22Oct Theologians issue ‘Statement of Authority’ in the Church

On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, we call on all other members of the People of God to assess the situation in our church.

Many of the key insights of Vatican II have not at all, or only partially, been implemented. This has been due to resistance in some quarters, but also to a measure of ambiguity that remained unresolved in certain Council documents.

A principal source of present-day stagnation lies in misunderstanding and abuse affecting the exercise of authority in our Church. Specifically, the following issues require urgent redress:

The role of the papacy needs to be clearly re-defined in line with Christ’s intentions. As supreme pastor, unifier and prime witness to faith, the pope contributes substantially to the health of the universal church. However, his authority may never obscure, diminish or suppress the authentic authority directly given by Christ to all members of the people of God.

Bishops are vicars of Christ, not vicars of the pope. They carry immediate responsibility for people in their dioceses, and joint responsibility, with other bishops and the pope, for the world-wide community of faith.

The central synod of bishops should assume a more decisive role in planning and guiding the maintenance and growth of faith within our complex world. To execute its task, the synod of bishops needs to be given appropriate structures.

The Second Vatican Council prescribed collegiality and co-responsibility on all levels. This has not been realised. Priestly senates and pastoral councils, as envisaged by the Council, should involve the faithful more directly in decision making concerning the formulation of doctrine, the running of the pastoral ministry and evangelization in secular society.

The abuse of choosing for leadership offices in the church only candidates of a particular mindset, should be eradicated. Instead, new norms should be laid down and supervised to ensure that elections to such offices are conducted in a fair, transparent and, to the extent possible, democratic fashion.

The Roman curia requires a more radical reform, in line with the instructions and vision of Vatican II. The curia should be retained for its useful administrative and executive roles.

The congregation for the doctrine of the faith should be assisted by international commissions of experts who have been independently chosen for their professional competence.

These are by no means all the changes that may be required. We also realise that the implementation of such structural revisions will need to be worked out in detail according to the possibilities and limitations of present and future circumstances. However, we stress that the seven reforms outlined above are urgent and their implementation should be started immediately.

The exercise of authority in our church should emulate the standards of openness, accountability and democracy achieved in modern society. Leadership should be seen to be honest and credible; inspired by humility and service; breathing concern for people rather than preoccupation with rules and discipline; radiating a Christ who makes us free; and listening to Christ’s Spirit who speaks and acts through each and every person.

• The statement, and names and credentials of the 27 international theologians who issued the statement, may be seen here

6 Responses

  1. Fr. Kieren

    I notice that many if not all of the named theologians are those that could be described as the usual suspects. They tend to be on the liberal/left (I dislike such terms) of the Church and are unlikely to adhere to the document Donum Veritatis. However, I don’t necessarily disagree with the various points they raise, but the Devil is in the details, and I think there are many possible problems ahead if the implementation of this points lie in the future. For example how as a Church can we implement the important issue of collegiality (and coresponsibility) whilst avoiding the mess of the Anglican Communion (no criticism intended)?

  2. Cyril North

    Since the time of Pio Nono, at the very least, Rome has visualized the church as a club. In Rome they collect the membership fees, make all the rules, and decide who may belong and who is to be expelled.
    The Roman curia is a kind of executive committee, charged with ensuring that control of the club is not shared with those lower down the ranks.
    Bishops have become branch managers. They are selected and supervised by the Roman curia, almost exclusively on the basis of their loyalty to those who run the club from the Vatican.
    There are many catholics who like the system this way. It gives clearcut answers to perplexing questions and eliminates lenghty argument.
    However, it is far from the vision enunciated in the theologians statement of authority mentioned above.
    The church appears polarized. It is difficult to see the two sides become reconciled.
    All the talk at Vatican II about collegiality would have nullified this system, so it has been scrapped.

  3. Joe O'Leary

    Fear of the messiness of collegiality has been a driving force of ultramontanism since the 15th century, yet collegial messiness was the norm in the 4th century and the conciliarist inspiration of the fifteenth century still points the way to a more living church now that the evils of a system where the Curia lords it over the College of Bishops have become apparent. The problem though is the low quality of current Vatican personnel and the pietistic bishops they appoint worldwide. It is hard to see how any upgrading of episcopal authority can remedy this.

  4. john mcevoy

    With reference to Fr Kieren’s comment about the Anglican Communion being in a mess would it be fair to suggest that our Roman Catholic Communion is not in a mess – while being led in a totally autocratic manner? Perhaps this “mess” in our respective Communions is the Holy Spirit’s way of telling us something – a current sign of the times???

  5. Fr. Kieren

    Hi John,
    I couldn’t agree more. I am no fan of what is seen as a Curia driven church, and I believe that the local church needs to recognised and empowered. I am a little apprehensive about emphasising the phrase “sign of the times” because it means very different things to different people. It is interesting that the named theologians seem to invite a balancing or reconciliation of the authority of the teaching magerstium and the authority of the faithful, I agree both must be recognised and respected, but what happens if there is a disagreement?

  6. Kevin Walters

    Perhaps we all need to walk more in simplicity of thought (none judgemental) as Jesus taught.
    For all of us Christians, the journey home to our Fathers house although different for each one of us, is it not in essence the same, we ALL walk in poverty (Frailty), lack of Trust and sinfulness and the journey is arduous.
    We cannot all think the same (and do not) but we can all be One (equal) in humility (St Bernard-Humility a virtue by which a man knowing himself as he truly is abases himself) without arrogance and pride there is nothing to divide. We are ALL judged on or intentions, if good (honest) they must surely be pleasing to our Father in heaven. As we walk in good conscience may we all continue in humility (self-knowledge) to follow the Way/ Truth (Master) home, be a light to others on the path (Search) and all arrive home safely, to our Father’s house in heaven

    In Christ

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