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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Problems of Church Governance

The following was published after the death in 2011 of Jose Comblin who was one of Liberation Theology ideologues.
{Read more about him, click on Comblin }

IMWAC drew our attention to it as being relevant to what needs to happen for the Church to regain moral and social credibility at this opportune time.

Problems of Church Governance [1]

José Comblin
 “I hear the solicitation addressed to me to find a way of exercising the primacy which, without renouncing at all to what is essential in its mission, is open to a new situation.
John Paul II, Ut unum sint, 1995, no. 95
 In his encyclical Ut unum sint Pope John Paul II referred to a fundamental problem which he was quite conscious of.  Paul VI had already manifested his concern.  But nothing came of those concerns which nowadays are concerns of the entire Church.  The central government of the Church doesn’t work well.  Instead of adapting the Church to today’s world, it paralyses the Church in her past.  Many things in the Church should be reformed to answer the needs of the times.  But the government machine impedes all change.  The system impedes change.  Nobody has the power to make decisions.  The pope has no means to make the necessary decisions.  Here are some expressions of that system of governance.
  1. The Election of the Pope
First the electors.  The current system was created when the pope would seldom intervene outside the diocese of Rome and the neighboring dioceses.  The cardinals were the clergy of Rome and the neighboring towns.  Today the pope decides everything that happens in the whole world and is responsible for the administration with thousands of civil servants.  The pope should be elected by a representation of all the continents.  The cardinals don’t even represent the churches of their countries because they were chosen by the pope himself and don’t represent any church in particular.  If the pope were elected by a true representation of the universal church, he would have a greater force to support him against the power of the Curia.  Now he depends on the Curia.  If elected by the Church he could appeal to the weight of the Church against the weight of the central administration.  The presidents of the bishops’ conferences for instance would have a more representative character.  Furthermore many cardinals are civil servants of the Curia and do not represent any Church because they are administrative servants. 
In the second place the way a pope is elected.  There are two kinds of electors.  There are the Curia cardinals.  They know each other and they form secret circles.  They are the ones who get involved in intrigues to prepare an election.  They form parties and operate off scene so that their party can win.  What happened in the last elections is a case in point.  Then there are the cardinals from outside.  They don’t know each other.  They arrive at the conclave and don’t know each other.  They don’t know what intrigues that the Curia cardinals (with their advisors!) are preparing.  In each country the bishops’ national conference exhorts Catholics to know well the candidates and their programs in such a way that they can vote consciously.  But the cardinals don’t have the means to vote consciously because they know neither the candidates nor their programs.  After the election of John Paul II we asked Cardinal Silva of Santiago, Chile why he had voted for the Polish cardinal.  He said: “We didn’t know him, but they told us he was a good candidate, and so we voted for him.”  If a parishioner explained their vote to their priest that way, the latter would tell him or her that that isn’t a vote from a conscious citizen.  We know who said that it was a good candidate.  It was Cardinal Koenig, archbishop of Vienna in Austria.  Koenig was largely famous as a man of great intellectual projection and great international prestige.  But he had strong links to Opus Dei which had made a very active electoral campaign.  We know it was him because he himself said so before he died and said he was quite repentant for having  done so.  Cardinal Silva did not know that the Polish cardinal was an adversary of the Second Vatican Council.
The electors should have time to get acquainted with each other and know which candidates are presented by colleagues and what the candidates’ programs are.  If this is demanded through common elections, one could think that in the Church this demand of natural law is more forcefully valid.  What happens in practice is that the cardinals make a vote of confidence – which is exactly what is denounced in all political elections.  The voter doesn’t know what his candidate wants.  Fortunately the Catholic people don’t know how that election is carried out because they would be ashamed.  I understand the bishops keep silent on the matter.  But this situation cannot continue.  The worst thing is that when it is said that who decides the election is the Holy Spirit, one knows quite well what happened and there was no moment of revelation from the Holy Spirit.  Why trick Catholics as if all of them were childish? 
2 – Decentralization 
A centralized administration inevitably intends to defend its powers and increase them.  What a central administration looks for is, in the first place, its own welfare, that is, the increase of its power to make more laws, more obligations, more forms, more printed paper, more demands.  In the Church it is not different.  What the administration looks for is more power.  The welfare of the Church is a pretext.  That’s part of human nature, and, if all the workers at the Curia were saints, the problem would persist.  It would be worse because if they were more saintly, they would want to work yet more and demand even more impositions.  The principle of subsidiarity is valid for all human beings and when a priest or a bishop is ordained, his human nature doesn’t change.  He must decentralize the nominations of bishops, canon law, the liturgy, the education of the clergy, the organization of teaching, the works of charity and other works.  All can be organized for example on each continent in each cultural totality.  During the first centuries the Church was organized with patriarchates, which were cultural units.  The existence in Catholic orthodoxy of churches with diverse eastern rites shows that that can work quite well.  Present day centralization is the result of purely historical reasons.
The present system in the Church is the contribution of colonialism.  Having arrived in Puebla, John Paul condemned the grass roots communities, condemned the Biblical movement, condemned Latin American theology.  Result: in 30 years, in Brazil alone 30 million Catholics left the Catholic Church to adhere to Pentecostal or Neo-pentecostal movements, which was a consequence of the imposed pastoral.  The Pope listened to some advisors who had very clear political intentions.  He didn’t try to find out anything else by going to more representative instances.  He thought the problem was communism and he had the possibility of getting different information.  Some could have told him Latin America is not Poland or not even Europe.  There we knew what was going to happen but we could do nothing.  Cardinal Aloisio Lorscheider immediately felt everything and tried to fix things, but he didn’t have enough weight and did not enjoy the Pope’s confidence.

