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Reform the Papacy?

John R. Quinn, The Reform of the Papacy: The Costly Call to Christian Unity, Ut Unum Sint: Studies on Papal Primacy. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1999 pp. 189, $19.95 U.S

Archbishop Quinn notes that a deep, at times exaggerated, respect for the papacy has made it difficult for Catholics to criticize the popes, for even the most outrageous of them were successors to Peter. We harbour similar feelings for our bishops who, even at their most outrageous, are successors to the Apostles. Nevertheless, emboldened by Archbishop Quinn's example, one may be critical as well as appreciative of The Reform of the Papacy. Consider his advocacy of the first thousand years of the Christian era, the time before the mediaeval papacy made fully explicit its role as centre of the Church. "The first millennium" is continually resorted to as a model for the reform referred to in his title. On page 32 he even converts John Paul II's appeal to Orthodoxy's allegiance to that period into an implicit rejection of the Catholicism of the Middle Ages: "For John Paul II ... it [the first millennium] is a model and a guide." The goal of the reform, as the title again indicates, is Christian unity. This he wo uld foster by restoring the full authority of the bishops which he sees as having been curtailed by the development of the Roman curia during the Middle Ages. How, he asks, can we attain communion with the Orthodox, Anglicans, or even Protestants, when the exercise of the papacy and the functioning of the curia implicitly deny the integrity of the local Church under its bishop and the right of bishops' conferences to legislate For the faithful of a region or a nation?

Vatican II Council of Reform?

In a way, it is the validity of mediaeval Catholicism that is the substance of the debate over the meaning of Pope John XXIII's programme of aggiornamento ("updating"). Many, including Archbishop Quinn, describe aggiornamento and its main instrument, the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), as a call to reform: "For Vatican II reform is not only necessary for the individual and for the Church as such, but it is crucial for any hope of Christian unity." In the following sentence he inserts his word "reform" into the Council's call to renewal: "Such renewal (reform) has noble ecumenical importance" (p. 38). He even describes pre-conciliar developments in liturgy, scriptural studies, and lay movements as "reform movements of the twentieth century." To do so is to be unfaithful to John XXIII and Vatican II. The Popes and Bishops of the Council saw the Church of 1960, with all its mediaeval trappings, as strong and healthy. It was the world that was sick, in dire need of the remedy only the Church could fully provid e: the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The agenda, therefore, was not reformation but reformulation, not to clean house within the Church but to update her message in order to address a secularized world that could no longer comprehend the traditional categories of Catholic theology and practice. John Paul II has continued the work of the Council in his willingness to alter the cultural dress of many Catholic observances and to apologize for mistakes made by the Church in the past. His purpose, as stated in his great encyclical on ecumenism, Ut unum sint ("That they may be one"), is to make clear what is essential to the papacy and to the Church. He is sure that the truth of the Gospel, faithfully presented in Catholicism, will attract the sympathetic attention of Christians and of all men of good will.

Along with his problematic attitude towards the Middle Ages, there are two other false emphases in Archbishop Quinn's discussion.

The Unity of the Church

The first is the implication that unity is something the Church must achieve rather than something it has always had. For example, the Holy Father's statement, "The unity which the Lord has bestowed on his Church ..." becomes in the Archbishop's paraphrase, "The search for unity ..." (p. 17). He concludes by saying, "In the service of Christian unity, the Catholic Church will have to make significant structural, pastoral, and canonical changes" (p. 20), confirming this view with a quotation from Paolo Ricci, a Waldensian (i.e., Protestant) scholar: "it [the papacy] must change."

I describe this as an emphasis rather than a position because Archbishop Quinn unequivocally expresses his allegiance to the papacy as it is presented in the solemn teachings of the Church, including the First Vatican Council of 1869-70. But his unguarded language will raise unrealistic expectations in the likes of Ricci. It is, of course, quite correct that "significant" change is required if the papacy is to function as an effective centre for all Christians. The point at issue is which side will have to make the change. Given that Christ founded a visible Church which subsists in the Roman Catholic Church, it follows that other forms of Christianity are valid only insofar as they correspond with Catholicism. This fact is behind the Pope's campaign to repudiate error and to reformulate truths within the Church. Non-Catholics must not be put off from full union because of merely historical accretions. Indeed, some of Archbishop Quinn's suggestions about collegiality, the appointment of bishops, the curia, a nd the papacy itself are useful in this endeavour, as when he suggests alterations in the role and make-up of the College of Cardinals or in the Roman curia. But he should see the unity of the Church as a fact, not as something to be achieved only when the fears of non-Catholics are assuaged. Whatever he may think of the Middle Ages, they do demonstrate the full and effective unity of the Church. Quinn's invoking the Orthodox and Anglican methods of choosing bishops--albeit not without criticism--evokes the nightmare of the nationalized churches of Orthodoxy and the unruly independence of Anglican bishops.

Jurisdiction of the Pope

The second false emphasis concerns the jurisdiction of the Pope. As I mentioned in an earlier article in Catholic Insight ("The Primacy of Peter," Dec. 1999, pp 11-13), the Pope's powers all arise out of his assuring the unity of the Church. For a bishop to be in communion with Rome is for him to be in communion with all other Catholic bishops. Thus is the Church one throughout the world. Rome's ultimate say in the appointment of bishops and in the approval of liturgical texts is not primarily legalistic but precautionary. The ordination of an unsuitable candidate or the corruption of the liturgy would necessarily be rejected by Rome, leading ultimately either to acquiescence with the pope's decision or to a break in communion between him and a bishop. This is the pattern that obtained during that first millennium that Quinn so admires. It was a turbulent era when a readiness to excommunicate produced one crisis after another, leading to schisms such as Nestorianism (A.D. 431) and monophysitism (A.D. 451) th at continue to the present day.

It is not unfair to describe as romantic Quinn's selective admiration for that early period of the Church. While no Catholic would deny its richness and importance, it cannot be preserved or reinstated today. The revolution in communications alone, which Quinn himself adverts to (pp. 52 ff), means that the unity of the Church will be manifested by the actual contact of all bishops with Rome in a way that was impossible 1,000 years ago. To want more independence for local bishops and more authority for regional and national synods is laudable in theory, for bishops do have by their ordination authority over their dioceses. But we are no longer living in an age when communication was slow and publicity negligible. Both technology and the mass media require bishops to act in concert among themselves and with the Pope; in this regard the Church requires greater, not less, centralization if its actual unity is not to be lost. Another significant social change has occurred since A.D. 1000. Before that date it was t he whim of princes that threatened the functioning of the Church, local and universal. Rome, through the papacy, faced and largely overcame that danger in the course of the Middle Ages. The challenge to unity today is equally great, but of a different order: the relativism of a secularized culture which is continually, relentlessly promoted in the mass media. Again, Rome holds out hope for a unified stand against what must otherwise continue to fracture Christian denominations and weaken their collective witness.

This said, much of what Archbishop Quinn recommends is worthy of careful consideration. Any appeal that our bishops be more vigilant and active in preserving the deposit of faith entrusted to them and more aware of their responsibility for the unity of the universal Church is to be welcomed. But without a strong Roman centre, good will on the part of Catholic episcopacy and laity will not be proof against the forces in our society that deny and divide.

Daniel Callam, CSB, is Head of the Faculty of Theology at the University of Saint Thomas, Houston, TX, U.S.A.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Callam, Fr. Daniel
Publication:Catholic Insight
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 2000
Words:1529
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