"It is...Our will that Catholics should abstain from certain appellations which have recently been brought into use to distinguish one group of Catholics from another. They are to be avoided not only as 'profane novelties of words,' out of harmony with both truth and justice, but also because they give rise to great trouble and confusion among Catholics. Such is the nature of Catholicism that it does not admit of more or less, but must be held as a whole or as a whole rejected: 'This is the Catholic faith, which unless a man believe faithfully and firmly; he cannot be saved' (Athanasian Creed). There is no need of adding any qualifying terms to the profession of Catholicism: it is quite enough for each one to proclaim 'Christian is my name and Catholic my surname,' only let him endeavour to be in reality what he calls himself." -- Pope Benedict XV, Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum 24 (1914)

Monday, August 20, 2012

Vatican II's collegiality: has it helped the Church?

3rd Sunday of August:
12th Sunday after Pentecost

more on this topic by Fr. Basil Wrighton >

In the Rhine Flows into the Tiber, Fr. Wiltgen explains that the question of collegiality, which Karl Rahner judged the battle crucial for the agenda of the Rhine countries, was the most debated one. It was caused by the controversy over the interpretation of collegiality, which admitted of three meanings:

a. The traditional interpretation said that the bishops’ college exercised supreme authority by human and not divine right. Hence, the pope alone enjoyed supreme power by divine right and there was no dual power.

b. The most liberal interpretation considered that the subject of the supreme power was the college of bishops together with its head, the pope. The latter would be simply primus inter pares, bound in conscience to follow the decisions of the college as their head and representative. His function would be limited to playing the policeman to keep order among the other members, with a synarchic and no longer a monarchic power, according to a thesis condemned by the Church.[1]

c. The moderate liberal interpretation saw the pope as possessing supreme power by divine right and could use it freely, whereas the episcopal college was not always free to use it and depended on the pope, although it too held it by divine right.

The pope had left the drafters free rein, though warned several times over of their perverse intentions, until the day when one of the experts committed the supreme indiscretion of putting in writing the interpretation which the modernists planned to draw from the ambiguous passages once the Council had ended. This paper fell into the hands of the conservatives, who carried it to the pope. Pope Paul, finally understanding that he had been fooled, was greatly moved and wept.[2]

What could be done to rectify a text accepted by the Fathers but ambiguous and which laid waste to the divine constitution of the Church? The pope ordered an appendix to be included in a Nota explicativa praevia which excluded the heretical interpretation.[3] The Catholic doctrine had been saved, in extremis, at least as regards the constitution of the Church. Nonetheless, the addition of such a note will ever remain an eloquent testimony to the ambiguity of the conciliar texts.

Yet, despite all these clarifications, some ambiguity remains as to the subject of power in the Church.

In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power. The order of bishops… is also the subject [subjectum quoque] of supreme and full power over the universal Church, provided we understand this body together with its head the Roman Pontiff and never without this head.[4]

Here, what is object of controversy is the unicity of the ecclesiastical power defined at Vatican I “…to Peter alone, before the other apostles, whether individually or all together, was confided the true and proper primacy of jurisdiction by Christ.”[5] Although the text of Lumen Gentium appears rather innocuous, its ambiguity was officially recognized by Msgr. Pietro Parente, the Council relator of the theological commission whose role was to clarify the sense of the declaration.[6] In this text, the SSPX objects two things:

1. There is ambiguity as to the distinction of powers: The power given to Peter (Mt 16) and to His Apostles (Mt 18) of binding and loosing, although of the same nature, is not the same in order and extension. That of the Apostles is subordinate and restricted whereas Peter’s power alone is supreme and universal. Hence the power of bishops’ college is not on a par with that of the pope. Nor can we say that when together, it is another subject properly speaking because, when the body of the bishops is joined to the pope as subject of the universal supreme power, this subject is only materially distinct from the pope alone, but formally identical to the him as subject of the primacy.

2. There is ambiguity as to as to the unicity of the subject of the Primacy: Although the Nota Praevia clarifies that the pope alone can have an autonomous power, it does not take away the ambiguity of Lumen Gentium as to his exercise when he acts with the episcopal college. What prevents the understanding of these texts in the ‘moderate liberal’ sense - stating that the pope is theconditio sine qua non, authorizing the exercise of full powers - and yet, acting as the chairman simply consenting to the college decisions? This would constitute primo et per se, that is formally, a second subject of the primacy, besides the pope alone. This would create a breach in the divine constitution of the Church, leaving the door open to a ‘diarchy.’

Is it rash to say that these democratizing theories brought about the dismembering of personal episcopal power? Some texts of Vatican II raise doubts as to the effective exercise of this power along democratic lines:

It is often impossible, nowadays especially, for bishops to exercise their office suitably and fruitfully unless they establish closer understanding and cooperation with other bishops.[7]

The bishops’ personal authority was henceforth torn between the authority of the pope and that of the powerful episcopal conferences, creating a situation which threatened to ruin the Church.

As an individual bishop I am absolutely powerless. Matters have been so arranged in the Church today, that an appeal by a bishop would be ridiculed as well as going unheard.[8] Almost all synods, diocesan or national, have tended to assert their independence and taken up ideas and made proposals at odds with the stated policy of the Holy See, requesting such things as the ordination of married men, and of women, Eucharistic communion with separated Christian brethren, and the admission of bigamous divorced people to the sacraments.[9]

What is most urgently needed is a pope who believes in his papal power.

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