Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Limits of the Competance of Bishops (and of the Authority of the Universal Church)

So the news is in that "That Petition" did receive attention at the recent meeting of the Bishops' Conference. And we have a formal response, which can be viewed in facsimile on the Catholica Australia website here.

The significant clause is at the very end (as it often is in communications of this nature), namely that "those aspects of Church life that are within our competancy as a Conference of Bishops in the Universal Church" will continue to be discussed at future plenary meetings.

Catholica reports that
Dr Collins said that "from the outset the organisers appreciated that the issues the petition was asking the bishops to discuss were not all necessarily within the competency of the Bishops' Conference to make decisions about. Nevertheless," he said, "we believed it might be within the competency of the bishops either collectively or individually to convey their opinions on some of these issues to the authorities in the institutional Church which do have the competency to take the matters further".
We believe that Dr Collins has missed something here. It is not the Bishops only who are limited in their "competance" to take some of the actions for which the Petition calls, but the Universal Church (what Dr Collins calls "the insitutional Church") is also limited. It is repeated so often that you think Dr Collins would have it by heart now:
"Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful." Pope John Paul II.


(A penny for your thoughts, Archbishop Wilson...)

14 Comments:

At Thursday, December 06, 2007 3:40:00 pm , Anonymous Mike said...

I think Mr Collins is making a bit of a big deal of the response. It seems to me to be little more than "Thankyou for you letter. Please rest assured that we take your concerns seriously".

It reminds me of when Pope Benedict was elected, and Collins started cheering that we finally had a decent pope - very unlike JP2, and not nearly as conservative as people thought.


I don't know whether he's trying to set people up for disappointment (to get them fired up, perhaps), or whether he's trying to evangelise the "middle ground" by showing that his view of the Church is not dying out.

 
At Thursday, December 06, 2007 5:24:00 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

. . . We believe that Dr Collins has missed something here. It is not the Bishops only who are limited in their "competance" to take some of the actions for which the Petition calls, but the Universal Church (what Dr Collins calls "the insitutional Church") is also limited. It is repeated so often that you think Dr Collins would have it by heart now:

"Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful." Pope John Paul II.


David, I believe that you may have missed something here, which is that Dr Collins spoke of the bishops conveying their opinions “on some of these issues to the authorities in the institutional Church which do have the competency to take the matters further.” Now, what do you think he might possibly mean by using the word “some” there? Could it be that he is actually aware that there are some things the bishops will not be suggesting to Rome?

Pause for a moment and admit that the extreme likelihood is that Dr Collins is perfectly well aware of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, and of what it says. Why, then, the persistent conceit of pretending that he might be unaware of it, or might somehow have overlooked it? Because such a conceit is necessary to maintain the stance that (a) the petition is solely or primarily about the ordination of women, and (b) the petition demands the ordination of women, neither of which are actually true.

And why is it necessary or desirable to maintain this stance? Well, you’re probably better positioned to answer that question than I am, but it does look suspiciously like a device to marginalise and trivialise the petition, and so avoid addressing the issues that it raises.

The bishops don’t have that luxury; they have to face the issues raised by the petition. They would be facing them even if the petition hadn’t raised them, as the letter from Dr Wilson points out.

Yes, those who are so minded can focus entirely on the reference to women’s ordination, choose to blind themselves to everything else, launch – and then, apparently, abandon – a counter-petition focussing on this issue, and generally hyperventilate themselves into irrelevance. (For all I know, the women’s ordination reference was included precisely in order to create a blind alley for such people to run down.)

In the meantime, it’s the Collins/Purcell petition which actually gets tabled at the bishops’ conference, it’s the Collins/Purcell petition which gets discussed, it’s the Collins/Purcell petition which actually has some prospect of influencing the discourse on the issues that it addresses.

