see bishops governing, ruling, patoring, etc.

Bishops don't exist to provide some sense of fairness or to democratize eclessial authority throughout the world. They exist, I would presume, because they are necessary. The Church needs them as much as the Church needs a pope.

This is even a larger problem which is plaguing the whole Church, not just the episcopacy.

How many fathers of families govern, rule, or pastor in the home? We're a society of Homer Simpsons being lead by Bishop Simpsons, I'm afraid to say.

It creates a vicious cycle. Not only do we have bishops who do not know how to "father", but we have a body of faithful who would mightily resist attempts to be "fathered", in the sense of governed or ruled. Even a bishop filled with abundant love and compassion trying to exercise his authority in any traditional sense within his diocese would be met by countless laity in opposition.

The spirit of 1789 coming to full fruition. Non serviam!

GOR said...

On the universal level the effectiveness of the structure of the Church is important. Less so on a personal level. We don’t know if Our Lord imparted any further details to the Apostles after the Resurrection as to how the Church was to be structured. Nor if the Holy Spirit at Pentecost instilled them with any administrative details.

What we do know is that Our Lord charged them with bringing the Gospel to everyone. Also, that the acceptance of the Gospel would be a personal decision, a one-on-one commitment – of me to Christ. It wouldn’t matter if my father, mother, brothers or sisters made that commitment also. In fact, they might vigorously oppose it. No matter, my salvation is my responsibility.

It would be nice if every successor of the Twelve were as dedicated to the truths of the Gospel as the first Apostles. But even if they’re not, it will not matter to my salvation. That’s their funeral – so to speak. But I, once having received the Faith, cannot point the finger to anyone else if I do not remain faithful.

Yes, in charity we should work and pray for the salvation of all, but we only have control over one – our own.

pearl said...

Father, I hope it's ok to post this humerous picture here.


Anagnostis said...

"IIRC, and as I was informed in the 1970s, it was the late Fr. John Coventry, SJ, who made the suggestion, in an address, and in the 1950s, about the pope becoming "the bishop of the world." "

Yes, I read something about the circumstances of this quite recently. Of course, it went nowhere, but the idea that such a thing could be seriously proposed is astonishing, in the context of Pope Gregory the Great's fearsome condemnation of the notion of a "Universal Episcopate" when he thought (mistakenly) that this is what was being claimed by John the Faster with the title "Ecumenical Patriarch". Anyone who thinks this might be a legitimate "development" in ecclesiology should read up on the controversy. St Gregory's letters to the Archbishop of Constantinople leave no room for doubt (though they might cause Roman Catholics some level of discomfort).

justin said...

Thank you for picking this up. I posted the comment and it was a genuine question.

I know the teaching of St Cyprian that in each particular Church gathered around its bishop it is the whole Christ who is present, not just a part of Him.

But we also do not believe the dissolution or merger of a diocese is somehow wrong or heretical - in fact that is exactly what is being proposed by some in Ireland.

What is to stop then, dioceses all merging with the diocese of Rome?

In other words, I guess I'm asking practically and genuinely - what is the point of my local bishop?

In the Rite of consecration - we know that is to teach, to govern, to sanctify. I don't see how those functions cannot be fulfilled more correctly by the Bishop of Rome (who already in any case has universal jurisdiction, and whose decrees issued directly or through his congregations take precedence over any local variants).

Is there a need for a local bishop?

(I can accept that there is no necessity for one any longer, but we continue it anyway, because we have always done so, and because it was the way it was instituted by Christ. That's perfectly legitimate.)

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