1 March 2009

The Bishop of Peoria

De Cura animarum has been running an interesting series of comments on the Papacy. Among comments there appeared the old - and valid - distinction between the Papacy and the way in which it has operated over the last 150 years in the West. For most of the history of the Church, the Papacy did not appoint each local bishop; so why does he need now to appoint every bishop of the Latin Church?

The answer clearly is that he doesn't. But this is not some massively novel and liberating discovery. In dialogue with Eastern dissident traditions, the Papacy has never tried to impose such a condition; indeed, it can point to the fact that it does not appoint 'uniate' bishops within the territories of their historic patriarchates.

Whether Now is a good time to eliminate the appointment by popes of bishops in the Latin Church - the conclusion which some people seem to assume is automatic - appears to me much more debateable. As Joseph Ratzinger used to point out, the post-conciliar liturgical 'reforms' were enforced by means of a maximalist view of the Papacy: the idea that a pope, especially if mandated by aCouncil can radically modify the Tradition, rather than (as Ratzinger argued that he should) act as the guardian of Tradition. The paradox is that having used a Papacy maximalised to the point of corruption and tyranny to impose their own faddish departures from Tradition, the Liberals have now suddenly discovered that, in their view, the time has come for a Reduced Papacy. It is hardly necessary to speculate on the reasons for these tergiversations.

I suggest the following: we need to keep the Maximalised Papacy for another couple of generations, or for as long as it takes to reverse the improprieies which the Maximalised Papacy allowed to be introduced in the last century. Then, when sanity is restored and the Smoke of Satan is eliminated from the Church, let's go for a Reduced Papacy. When presbyterates and laos are peacefully within the Great Tradition, that will be the time to consider giving them back the election of their bishop.

But even then, let us remember that the nodal institutions in the Church are: the local bishop, the Man of each Particular Church; and the Bishop of Rome, the universal focus of unity. The papacy has historically been at its best when it has protected local churches from bully-boys close at home. Anglican Catholics can explain, to anybody who wants to know, why Provincial Autonomy is the the Tyrant and Rome is the helpful friend to whom Christians are entitled to turn for succour and support.

Provincial systems of appointing bishops would be as undesireable and much, much more dangerous than papal appointments. When it is safe for the Roman Pontiff to retire from this particular chore, it is the truly local church which, in terms of precedent, should elect. Not entrenched bureaucracies.


Michael McDonough said...

I think you have laid this matter out rather well, and I agree that the return of, as you call it, local election of bishops (obviously "approved" by the Pope) is the likely way of the future, for at least some portion of the Western Church. I believe that might also be healthy for laity as well.

I'm not sure why Pope Benedict has renounced, if that's the correct term, the papal title of "Patriarch of the West", but my guess would be that history has made it a kind of precious sentiment, and that it implies an ecclesiology that is more historical than dogmatic. It strikes me that the Patriarchal solution is no longer appropriate, since populations are much more mobile these days, and they seem to relate particularly to national or linguistic populations.

But the worst of all worlds is the bureaucratic selection process, which is little more than crony clericalism. In the US, this appears to be somewhat abated, perhaps because Pope Benedict as cardinal came to know the episcopacy he inherited rather well, and is seeking guidance from additional sources? I thought what he wrote in his letter to the Chinese in May, 2007, about the qualities to be sought in selecting a bishop was rather interesting in regard to this topic.

Chris Jones said...

I find it odd that you would apply to the Maximalised Papacy for relief of the improprieties that you blame the Maximalised Papacy itself for. Surely if the Maximalised Papacy has led to grief, that Maximalised Papacy ought to be reined in, not given another two generations to wreak its havoc. I think perhaps you set too much store on the current incumbent (whom I, too, admire), not realizing that his successors may well bring forth fare more "improprieties" that he will be able to fix.

It is in any case too late for Roman Catholics to do anything but "live with" the Maximalised Papacy and make the best of it, since that maximilisation was made dogma at Vatican I. There's no hope for the presbytery and laity to take their place "peacefully within the Great Tradition," because Vatican I has taught them that there is no need for it. The sensus fidelium has been obviated.

If Pope Benedict believes that the Pope must be the guardian of the Tradition and under its authority in a meaningful way, that is wonderful and a big step in the right direction. But make no mistake: that would represent a change in what the RC Church teaches, and would in fact be a repentance and a reformation, devoutly to be wished.

Fr John Hunwicke said...

Vatican I did not make it dogma that the Pope has to appoint every bishop himself. Nor did Vatican I lay down that an Ecumenical Council PLUS the papacy constitute an organ qualified to interfere with Tradition to an even greater extent than any pope, or any council, would ever have dared to do on its own and in effect to close off two millennia of Tradition so as to establish a doctrinal and liturgical tabula rasa. No superdogma in Vatican I . Nor, indeed, in the texts of Vatican II.

Fr. J. said...

Interesting post. Am cogitating.

Still confused about the title. What has this to do with the Bishop of Peoria?

Chris Jones said...

The liturgical scholar and Byzantine-Rite Jesuit Fr Robert Taft wrote an article a few years ago which discussed (in part) issues of the different ways in which Papal authority might be exercised. To make a rhetorical point, Fr Taft said that there is no reason in the world why the Pope should necessarily appoint the Bishop of Peoria.

I believe Fr Hunwicke's title is making an allusion to Fr Taft's article (although perhaps even Fr Taft was alluding to a previous rhetorical use of "the Bishop of Peoria" that is unknown to me).

I don't even know whether Peoria is a see city.

William Tighe said...

Peoria is the See City of a Catholic diocese; and for the last decade or so it has also been the See City of the ECUSA Diocese of Quincy.