3. A system of government in which a single person decides everything without public debate and a deliberative instance is called a dictatorship.  A system in which all true motivations of governing decisions are hidden certainly is not correspondent to the demands of natural law.  Citizens have the right to know what the fundaments of the decisions which are taken are.  For example, when Paul VI condemned the use of artificial anticonceptional means, it wasn’t known that most of the cardinals consulted didn’t agree, that the commission nominated by the Pope to study the subject also disagreed.  I remember quite well how I heard the comments of Cardinal Suenens, who was my bishop.  Very well.  One generation later the Council for the Family sends the bishops a communiqué which says that questions should no longer be asked to women penitents on their practice of birth control.  If one cannot ask questions it is because such behavior should not be considered a sin.  Alfonso López Trujillo himself had to secretly communicate that revocation implicit in the encyclical Humanae Vitae.  But why was that not said publicly?  Most Catholics still ignore it although they don’t accept the condemnation.  Catholics don’t know the methods of the Roman Curia.  They don’t know that the revocation of a previous order is never published.  But it is said that the confessor should not question his penitents.  Until the papacy of Benedict XIV in the seventeenth century the condemnation of interest had never been revoked, which meant Catholics could not work in banks.  But the Pope then told the confessors they should no longer ask the penitents questions.  Why wasn’t it said that the authority had now changed?  Why couldn’t women know that the Church no longer condemned artificial means of birth control?   Many of them still believe the Church still condemns them and treats them as sinners.  These are practices of dictatorships.  In a dictatorship the government is never wrong.  It never recognizes that a mistake was committed.  In the Church that is recognized only four centuries later.  If there were deliberating bodies, many mistakes due to precipitation and thus creating the difficulty of recognizing them later could be avoided.   
If reforms don’t occur, no other pastoral reform will be possible.  Everything depends on the center, all depends on the role of the pope.  Pope Pius X was a saint.  He made colossal mistakes on Biblical matters which explain a large part of present day problems of the Church in today’s world!  The problem is that the pope is also a man and has the same limitations of human nature.  Human wisdom has learned how to build systems of government adapted to the human condition.  Jesus did not define any system of government.  And we are no longer in the days of Gregory VII.  The problem is that everything depends on one single person!  Reforms can be postponed for centuries if a pope who makes the decision to change the ministry of Peter does not appear.  In principle he would have to be a younger man.  It’s time to do away with the prejudice that it is better to have an aged man so he won’t be in charge for too long.  But there’s another way: the pope could apply to himself the norm given to the bishops.  In the past human beings lived for a short time, on an average for 30 years.  It isn’t normal that so complex an institution be directed by a man over 80.
So many people in the Church think this way!  Perhaps they are wiser than I thinking that anyway nothing will change and it is better to conform than to spend energy on a cause already lost.  What consoles me is that I’m not alone.  There are already many people who are writing these things.  
Translated from the original Portuguese by José Brendan Macdonald
[1] Considerations published on the site of the Conferência Nacional dos Bispos do Brasil in March 2011 shortly after the author’s death.

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