Sandro Magister at Chiesa looks at a part of Evangelii Gaudium that has been largely overlooked in all the sturm und drang over the economic passages: the Pope’s vision of a much more decentralized Church:
1. ON THE PAPACY AND THE NATIONAL CHURCHES
On the role of the pope, Jorge Mario Bergoglio credits John Paul II with having paved the way to a new form of the exercise of primacy. But he laments that “we have made little progress in this regard” and promises that he intends to proceed with greater vigor toward a form of papacy “more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it and to the present needs of evangelization.”
But more than on the role of the pope – where Francis remains vague and has so far operated by making most decisions himself – it is on the powers of the episcopal conferences that “Evangelii Gaudium” heralds a major transition.
The pope writes in paragraph 32 of the document:
“The Second Vatican Council stated that, like the ancient patriarchal Churches, episcopal conferences are in a position ‘to contribute in many and fruitful ways to the concrete realization of the collegial spirit.’ Yet this desire has not been fully realized, since a juridical status of episcopal conferences which would see them as subjects of specific attributions, including genuine doctrinal authority, has not yet been sufficiently elaborated. Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach.”
In a footnote, Francis refers to a 1998 motu proprio of John Paul II, concerning precisely “the theological and juridical nature of the episcopal conferences”:
But if one reads that document, one discovers that it attributes to the national episcopal conferences a function that is exclusively practical, cooperative, of a simple intermediate auxiliary body between the college of all the world’s bishops together with the pope on the one hand – the only “collegiality” declared to have a theological foundation – and the individual bishop with authority over his diocese on the other.
Above all, the motu proprio “Apostolos Suos” strongly limits that “authentic doctrinal authority” which Pope Francis says he wants to grant to the episcopal conferences. It prescribes that if doctrinal declarations really need to be issued, this must be done with unanimous approval and in communion with the pope and the whole Church, or at least “by a substantial majority” after review and authorization by the Holy See.
One danger warned against in the motu proprio “Apostolos Suos” is that the episcopal conferences might release doctrinal declarations in contrast with each other and with the universal magisterium of the Church.
Another risk that it intends to prevent is the creation of separation and antagonism between individual national Churches and Rome, as happened in the past in France with “Gallicanism” and as takes place among the Orthodox with some of the autocephalous national Churches.
That motu proprio bears the signature of John Paul II, but it owes its framework to the one who was his highly trusted prefect of doctrine, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
And Ratzinger – as was known – had long been very critical of the superpowers that some episcopal conferences had attributed to themselves, especially in certain countries, including his native Germany.
Go here to read the rest. PopeWatch believes that the Church operated in a fairly decentralized mode under Paul VI, where many clergy and laity seemed to pay little attention to what the Pope was commanding and poor tortured Paul seemed to be unable to do much about that state of things, other than to lament that the smoke of Satan had entered the Church. If the Church were to truly give doctrinal authority to episcopal conferences, PopeWatch fears the result would be a long period of chaos for the Church.