Rorate Caeli

Doctrinal "devolution" to the bishops' conferences? Francis already endorsed it in 2013. UPDATE: Francis' most important speech so far on "decentralization" -- and his intentions for the Synod

[UPDATE 10/19/2015 2:30 AM GMT]: For the record: Edward Pentin has posted a complete "working translation" of Francis' watershed speech on his desire to see a more decentralized and "Synodal" Church that "begin(s) with the people and their everyday problems" and for which the "conversion of the papacy" is central.

We will not dedicate more time to commenting on the theme of decentralization. It is enough to say that so long as the good bishops and cardinals who have been attacking the proposals for "decentralization" shy away from naming the true patron of the proposal -- the Pope himself -- they are only avoiding the problem, instead of addressing it. 

Equally important as the "decentralization" aspect is Francis' assertion that it is the "flock" that is "discern(ing) the new ways that the Lord is revealing to the Church", which he uses to justify the controversial "consultation" that took place in the run-up to the Synod. Remember that it was this process of consultation that the German and Swiss bishops (and powerful lay groups such as the German Zentralkomitee der deutschen Katholiken) used to collect support for far-reaching reforms in the teachings of the Church on family life and sexual morality.

Just as striking is the Pope's description of what the Synod is supposed to accomplish:

The Synod of Bishops is the convergence point of this dynamic of listening conducted at all levels of church life. The synodal process starts by listening to the people, who “even participate in the prophetic office of Christ", according to a principle dear to the Church of the first millennium: "Quod omnes tangit ab omnibus tractari debet" [what concerns all needs to be debated by all]. The path of the Synod continues by listening to the pastors. Through the Synod Fathers, the bishops act as true stewards, interpreters and witnesses of the faith of the whole Church, who must be able to carefully distinguish from that which flows from frequently changing public opinion.

On the eve of the Synod of last year I stated: "First of all, let us ask the Holy Spirit for the gift of listening for the Synod Fathers, so that with the Spirit, we might be able to hear the cry of the people and listen to the people until we breathe the will to which God calls us.”

Finally, the synodal process culminates in listening to the Bishop of Rome, who is called upon to pronounce as "pastor and teacher of all Christians," not based on his personal convictions but as a supreme witness of “totius fides Ecclesiae” (the whole faith of the Church), of the guarantor of obedience and the conformity of the Church to the will of God, to the Gospel of Christ and to the Tradition of the Church.

The emphasis is on the bishops "listening" to the people, so that they will know what God "calls" them (the bishops) to do. In turn, Pope Francis makes it clear that he will make a binding statement once the synodal process is complete.


[Original posting time: 10/15/15, 10:14 AM GMT]

Amidst all the talk from some Synod delegates and spokesmen about the "devolution" or "delegation" of important moral questions to the bishops' conferences, and the criticisms of a very few Synod fathers and Catholic commentators against this idea, there is the proverbial "elephant in the room" that no one wants to mention. We are referring to the fact that Pope Francis already endorsed the idea of "devolution" or "delegation" of doctrinal authority in nos. 32-33 of his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, the true blueprint for his entire pontificate (our emphases):

32. Since I am called to put into practice what I ask of others, I too must think about a conversion of the papacy. It is my duty, as the Bishop of Rome, to be open to suggestions which can help make the exercise of my ministry more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it and to the present needs of evangelization. Pope John Paul II asked for help in finding “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”. We have made little progress in this regard. The papacy and the central structures of the universal Church also need to hear the call to pastoral conversion. 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. 

33. Pastoral ministry in a missionary key seeks to abandon the complacent attitude that says: “We have always done it this way”. I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities. A proposal of goals without an adequate communal search for the means of achieving them will inevitably prove illusory. I encourage everyone to apply the guidelines found in this document generously and courageously, without inhibitions or fear. The important thing is to not walk alone, but to rely on each other as brothers and sisters, and especially under the leadership of the bishops, in a wise and realistic pastoral discernment.

When Evangelii Gaudium was published in November 2013, we at Rorate immediately grasped the central importance of this passage, which is why we chose to highlight it. The reality is that for all the talk of "conspiracies" and "muddling through" in this pontificate, Francis and his closest advisers (Cardinals Maradiaga and Abp. Tucho Fernandez in particular) have been nothing if not clear about their intentions for "deep, total and irreversible" change in the Church. This passage in EG could not be any clearer about the direction where Francis wants the Church to go. 

If ever a measure of doctrinal authority were to be devolved to the bishops' conferences, then Rome would be faced with a never-ending battle to regulate, limit or claim back that authority. The damage to the papacy's authority and the chaos that would spread throughout the universal Church are too terrible to contemplate. If we were talking here of local Churches deeply rooted in Tradition and jealous in guarding their ancient theological, liturgical and canonical heritage then there would be much less disquiet (even though the idea of doctrinal "devolution" would still be thoroughly unacceptable from a traditional Catholic point of view). Unfortunately, a genuine sense of Tradition has largely disappeared in our Church, and any "devolution" of "doctrinal authority" will most certainly result in numerous hierarchies hastening all the more to be guided by the spirit of the world. 

It is the height of irony for Catholic apologists and commentators to continue to be silent in the face of this obvious attack on the authority of the Apostolic See and the unity of the universal Church, due precisely to their misguided sense of "loyalty" to the papacy and the desire to foster "unity" (often understood to mean that criticism should be stifled and that everyone should pretend that everything's just fine).