Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Last Renaissance Court

This article is really good:
Our pilgrim church, “at once holy and always in need of purification,” must constantly follow “the path of penance and renewal” (“Constitution on the Church,” No. 8). As in the United States eight years ago, in Ireland, Germany, India, and in Rome, steps are now being taken to institute strict accountability for the sexual abuse of minors. But direct efforts to correct and prevent abuse of minors are only the most obvious part of a larger healing needed in the church. The less obvious part is the reform of structures of church governance that turned a deaf ear for so long to the victims and repeatedly disparaged bishops who were seeking remedies to the problems haunting their dioceses. At all levels, right down to the parish, much of the church has proven deficient in its ability to listen and interact with adult believers. But at the center of the present crisis are found members of the Roman Curia.

The Latin word curia means both administration, as in a government apparatus, and court, as in a company of hangers-on whose life revolves around flattery and the favor of a ruler. Pope Benedict made a good start on responding to the Irish scandals, but that promising beginning was upended by the misguided statements of others in the Vatican. For weeks we witnessed the hard issues of sexual abuse being dodged while elderly and retired Curial officials, prodded by the press, made the red herring of Pope Benedict’s possible past mistakes the focus of their attention. Intelligent leadership was obscured by a black cloud of flattery. As it turned out, some of these same prelates stood at the very heart of the crisis, accepting payments from friends, like the disgraced Marcial Maciel, and offering high-level support to bishops for stonewalling civil authorities. What appeared to be vigorous emotional support for the pope turned out to be smokescreens for their own unconscionable actions. In those trying weeks, we witnessed the Vatican at its worst—as the last Renaissance court.

Beyond taking responsibility for the crisis of sexual abuse of minors by clerics, the renewal of the church must include the reform of the Roman Curia proposed by the Second Vatican Council and begun by Pope Paul VI. The interpersonal and institutional practices that blocked proper handling of abuse cases must be rooted out. Many American bishops can testify to their frustration in their attempts to get support from Vatican offices for disciplining offenders. Along with the victims, many bishops have suffered because of this. Favoritism and personal influence can never be wholly eliminated, but they can be held in check. Institutional reform is not the most elevated religious activity, but it is religiously necessary; and it is precisely the kind of endeavor for which God blesses us with the gift of wisdom.

To begin with, a system that effectively grants favored individuals virtual life-tenure as heads of offices must be ended. There must be term limits for senior officials and rotation back to regular pastoral roles for secretaries and prefects of congregations, as there are for ministers in secular governments and for major religious superiors. (In 1967, Paul VI tried to set five-year terms, with the possibility of one renewal.) In addition, communication and interaction between Vatican offices need to be improved. Crises occur, we are told, because communication within the Vatican itself is “broken.” To stimulate the needed give-and-take will require overcoming a culture in which major offices function as baronies immune to influence from others. Interagency committees, protocols for inter-office consultation and coordination would help; but recruitment of personnel with listening skills and readiness to cooperate with others, not just their superiors, are equally necessary, as are leaders who encourage open communication both with their peers and their subordinates.

Likewise, two-way communications must open up between bishops and the Holy See. In an age of globalization, centralized church government has a special role to play, but overcentralization was a contributing factor to the dysfunction that has prolonged this crisis for more than two decades. Curial officials expected deference and bishops gave it. Centralization will be healthy only insofar as there is genuine subsidiarity within the church, with dioceses and bishops’ conferences able to carry on their pastoral activities without undue intrusion from favored cliques and individuals in Rome.

Finally, the council called for laymen and laywomen to be given greater voice and to take greater part in church affairs. Diocesan pastoral councils, presbyteral councils and parish councils must have a say in the running of their local communities. Pastors or bishops who dissolve them or refuse to work with them regularly should be regarded as delinquent. For the good of the whole church, the faithful need to be heard and fully engaged in local church life. Bishops and people, priests and people must act as the one body of Christ.


sortacatholic said...

I'm going to take the reforms of the America editors a few steps further. Term limits alone won't stem the issue of favoritism. There needs to be more checks and balances in Vatican administration.

Certainly the Curia should have term limits. I'd grant one optional one to two year term extension for curial officials during "interregnum". Any member of the episcopate could serve in the Curia, not just cardinals.