And what this suggests to me is that, notwithstanding the parameters set by Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, the Collins/Purcell petition and the people behind it are closer to where the bishops are than the people who are having the screaming habdabs because the words “women” and “ordination” were mentioned in the same sentence. So, far from marginalising the Collins/Purcell petition, such people have marginalised themselves, effectively abandoning an opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to the discourse on the issues that the bishops are addressing.

Peregrinus

 
At Friday, December 07, 2007 9:16:00 am , Blogger Schütz said...

Well, of course, Peregrinus. All you say is quite true, I admit it.

BUT I think that thou dost protest too much. You seem to be apologising for the fact--or trying to sideline the fact--that the petition mentioned women's ordination at all. As if it wasn't important to the over all petition. A mere side issue that might be interesting.

Come on, old boy. If all this is true, WHY did the petitioners even bother to include a reference to women's ordination, hmmm? Would it not have been far more effective to concentrate only on what is possible within the limits of the Church's competancy and authority?

The petitioners had the opportunity to align their cause with faithfulness to the Church's teaching on the priesthood, and petitioning for married priests et al--without in any way impinging upon this teaching.

Instead they blew it by not only including the reference to women's ordination, but devoting a considerable amount of time at "that meeting" to the discussion.

Which clearly demonstrates for all to see that the whole petition was simply an exercise in dissension.

Sorry, old boy, but we keep on screaming "habdabs" because we can see the petition for what it is. So can the bishops. They're not stupid. Its just the way they dress them in the mornings.

 
At Friday, December 07, 2007 12:45:00 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

“BUT I think that thou dost protest too much. You seem to be apologising for the fact--or trying to sideline the fact--that the petition mentioned women's ordination at all. As if it wasn't important to the over all petition. A mere side issue that might be interesting.

Come on, old boy. If all this is true, WHY did the petitioners even bother to include a reference to women's ordination, hmmm? Would it not have been far more effective to concentrate only on what is possible within the limits of the Church's competancy and authority?”


Fair question.

I wasn’t at all involved in drafting or planning the petition, and I don’t know anyone who was. So all the following is purest speculation.

But I’d guess that quite a lot of thought went into whether this reference ought to be included or not, and that the option of not including it was seriously considered. The disadvantages of including it are obvious, not just to you and me but to Dr Collins and Mr Purcell.

So why was it included?

We can dismiss the possibility that it was included with any kind of serious hope that it would lead the Australian bishops to ordain 4women, or to call for the ordination of women.

Let’s turn the question around. What were the foreseeable effects of including it? We can identify a couple

The predictable reaction of the counter-petition crowd. I don’t think this would have been seen as a big negative, since the counter-petition crowd were never going to be won over in the first place. The petition wasn’t, I would guess, really aimed at winning that constituency over.

It was a risk, though. There could have been a large groundswell of opposition to the petition because of the women’s ordination reference.

In the event this was worked out quite well for the petitioners; the counter-petition crowd really have, as I said, gone down a blind alley on this. Had the petition not mentioned women’s ordination, there probably would have been no counter-petition, and the strength and depth of opposing or unenthusiastic views would have been hard to gauge. As it is, despite the obviously problematic nature of any positive reference to women’s ordination, the counter-petition has really fizzled, and the promoters have demonstrated their ineffectiveness, irrelevance and lack of realism (in calling for a purge of Catholic institutions). I doubt if this was part of the planning behind the Collins/Purcell petition, but from their point of view it’s a very happy outcome.

Adverse reaction from the bishops. The bishops could have has a John XXIII Co-Operative moment and slammed the petition because of the women’s ordination reference but, fortunately, the church has a higher calibre of leadership. There was always going to be some negative element to their response because of the women’s ordination reference and, right enough, there is. When the bishops talk about their competency as a conference of bishops “in the universal church”, we all know what that means. But, really, this is pretty restrained. I don’t think the organisers could have expected anything less, and they must have feared a great deal more.

