THE PROBLEMS SOME PEOPLE HAVE WITH POPE FRANCIS (AND VATICAN II) PART I
(Due to a bit of confusion, PART II was printed last week. This is the “real” PART I!)
In my last bulletin essay I suggested that the people opposing Pope Francis are similar in outlook to those who opposed the direction of the Second Vatican Council, 50+ years ago. The more things change, the more they remain the same…
In order, the list I mentioned included the issues of episcopal collegiality and consecration/ordination, ecumenism, religious liberty, engagement with the modern world, and Jewish-Christian relations. I will leave the issue of the Latin (Tridentine) Mass off this table as it is the tip of the real iceberg for many. Let me spend some time with each of these issues. #1 is all about bishops.
The United States has had a National Conference of Catholic Bishops for 1200 years now. Vatican II encouraged the movement in a way of encouraging the de-centralization of authority. It was a way of acknowledging that bishops are, in their own right, successors of the Apostles and not merely middle-management representatives of the Vatican. By turning over authority of translations of the Mass and Sacraments to the local bishops, Pope Francis has affirmed this principle of decentralization. Of course those who took control of this process in the 1990s (I might actually say “usurped”) are angry about this about-face. And they (like Cardinal Sarah) will do all they can to subvert it.
It is a question of power, and particularly of focusing power in the center (=the Curia). Pope Francis is simply echoing the intention of Vatican II (in its Constitution on the Divine Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium).
The returning of authority to the bishops and their conferences (the alternative of centralization was an innovation, the result of the 19th century conflict with the forces of Napoleon) is in keeping with the deeper traditional practice of the Catholic Church, taking from the Curia the absolute power over worship.
This is the same issue that got some bishops so angry at Vatican II about the change from “consecration” to “ordination” of bishops. The former word implied that all episcopal authority was given from the Holy See (=the pope), suggesting that local bishops are simply “papal middle-management.” The latter suggested that bishops are successors of the Apostles in their own right (even if only in union with Peter). Some saw this as a watering down of the authority of the pope and the decree of Vatican I (1870) that he was the supreme authority in the Church. To water down the pope was to water down the Curial officials who acted (as they claimed) with the full authority of the pope. Their own position is what the issue really is.
So yes, the question then (and the question now) is really all about turf. The cardinals and their questions, the “theologians” and their ‘filial correction,’ are all (at least implicitly) in cahoots in their desire to strengthen the rules, to strengthen the (perceived) authority of the pope (read: of their power), to make people come to terms with them.
This is not what Jesus intended.