Pope Francis has formed a committee of eight (possibly nine) cardinals to advise him on governing the Church, especially in reform of the Curia, the Vatican bureaucracy.
Cardinal Sean Patrick O'Malley of
Boston is one of the reformers. He has asked
US bishops for their recommendations, and some of the bishops have asked
members of their dioceses for suggestions.
One strong recommendation I hope to see echoes the proposal made at the Second Vatican Council by a patriarch of the Melkite Rite, Maximos IV Saigh.
He recommended the formation of a small group of bishops who would serve on a rotating basis, selected from around the world, as an advisory board for the pope, but also as a committee which would oversee the Curia. The bishops would direct the Curia!
He was responding to the idea that the bishops form a college which carries on the office of the college of apostles.
The New Testament shows that the early Church thought of the apostles, not just Peter, as the authority in the Church. Paul went to
Jerusalem to consult with
the apostles and presbyters to settle the issue about whether Gentile
converts to Christ had to practice Jewish customs.
Over time Church authority came to be identified with the bishop of
and the exercise of that authority was centralized in one man. At Vatican II
the bishops wanted to reclaim as a college the authority exercised by the
college of apostles. Some members of the Curia were not happy about that idea
and worked very hard to derail any such suggestion.
Historian Father John O'Malley believes that collegiality was one of the "issues under the issues" at Vatican II. He meant that many of the discussions about directives and changes in various areas of Church life often came back to who had authority.
For example, who is in charge of the language in which a given nation worships? Does the pope (Curia) decide the vernacular or does the local conference of bishops? Vatican II decided the bishops had the authority. The
bishops, however, seemed to release that authority when the Curia objected to a
proposed English translation of the Roman Missal and insisted on the Curia's
Pope Paul VI offered the bishops a compromise over the collegiality issue when he called for the Synod of Bishops, a collegial body of advisers who, the pope said, would have the task of informing and advising. And, he went on, "It may also have deliberative power when such power is given it by the Sovereign Pontiff."
As retired bishop of San Francisco John R. Quinn noted in his recent book Ever Ancient, Ever New, "In fact, no synod to date has been given deliberative power, and (as a consequence) the synods held since Vatican II have not been a sharing by the bishops in the government of the universal Church but are rather a way for bishops to collaborate with the pope in his primatial function. What large numbers of the bishops at Vatican II desired was a means whereby they would share, as successors of the apostles, with the pope in the government of the universal Church."
A second recommendation for the committee of eight would be to effect a concerted effort to see that the personnel of all the offices of the Curia truly represent the Church's world-wide, multi-cultural membership.
Theologian Yves Congar noted decades ago that the immense diversity of the Church and the broader trends of the world require wide representation in the central office if it is to be an effective leader.
Congar went on to say that "we need to see development beyond a merely 'diplomatic representation,' going beyond simply personnel who are international by origin but still purely Roman by mentality; there needs to be at the heart of the Church a representation of the problems.
"Being out of touch, even a little, with living contact at the base or at the periphery is always dangerous for those in charge...What we are talking about here is not, properly speaking, decentralization, but rather the question of avoiding the danger of isolation."
And a third recommendation is the development of a vehicle for the advice of lay men and women in the administration of the Church.
The active participation of the laity in the liturgy should spill over into the active involvement of the laity in the running of the Church. Just as the Curia is subject to papal primacy, so lay involvement does not threaten the essential hierarchical structure of the Church.
If the Church is the people of God then the people of God ought to have some say in the Church.
While the implementation of these three recommendations may strike fear in the hearts of some members of the Church, the three are fully in keeping with the direction set by Vatican II. Those who oppose the style of Pope Francis with his emphasis on a pastoral Church may have to re-think the essence of Church and the style of the Master.