Skip to comments.The Limits of the Papacy
Posted on 04/15/2010 7:58:42 AM PDT by NYer
During the preparation of the Second Vatican Councils Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Pope Paul VI proposed that the constitutions discussion of papal primacy include the affirmation that the Pope is accountable to the Lord alone. This suggestion was rejected by the Councils Theological Commission, which wrote that the Roman Pontiff is also bound to revelation itself, to the fundamental structure of the Church, to the sacraments, to the definitions of earlier councils, and other obligations too numerous to mention. Pope Paul quietly dropped his proposal.
Yet the image persists that the Catholic Church is a kind of global corporation, with the pope as CEO, the bishops as branch managers, and your parish priest as the local salesman. And according to that image, the pope not only knows whats going on all the way down the line, he gives orders that are immediately obeyed all the way down the line. Or, to vary the misimpression, the Church is like the United States Marine Corpsthere, at least according to legend, when the Commandant issues an order, everyone from the highest-ranking four-star to the lowliest Parris Island recruit staples a salute to his forehead and does what hes told.
This distorted and distorting image of the pope as dictatorial CEO or Marine commandant is, admittedly, reinforced by the language of the Code of Canon Law. Thus Canon 331 states that the Bishop of the Church of Rome has supreme, full, immediate and universal ordinary power in the Church, and he can always freely exercise that power. Yet, while, both theology and law tells us that the pope enjoys the fullness of executive, legislative, and judicial authority in the Church, his exercise of that power is circumscribed by any number of factors.
It is circumscribed by the authority and prerogatives of local bishops, According to the teaching of Vatican II, bishops are not simply branch-managers of Catholic Church, Inc.; rather, they are the heads of local Churches with both the authority and the responsibility to govern them. Moreover, the pope, according to the Council, is to govern the Church with the College of Bishops who, with him and under him, share in responsibility for the well-being of the entire People of God, not only for their own local Churches.
The popes capacity for governance is also shaped by the quality of his closest associates, and by the accuracy and timeliness of the information he receives from the Roman Curia via the nuncios and apostolic delegates who represent the Holy See and the pope around the world. An example of how this fact of ecclesiastical life can impede a popes ability to respond promptly to situations comes from the American crisis of clerical sexual abuse and episcopal misgovernance in 2002. Because of grossly inadequate reporting from the apostolic nunciature in Washington between January and April 2002when the firestorm was at its hottestJohn Paul II was about three months behind the news curve in mid-April 2002; what appeared (and was often presented by the press) as papal uninterest in the U.S. crisis was in fact a significant time-lag in the information-flow.
Papal governance can also be undermined by inept subordinates. Thus the image of an uninterested John Paul II was reinforced in 2002 by Cardinal Dario Castrillons disastrous presentation of the Popes annual Holy Thursday letter to priests that year, during which Castrillon blew off questions about the U.S. crisis by saying that John Paul had more important things to worry about, like peace in the Middle East.
These very real human limits on the exercise of papal power seem almost impossible for some editors and reportersand indeed for some Catholicsto grasp. Yet the fact remains that the overwhelming responsibility for turning the scandal of clerical sexual abuse into a full-blown Church-wide crisis lays at the feet of irresponsible local bishops, and unfortunately of bishops who bought the conventional wisdom about therapeutic cures for sexual predators. That underscores the imperative of getting episcopal appointments right and of removing bishops whose failures destroy their capacity to govern: see Ireland today, Catholic Church in.
The lack of a standing Papal army also kind of puts a crimp in plans to enforce doctrine amongst the heretics and criminals within the rank and file.
The problem with the last pope was that he was a terrible administrator, and no amount of charisma or charm can make up for that. We would not be having the problems we are now if he had actually done anything in response to the scandalous gay infiltration and the weak or corrupt bishops, which is what BXVI is trying to do now.
Interestingly, he even protected or tolerated some well-known offenders (such as Weakland or the really awful Maciel) - yet the press never complained about that, primarily not because of his charisma, but because it suited them to have somebody lax in his position. I have always felt that JPII liked his public image too much and became too interested in maintaining it and maintaining the favor of the world, and for this reason, never took the unpopular steps he should have taken.
But he did die a very holy death, and he suffered from his illnesses with great patience.
Thank you for posting those interesting observations. Keep in mind the JPII studied acting in his youth. He had a natural talent for communication that he used to guide others towards Christ. Ratzinger, on the other hand, is a brillian theologian.
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