Pope Paul VI successfully transitioned the papacy from a temporal kingdom to a spiritual see during Vatican II. The next step is the reform of the papal court into a quasi-constitutional monarchy. In brief, this is how it could work.

The Pope would hold a role similar to a modern European monarch, albeit with a greater degree of executive power since the Vatican is not a democracy. Spiritually his role would not change. He could still invoke infallibility, author encyclicals and motu proprio, and call and dissolve councils. He would maintain his titles.

A lower "House of Bishops" should be elected by the entire episcopate. This body would serve as the House of Commons to the Curial House of Lords. Direct election among bishops is possible in the Internet age. Episcopal legislators would reside in Rome for their term.

The Pope would lose some control of the Curia in two respects: money bills and absolute power over Curial appointments. All money bills would be in the hands of the lower house in consultation with the Curia. The Pope would have no veto over money bills. The lower house could veto Curial appointments for just cause, i.e. the appointment committed a legal crime or failed to administrate a diocese justly. The Pope could petition the lower house to extend a Curial term, but his petition could be refused. Like the House of Lords, the Pope and Curia would have only two vetoes against the lower house.

Every year the Pope would offer a throne speech to a joint session of the House of Bishops and the Curia. Similar to Parliament, the throne speech will be authored jointly by the two houses and will outline the administrative goals of the year. The Papal throne speech will be televised live.

Sorry for the length. I'm going to get a lot of flak for this opinion. But a reform like this is desperately needed.

A Sinner said...

"Pope Paul VI successfully transitioned the papacy from a temporal kingdom to a spiritual see during Vatican II."

True. Though I have to question how much changing externals is really necessary.

As the Novus Ordo shows, just making a more "progressive/modern" liturgy...doesn't actually make the INSTITUTIONAL structures any less feudal or authoritarian.

Getting rid of the papal tiara and all the ceremony of the Papal Court...just makes the bureaucracy less whimsical, more mundane. It doesn't actually solve ANY of the intra-institutional political issues.

I think the British monarchy has struck a nice balance; keeping all the traditional ceremony and costume and rank, etc...without actually letting that represent any real practical political power.

I'd restore many features of the Papal Household and stuff for traditional ceremony's sake. I just wouldn't let them actually affect the politics of the Vatican.

"A lower 'House of Bishops' should be elected by the entire episcopate. This body would serve as the House of Commons to the Curial House of Lords. Direct election among bishops is possible in the Internet age. Episcopal legislators would reside in Rome for their term."

I don't know if it's really necessary to have a standing body or for the "legislators" to reside in Rome full time. This isn't Congress or Parliament...there frankly aren't that many issues to decide day to day. They could be Ordinaries of dioceses AND vote in a council or synod from time to time.

I think you might find satisfying the Synod model that Eastern churches use. Rome, after Vatican II, has tried to be more "collegial" by calling an occasional Synod...but the results have been unsatisfying.

I say look to the East.

"The Pope would have no veto over money bills."

The problem is...there is no way to actually limit him except by his own consent. He could simply change this structure any time he wanted.

Still, he could be PRESSURED to consent to something like this. For example, if the Orthodox ever reunite, the Pope isn't going to DARE meddle in the internal affairs of the East, even if he theoretically "could"...

Look to the Synods of the East for a balanced view.

You don't want to fall into the heresy of Conciliarism whereby a Council can over-rule a Pope or whereby a standing Council is established.

George said...

"Getting rid of the papal tiara and all the ceremony of the Papal Court...just makes the bureaucracy less whimsical"

ha! exactly. they should have worked on actually introducing democratization and accountability, not making the appearances less romantic. now its the worst of both worlds: ugly and corrupt.

in terms of 'pressuring' the pope to submit to some limits, even if he theoretically doesnt have them, i think sortacatholic is onto something with the 'pursestrings' idea.

it wouldnt have to be a body of bishops, but catholics are never going to submit to a mandatory tithe again, even if a pope did try to require it.

withholding donations is thus a powerful tool. and that could include not just individuals, but how much dioceses chose to give the vatican each year, perhaps instead of peters pence directly going to it.

bishops could express dissatisfaction with the vatican by not giving money. if the pope tried to 'order' him, the bishop could simply order his people not to donate that year, and its hard to try to force a whole group of people to give when they dont want to and are not legally bound to. even if you do invoke 'pain of sin' many people just wouldnt buy that.