Alienation of potential support. We know – because the organisers have said so – that a number of people signed the petition subject to an explicit reservation regarding women’s ordination. It’s a safe bet that a larger number of people declined to sign the petition, or declined to promote it or to allow it to be promoted in their parishes, organisations, etc, because of this reference. We don’t know how many signatures have been foregone because of this; I would guess quite a large number.

This was a risk the organizers evidently decided to run. Why? Possibly because, if the petition did do well despite this reference, it would be evidence of the seriousness with which many people view this issue, their willingness to countenance radical solutions, to at least think the unthinkable. Not everybody who signed the petition is necessarily a supporter of women’s ordination, or sees it as the central plank in any strategy designed to meet the challenges facing the church, but they are all people who are willing to see a discussion of it take place. What we’ve learned from this is that the number of people who are willing to face this issue is apparently much larger than the number of people who will run screaming from it. Both numbers, of course, are small compared to the total numbers of Catholics in the country, but the disparity in numbers does suggest that the church at the level of the pews is more ready for radical thought and radical action than might otherwise be supposed.

In other words, I am suggesting that the women’s ordination reference was included because the organisers wanted a petition with something difficult, something challenging, something radical; the wanted a petition which would succeed despite this. They wanted this partly to convey the fact that people appreciate the seriousness of the challenge facing the church, and want their pastors to consider radical steps to meet it, and partly to provide some support for those bishops who are considering leading their churches in more radical directions that, yes, your churches are not scared of radicalism.

The radical directions in which bishops move might not actually be towards women’s ordination, of course, but if there is an appetite to at least countenance that as a possibility, that opens up space for other radical or challenging possibilities to be considered.

Don’t get me wrong; no doubt many, and perhaps most, of those who promoted or signed the petition do actually want to see women’s ordination, and would welcome it if it happened. But I doubt that they expect to see it, or that the petition will be seen as succeeding or failing according to whether it brings it about.

Peregrinus

 
At Friday, December 07, 2007 3:03:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Well, if they wanted something REALLY radical, they could do no better than Fr Kolvenbach's comment as I have reported it in a new entry today. Ie. Boiling point religion, rather than luke-warm mash.

 
At Friday, December 07, 2007 4:05:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

A fair point. But there is no inconsistency between "boiling point religion" and radical openness; we are not forced to choose between them. And a "motherhood and apple pie" petition, which sought to avoid anything that might challenge or upset any sector of the church, would hardly have been a recipe for "boiling point religion".

 
At Sunday, December 09, 2007 4:19:00 am , Blogger William Tighe said...

Why should any Catholic pay attention to a petition which clearly demonstrates that its framers are unable or unwilling to distinguish between "radical or challenging possibilities" and "heresies or impossibilities," as the inclusion of WO this petition manifests? The only answer that they deserve is "possibly you will be happier as Anglicans."

 
At Sunday, December 09, 2007 12:19:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...

It's all about community. Since community now comes first, it is the community which defines its belief which may grow and change over time -- or so it was explained to me in the post conciliar part of my Catholic education. One is Catholic because one identifies with the Catholic community, not necessarily believes Catholicism, which itself is a fluid concept variously defined over time by the Catholic community. As with WO, so with anything else -- the Resurrection itself was the illustration used in class, where the Catholic who believes "Jesus rose from the dead" means Jesus rose from the dead and the Catholic who believes "Jesus rose from the dead" is an expression appropriate to its time and culture of his continuing overwhelming significance both validly profess Jesus rose from the dead as an article of faith and both are Catholic.

I don't buy it, just offer it as an explanation of how fundamental disagreement with the Catholic faith as currently and/or heretofore expressed would not in the least suggest identification with another community or incompatibility with the Catholic community. Post council, of course.

 
At Wednesday, December 12, 2007 3:44:00 am , Anonymous Christine said...

or so it was explained to me in the post conciliar part of my Catholic education. One is Catholic because one identifies with the Catholic community, not necessarily believes Catholicism, which itself is a fluid concept variously defined over time by the Catholic community.

