20 November 2022

The See of Westminster; Episcopal Conferences; and Cardinal Mueller again.

This piece was originally posted in March 2015. Subsequently, I refined and strengthened and shortened it using information supplied by kind readers.  In my view, the most important parts of this are the two passages from Cardinal Mueller.

I would like to emphasise that this is not some attack on any current Archbishop of Westminster. I have simply taken the English situation as an example of a very important ecclesiological point which relates equally to every part of the Latin Church. I just happen to know a little more about the ecclesiatical history of England than I do about that of Portugal or Poland or Peru.

Non-Catholics often misunderstand the position of the Archiepiscopal See of Westminster; and this can lead to unfairness towards its occupant. I think this whole question is of importance because it bears on matters of ecclesiological doctrine which, in fact, are the real basis of many of the Church's current upheavals. Which is how Cardinal Mueller will, nearer the end of this piece, come into the question.

The Archbishop of Westminster is not, as journalists and others often appear to assume, a sort of Catholic equivalent of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Independant Inquiry Child Sexual Abuse ... Case Study the Archdiocese of Birmingham worked this out (June 2019 paragraph 5): "A cardinal does not have authority over an archbishop or bishop and so it is a misconception to refer to Cardinal Nichols as the 'head' of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales" (et vide infra).

The common notion that 'primate' and 'archbishop' and 'metropolitan' are interchangeable terms is historically false. The Archbishop of Canterbury is a Primate. And he is Primate of All England (totius Angliae), with certain powers (of a legatus natus sanctae Sedis continued to him by Parliamentary Statute after the Schism) even within the Province of York. When he visitatorially enters another diocese, the Diocesan Bishop automatically if temporarily loses his diocesan jurisdiction. He was known sometimes colloquially as alterius orbis papa, and his primatial dignity, remarkably, is sustained by the possession of an episcopal Curia comprising a Provincial Dean (the Bishop of London), Chancellor (Bishop of Winchester), Vice-Chancellor (Bishop of Lincoln), Precentor (Bishop of Salisbury), Chaplain (Bishop of Worcester), and Cross-bearer (Bishop of Rochester).Whatever you may think about the theological or sacramental status of a modern Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury ... and you are probably right ... these structural and legal arrangements are, substantially, in continuity with the very grand position and considerable primatial authority held by medieval Archbishops of Canterbury, as the holders of an office that historically went far back before the time when there was a King or a Kingdom or even a concept of England.

Archbishops of Canterbury have behaved accordingly ... as when a medieval ABC attempted (unsuccessfully) to enter the Diocese of Exeter on Visitation, accompanied by his private army; and when Archbishop Fisher summoned John Robinson Bishop of Woolwich to see him after the publication of Honest to God. Robinson was an auxiliary bishop of another diocesan; but Fisher greeted him with "Now look here, Woolwich, you just can't do this sort of thing" vel sim.. (But even Fisher, I suspect, might not have behaved thus towards a bishop within the Province of York.)

The See of Westminster has never been constituted or recognised by the Holy See as a Primatial See. An obvious moment to have given it that dignity would have been in 1911, when the Sees of Birmingham and Liverpool were raised to metropolitan status. There was indeed at that time a desire (see the thread) to preserve a national position for Westminster; its Archbishop was made the permanent chairman (Praeses perpetuus) of episcopal meetings and given the right to represent the national Catholic community to the Civil Power (as long as he said only what his fellow-bishops had by a majority vote agreed). But he was given no jurisdiction and the only dignities conferred were the purely ritual ones of using pallium and cathedra and cross throughout England and Wales. This falls far short of the old 'primatial' conception. Indeed, it shows a very laudable determination on the part of the pre-Bergoglian Holy See to preserve the rights and status of diocesan bishops.

And, in any case, under the current CIC, primacy would be purely nominal dignity.

The position of the Archbishop of Westminster is thus simply as it is described in the front of my Breviary in a decree signed by Cardinal Griffin: Coetus episcopalis totius Angliae et Cambriae Praeses Perpetuus (by contrast, in another Breviary I possess, the corresponding part of a parallel decree from the Archbishop of Malines describes him as Primas Belgii). He is, additionally, Metropolitan of his own province [comprising the dioceses of Brentwood, East Anglia, Northampton, and Nottingham], with the distinctly tenuous and limited metropolitical powers described in Canon 436. He has no metropolitical relationship with the four totally independant metropolitical provinces of Birmingham, Liverpool, Cardiff and Southwark, or with four extra-provincial and extra-diocesan entities, the Ukrainian Eparchy, the South Indian Eparchy, the Military Ordinariate, and the Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham (all four of which, incidentally, extend beyond the boundaries of the Episcopal Conference of England and Wales).

What this means is that an Archbishop of Westminster has no substantive jurisdiction whatsoever outside his own diocese of Westminster ... which is, roughly, London North of the Thames and Hertfordshire. But, even if not a primate, does he perhaps have authority by virtue of being a Cardinal? No more than Raymond Cardinal Burke does. Or because of his Presidency of the Episcopal Conference? Not in Canon Law and not in dogma. And see my remarks at the beginning of this piece.

I will, in conclusion, illustrate this by quoting  Cardinal Mueller, speaking when he was head of the CDF.

"An episcopal conference is not a particular council, even less so an ecumenical council. The president of an episcopal conference is nothing more than a technical moderator, and he does not have any particular magisterial authority due to his title ... dioceses are not branches of the secretariate of a bishops conference either, nor of the diocese whose bishop presides over the episcopal conference. This kind of attitude risks in fact the reawakening of a certain polarisation between the local Churches and the Church universal, out of date since the Vatican I and Vatican II councils. The Church is not a sum of national churches ... ".  

