4 June 2014

Ordinary, Immediate, and Episcopal

Such is the jurisdiction which the Roman Pontiff, as his ministry was defined at the First Vatican Council, exercises over each member of the Church. His Primacy and his Infallibility are not mediated to us down a hierarchical chain; they bind each of of 'immediately', that is to say, 'directly'. Incidentally, they bind him too, because he is a member of the Church, not Something outside the Church and set above it. The very moment after Papa Pacelli had defined the Dogma of the Bodily Assumption of the Mother of God, he was himself as totally bound to adhere to it as the meanest presbyter, the lowliest laywoman, the humblest bishop. The fact that a man has a particular and essential role within the exercise of the Church's Magisterium does not mean that he is any more above that Magisterium than I am.

And the role which Vatican I defined for the Roman Pontiff does not mean that he can change or set aside the constitution of the Church. By the decrees of Vatican I the Pope did not become the Bishop of every diocese in the world or the Parish Priest of every parish in the world. Our own Dom Gregory Dix put it rather well when he wrote that the Definition of Vatican I "is the minimum definition, in juridical terms, of a power of effectually representing the mind of the whole [Church] towards a part." But the Bishop of Plymouth is not one ounce less the Bishop of Plymouth because the Bishop of Rome has Ordinary, Immediate, and Episcopal jurisdiction over him and each of his subjects.

I do not know whether our beloved Holy Father got in touch beforehand with the diocesan Bishop of the woman to whom he gave advice with regard to her marital problems. Nor do we know whether he afterwards communicated to the local Ordinary the facts about his pastoral intervention. Another thing we do not know is: whether he was in touch beforehand with the Parish Priest (a diocesan Bishop intervening in this sort of way would be very unlikely to have left the pp out of the loop), or whether he spoke to him afterwards. We do know that Fr Lombardi in no way suggested that the Pope did what he did otherwise than as a one-to-one interaction with the woman concerned. There may be things we do not know about this case; but what we do know is that the Pope did not consider it necessary, through his Press Officer, to contextualise his action by revealing any such relevant circumstances. All that Fr Lombardi said was that the Pope had not thereby changed doctrine, suggesting, it seems to me, that he had not been acting qua Pope but qua 'Fr Bergoglio'.

I find this the most extraordinary part of the whole business. I would never deny (it would be heresy to do so) the right ...indeed, the duty of the Sovereign Pontiff to interfere in another man's diocese, or another man's parish, with the due canonical processes, being apprised that there was a disorder in that diocese or parish which made it the duty of the Vicar of S Peter to realign that diocese or parish with the orthodoxy or orthopraxy of the whole Catholic Church. But Papa Bergoglio, as far as we have been allowed to see, simply ignored Bishop and Parochus and behaved as a Presbyter vagans, 'Father Bergoglio'.

I find this highly maximalising model of papal activity incomprehensible. The Bishop of Rome is not the Parish Priest of every layperson throughout the world. But then, I am not a qualified dogmatician. What I do know is this. Such an exaggerated and intrusive model of Papal action is not something that even the most well-disposed Orthodox ... or the most sympathetic Oriental ... or the most papalist Anglican ... would ever dream of signing up to. Try telling the Parish Priest of the Church of S Titus in Heracleion in Crete ... exempli gratia!! ... that unity with Rome would mean that the Pope could 'phone up any of his parishioners at any time and countermand some aspect of his own parochial ministry ... what do you seriously think he would feel about it?

This pope has an enormous relish for gesture, and the journalists lap it up. But somebody in Rome ought to have the courage to take him to one side. Quite enough harm has been done already.

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