I don't doubt for a minute that that's what you were told. If I had heard that in 1997 when I was beginning my trek at my local parish I would have turned right around and gone home.

I've noticed several parishes in my area are including educational columns in the parish bulletins concerning liturgy, patristics, Church history and the Good News (yes, that's what they call it) of our redemption in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and what it means for us as Catholic Christians.

The communal aspect of Catholicism is also included but not in the way it was described to to you, but as the Body of which Christ alone is the Head.

My Catholic/Lutheran upbringing gave me enough critical tools that even back when I was still Lutheran and single I would have been equipped enough to refute anyone spouting that nonsense.

And yes, referring to the petitioners they would definitely be happier as Anglicans. Our local Episcopal diocese is well stocked with former leftist Catholics who couldn't change their parishes/diocese in the way they wanted (did I hear that an Episcopal diocese in California has now officially split from TEC?)

 
At Wednesday, December 12, 2007 9:08:00 am , Blogger Past Elder said...

What? Refute?? OMG??? Tell priests peaching at Mass, religion teachers in class in Catholic schools, and professors in pre-sem approved classes at a Catholic university that what they are teaching and doing is contrary to real Catholicism? Geez, who am I to tell the Catholic Church what Catholicism is, just like the SSPX?

What I missed for years is it really doesn't matter whether the traditionalist Catholics, the petitioner liberal Vatican II Catholics or the counter petitioner conservative Vatican II Catholics have the true Catholicism. The ugly truth is, the Catholic Church believes only in itself and teaches only what of the faith of Christ it identfies with itself so you may do as you please as long as you do not renounce it and leave.

Truly the Whore of Babylon.

Yes you read right about the Episcopal Diocese in California. I posted about it on my blog. The church hierarchy used all the language all to familiar from Rome to have its revisionism accepted as legitimate. No doubt the Whore of Babylon will one day be restored to union with its separated bretheren in the, to modify a phrase, brothelial unions.

 
At Wednesday, December 12, 2007 12:01:00 pm , Blogger Peter said...

David, I think it's a standard negotiating tactic. You ask for much more thanyou know is likely to be granted so that your opponents will actually grant you something you actually aimed for, while thinking themselves clever for having beat you down from your most absurd position.

 
At Thursday, December 13, 2007 2:01:00 am , Anonymous Christine said...

What? Refute?? OMG??? Tell priests peaching at Mass, religion teachers in class in Catholic schools, and professors in pre-sem approved classes at a Catholic university that what they are teaching and doing is contrary to real Catholicism?

St. John's is not the whole Catholic universe. Time to get out of your time warp.

Rant on all you like, I love my Holy Mother the Catholic Church (and especially the wonderful Benedictines at my parish) and since we are simply going round and round about the same old same old I won't address this particular subject further since your experiences as a Catholic are not mine (with the exception of what I experienced growing up in very ueberkatolisch Bayern).

 
At Thursday, December 13, 2007 2:05:00 am , Anonymous Christine said...

Hmm, one more thing -- my brother-in-law was educated (this would have been in the 70's, I think) at our local Benedictine High School and received a very solid Catholic education. He had nothing but the highest regard for the Benedictines who taught him, as does my husband who from time to time stopped by at the Abbey when he was still actively employed. I'm so glad that my parish pastor is associated with that Abbey.

 
At Thursday, December 13, 2007 4:06:00 pm , Blogger Past Elder said...

Really, the only thing that saves the RCC from being pathetic is it is ludicrous.

Time warp? Read this blog, pick up a "Catholic" publication, stop by a parish and with hardly an exception it's 1968 again -- and again, and again, and again.

No one said St John's is the whole Catholic universe. Of the three opening phrases in the sentence you quoted, only the last refers to my experience there, four of my fifty seven years.

This blog, Bishop Denis, lionised elsewhere, etc represent a minority view within the "Catholic universe", which in reality is several parallel universes each claiming to be the true one and each sure the other(s) are dying out. Been like that for forty years. There's your time warp.

 

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