Thursday, April 25, 2013

Cripples, Non-entities, Mediocrities and Curial Reform

As Curial reform is very much in the air, let us start from basics. Is this true?

"Most of the bishops, instead of being the strong characters presently needed, dynamic and active personalities, even if indeed pious and religious men are in effect at the same time mediocre, or even below mediocrity. Some are apathetic, timid, indolent or vain; others are conformists, bureaucrats or introverts; many are ignorant and clumsy administrators. 
Sometimes the whole episcopate of a country looks like a bunch of cripples".
"As for the cardinals, the senate of the Church and the electors of the pope, here the situation is even worse, particularly in the case of those attached to the Roman curia. The sacred college contains too many non-entities who have reached their rank by never asking awkward questions. The merit of many eminences is not their excellent pastoral experience or learning, but that of having staffed a Vatican desk for a very long time. Without any real knowledge of the world or the life of the universal Church, they are nevertheless automatically promoted and placed in executive jobs far above their modest talents."
"Almost half of the cardinals and the great majority of the curial ones are Italians, as if the Holy Ghost had a distinct preference for the Italian nation. 
This only aggravates the matter, for even if Italians may have many talents, they are certainly not noted for their organizational skills. For the universal Church, this is at the same time both an insult and an injustice. The few excellent foreign prelates present in the curia are examples of what the alternative might look like."
These aren't my words, they weren't even written recently, neither are the the criticism of someone on an extreme of the Church but by Willem Marinus van Rossum, a Dutch Redemptorist Cardinal who was Prefect of “Propaganda Fide" with Benedict XV and Pius XI.

In fact His Eminence actually is pretty damning about mediocre Popes too! Read more here.

Van Rossum's solution is "Collegiality", which seems to be the solution that VII and Pope Francis put forward, and practically everyone else. It probably is the answer but then Collegiality also brings problems - "too many cooks spoiling the broth", springs to mind, especially if the cooks are not too competent. What the Franciscan Papacy will bring, if anything, is too early to tell. So far it has brought about a fair degree of confusion, organs like the Tablet, America and NCR seem to think that everything including doctrine is up for grabs. The German Bishops have reversed rulings by Rome over abortiofacients. Other Episcopal Conferences seem to see the new Papacy as a time for continue to do their own thing, to appoint their own men, to build up their nationally distinct churches.

A Papal transition has always been a time for the worse of clerical activities; score settling and jockeying for position, power grabbing, intimidation, factionalism and gossip. The worse excesses of this happened before Benedict's election, during JPII's long death. The continuation between him and his successor who knew an awful lot about the different types of filth and a great deal about the problems of various Episcopal Conferences meant that apart from the press and getting Cardinal Sodano out of the Secretary of States office and apartments the transition was reasonable smooth. Pope Francis on the other hand is a complete outsider, who will take months at least, if not years, to "learn the job", if he is actually interested in doing so, whereas Benedict had twenty years plus understudying JPII at the CDF.

As far as E&W is concerned Benedict seemed to have deep understanding of both the history of modern Catholicism here, as well as, so I am told, by those who have discussed it with him, an understanding of our present problems too. As a polyglot I understand he was a regular, if critical, Tablet reader. I can't imagine that Pope Francis is, or has bothered to find out more than he was told by Archbishop Nichols on his recent visit with our Bishops to the Holy See, which probably means we will be left to go our own sweet way. As with England and Wales, so with the US and so many parts of the world.

Allowing that to happen is probably the easiest option but strongly local or national Churches growing in independence of Rome have historically always ended up in schism. That is the story of the Reformation, of Jansenism, of the rise of the Old Catholics and as Pope Bergoglio is only too aware of Liberation theology. Whilst guarding against Ultramontanism and excessive centralisation a weakened Papacy will bring about weakened sense of unity, and therefore of the faith.

The great weakness of the Papacy is the Pope himself, as Van Rossum said it is a superhuman task, placed on the shoulders of a rather frail mediocre human being. A serious question is can it continue to exist in its present form.


Sadie Vacantist said...

The problem since Pius XII has been the failure to understand the Anglo-Saxon World. Notably the emergence of the American century to replace the British project which collapsed from 1945 onwards. Papa Bergolio is another American puppet.

TLMWx said...

Well Father I think your post answers itself. It has always been so and so it will continue. It is a good job Jesus looks after the Church.

Francis said...

The following point, made by Blessed John Paul II in his encyclical "Ut unum sint" remains unanswered, but is probably the key to the puzzle:

"As Bishop of Rome I am fully aware that Christ ardently desires the full and visible communion of all those Communities in which, by virtue of God’s faithfulness, his Spirit dwells. I am convinced that I have a particular responsibility in this regard, above all in acknowledging the ecumenical aspirations of the majority of the Christian Communities and in heeding the request made of me to find 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."

It is about the Pope and communion with Rome, and the exercise of the Petrine ministry. It is not about subsidiarity at the national bishops conference level.

Rachel M. Gohlman said...

The papacy needs to be strengthened. I sometimes think that too much collegiality is exactly the problem. It seems the pope can't get anything done without having to cut through loads of red tape in the Vatican! If Benedict were allowed more control, he would have achieved more reform. Sometimes it is exactly the college that stands in the way of reform. Also too much modernism and catering to "progressive cultures"
Where our Catholic identity and principles are strongest there our administration will be strongest. Then again, I'm not a real cardinal so I don't know anything :(

Physiocrat said...