This continues the strong teaching Cardinal Mueller has given before; in 2013, for example, "the Roman Pontiff and the individual bishops are of divine right, instituted by Jesus Christ. ... But the patriarchates and episcopal conferences, historically and today, belong solely to human ecclesiastical right. The presidents of the episcopal conferences, although important, are coordinators, nothing more, not some vicepopes! Every bishop has a direct and immediate relationship with the Pope. We cannot have a decentralisation in the conferences; there would be the danger of a new centralism, with the presidency that has all the information and the bishops submerged in documents without the time to get ready ..." 

And the same erudite Cardinal repeated the same teaching in a 2017 book-interview. 

For some reason, there seems at the moment to be a great appetite for sound teaching. 


Joshua said...

Some years ago, the then President of the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference received a friendly invitation to an ecumenical function from some separated brethren, addressing him as head of the Catholic Church in Australia. To gently point out their understandable mistake, he replied that, while he was indeed "President" - that is, more or less, chairman only - of the ACBC, "We Catholics believe that the Head of our Church is Jesus Christ". I believe the Bishop of Rome, far from being some sort of demigod or tinpot dictator, is Vicar of the same.

motuproprio said...

Insuper Archiepiscopo
Westmonasteriensi pro tempore exsistenti novae quaedam
accèdent ad regiminis actionisque unitatem servandam
praerogativae quae tribus hisce capitibus continentur, nempe:
1.° Praeses ipse erit perpetuus collationum episcopalium
totius Angliae et Cambriae; ob eamque rem ipsius erit conventus
indicere eisque praeesse iuxta normas in Italia et
alibi vigentes; 2.° Primo gaudebit loco super aliis duobus
Archiepiscopis nec non pallii et cathedrae usu atque praeferendae
crucis privilegio in universa Anglia et Cambria; 8.° denique
totius Ordinis Episcoporum Angliae et Cambriae regionis
personam ipse geret coram suprema civili potestate, semper
tamen auditis omnibus Episcopis quorum maioris partis
sententias sequi debet. Birmingamiensis autem et Liverpolitanus
Archiepiscopi iisdem prorsus gaudebunt privilegiis et iuribus,
quibus in catholica ecclesia coeteri Metropolitam pollent. (AAS Annus III. - Vol. III. Die 10 Novembris 1911. Num. 15. p554 "Si qua".

Unknown said...

To complicate the matter still further, in E & W there has been a tendency for the bishop's conference to mirror modern democratic governments and acquire ministerial portfolios for each "member". The emeritus bishop of Lancaster questioned this unhealthy development in his excellent "Fit for Mission" document. This reached absurd proportions during the last papal conclave when Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor acted as some sort of foreign secretary or "minister without portfolio" on behalf of the conference. This has got to stop.

Oliver Nicholson said...

I seem to recall that Eadmer in the Historia Novorum records Urban II at the Council of Bari which welcomed the relics of S. Nicholas from Myra, describing S. Anselm ABC as "alterius orbis papa". Is this the earliest use of the term ?

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Mary Ball Martinez, “Undermining the Catholic Church” observed about ecclesiology:

Pope Pacelli ’s encyclical (Mystici Corporis) gave rise
to a new intellectual discipline, ecclesiology. The word
“ecclesiology” which until 1943 meant the study of church
architecture and archeology, was now adopted to mean a
study of how the Church looks at Herself.
For more than
nineteen hundred years there had been no name for such a
study because there had been no such study. The Roman
Catholic Church knew what it was, so did the hierarchy, the
clergy and the faithful. Suddenly confronted with the new
image indicated in the encyclical, it seemed urgent to
question what it was the Church really thought Herself to
be. Overnight a new kind of theologian, the ecclesiologist,
had to be invented and installed in seminaries, universities
and on editorial staffs of Catholic publications.
Very soon these scholars found they had more than
enough to do. The abrupt transition from Perfect Society to
Mystical Body turned out to be only the beginning.

ABS laments the Barque of Peter cutting loose the anchor of a Perfect Society for without it the Barque is never allowed to be stable and at rest for any moment in time, whereas it was taught an error to not consider her a perfect society as limned in Denzingers:

1719 19. The Church is not a true and perfect society absolutely free, nor does it operate by its own fixed and proper rights conferred on it by its divine founder; but it belongs to the civil power to define which are the rights of the Church, and the limits within which it may exercise these rights

Colin Spinks said...

Thanks for this Father. I find myself shouting at the wireless when the BBC describes Cardinal Vincent Nichols as the "leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales". I have to be scraped off the wall when either he or the Archbishop of Canterbury is described as "head of the Catholic Church in England/Church of England". I believe the last person to inherit the title "Head of the Church of England" was Mary Tudor, who immediately relinquished it.

Fr PJM said...

Dear ABS: one of the two perfect societies on earth, the Catholic Church, is, the Faith teaches us, a supernatural reality: the Mystical Body of Christ. So, the Mystical Body of Christ and the Catholic and Roman Church are "one and the same thing". Will this do?

Pastor in Monte said...

As you comment, Father, 1911 would have been the perfect time to have established Westminster as a Primatial See. But that would have meant giving such a position to Francis Bourne who was at the time in considerable disfavour in Rome (especially with the Sec. of State, Merry del Val) as being not sufficiently (i.e. suspiciously not) zealous in pursuing modernists such as Von Huegel. Bourne's famous dispute with the Bishop of Southwark, Peter Amigo, was at that point at its highest pitch, and Amigo consistently had important friends in Rome, something that Bourne lacked. Bourne was granted the red hat, but only because not doing so would have been scandalous as he had already been kept waiting a very long time for it.