For the Catholic in the pew, what counts is what happens in their own parish.
This was my experience in the 1980s.
And this was my experience more recently.
Not good. These problems at the parish level can be traced all the way up to the top, most of the present ones arising from the way the Second Vatican Council documents were interpreted. These created a sense of "anything goes".

John Nolan said...

@ Physiocrat

Back in the mid-1970s I used to visit friends in Brighton and would motor over to Hove to attend Sung Mass at St Peter's. In those days I never travelled without the ALL's Latin Mass Directory and CAMRA's Good Beer Guide. Since then the number of Latin Novus Ordo Masses has drastically declined (there are fewer in London than there were even thirty years ago) and although there has been an increase in the number of Tridentine Masses they are usually scheduled at awkward times and are sparsely attended.

I don't understand the bishops. Cardinal Heenan didn't like the liturgical changes (including the 1955 Ordo for Holy Week) and my own bishop, Ellis of Nottingham, was of the same mind. Yet the hierarchy were pushing for as much vernacular as possible from 1964 onwards, and by 1967 there was no Latin, either spoken or sung, in most parish Masses. Two years later when the NO came out the same bishops were recommending its frequent celebration in Latin, particularly for the principal Sunday Mass, knowing full well that this was not going to happen.

Jeremiah Methuselah said...

Collegiality seems to have become a means of exercising power and for many priests, monsignori, bishops and, Heaven help us, cardinals, the Catholic Church is more of a career than a vocation.

Lepanto said...

"Nationally distinct churches"? Unfortunately they seem to be very much the same in Europe and north America i.e. not very Catholic and terrified of being unpopular with the media and politicians. We have seen the emergence of a 'first world church' that is frighteningly compromised, confused, heterodox and weak.

Genty said...

My understanding of the reality of 'collegiality' is that it offers power to cardinals and to like-minded bishops and to those priests who toe the line.
In short, clericalism is alive and kicking and no longer tempered by the man in the Vatican.
Already we see the attempt early in this Papacy to create a Pope who is little more than a figurehead. God grant that it does not succeed.
@ John Nolan.
If I were to tell you that the Offertory hymn at the vigil Mass last week was Here I am Lord you would understand my advice never to return to a once-beautiful church which has been well and truly wreckovated.

JARay said...

What a dismal outlook is here prophesied!
Somehow I seem to remember Jesus having said "Behold I am with you, even to the end of the world".
I have to say that the way things are looking in the UK (speaking as an outsider), are not good. The Episcopacy has little to recommend it and that, I would agree, starts from the top. And the malaise extends beyond those shores.
However, I also read that vocations are up, so the signs of some revival are also there. Perhaps the forthcoming persecution of all christians in Europe will presage greater things in the future.

Sadie Vacantist said...

I don't buy into this narrative about Vatican bureaucracy. The growth area in bureaucracy since Vatican II has been at the local level. The Bishop Emeritus of Lancaster uncovered wholesale corruption in his diocese all undertaken by local bureaucrats and in contravention of canon law. My understanding is that a nationwide enquiry was going to be launched by the Nuncio but no more was heard of it.

The reality is that the Church is ungovernable and Papa Ratzinger’s prodigious literary output during his pontificate indicates that he undertook little governance as Pope. How many CEOs do you know who can find the time to write a three volume biography whilst running a company?

Sixupman said...

Collegiality = National Churches - Protestantism? Synodical government, a la, CofE, et al. Devolution of power 'down' has created 'lay' bureaucracies in German and, to a lesser extent, in E&W.

Gratias said...

We need power concentrated on individual bishops, not conferences. Pope Francis is determined to devolve the power of the papacy to a kitchen cabinet of non-Curial Cardinals and national bishop conferences. This will bring even more spirit of Vatican II. Last thing the Church needs at present.

Arun said...

I agree with much of what you have commented on and the fascinating quotes from a former cardinal Prefect. But regarding the very early weeks of Papa Francesco (and lets remember it is only 6 weeks not 6 years), we need to take a wider look and just relax and take some deep breaths. After all, whether the new bishop of Rome wears red or black shoes, carries a wooden staff or silver staff, or wears gold or white or whatever vestments, the fact remains he is the supreme pontiff.
I think this concept that there is an overwhelming burden when it come to the Vatican bureaucracy is just not right. It is a small state, with a small workforce, but the majority of them have promised obedience and respect to their bishop, the bishop of Rome.
The pope could and indeed ought reform the Curia. More foreign cardinals and more laity. Less Italians and more set terms for all priest-officials. And the end to the priest-bishop-career path that so many grab on to either by ambition, closeness to a prelate or sheer intellectual ability from the Gregorian.
The pope could makde sweeping changes that would not be difficult. In fact the vast majority of Catholic haven't a clue as to what happens in the Vatican. And probably fewer bishops do either, and many cardinals. The pope could sweep through and change it. If he can decided to sleep and eat in the Santa Marta, decide to plunge into crowds, decide to have simple vesments and clothing, then surely a few edicts from the papal pen would not go amiss. Having a non-elector as Cardinal Dean for one, would not take much to decide. To only have cardinals who have pastoral Sees would not be a major problem. To create only bishops who have had at least 10-15 years pastoral work would be easy.
Let's not kid ourselves. Reforming essential matters in the Vatican can be done easilly. The pope is supreme and he can do it. It just needs will and direction and this new bishop of Rome can do that, even if a short and dynamic pontificate. 3 or 4 or 5 years will be good enough. A small state but big changes can be done.
The fear factor is only amongst the entrenched and stubborn prelates who need to see the power of the Gospel in action.
Semper fidelis.

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