Today in Corriere della Sera there is an article about the Pope’s recent appointment of a bishop of an obscure diocese in Italy as interim Secretary of the Italian Bishops Conference (CEI). As top offices of the CEI lapse further into lame-duck state, the Roman Pontiff – who has traditionally made the appointments – provided an interim solution until the bishops start to vote for the new President, etc.
Big deal, you say. Right? There’s more.
The article in Corriere says that Pope Francis told outgoing President of the CEI, Angelo Card. Bagnasco (whom Francis did not confirm as a member of the Congregation for Bishops) that he needed a list of candidates for the secretary position, and he needed it quickly. Thus began a collegial process: the Pope asks advice, the bishops give advice. Bagnasco polled the Italian bishops for names, a list was created, bishops voted to sort out their top choices. Pope Francis was subsequently handed the list – he requested – of the candidates preferred by the bishops.
His Holiness chose Bishop Nunzio Galantino of the Diocese of Cassano allo Ionio in Calabria.
With due respect to His Excellency and this undoubtedly lovely place, Cassano allo Ionio is to Italy what Biloxi is to these USA, and an Italian’s first reaction to hearing His Excellency’s name is likely to be “Who?” Don’t get me wrong. Obscurity can be great! Obscurity can mean quality!
But obscurity aside, Corriere also says that of all the candidates, Bp. Galantino had only one vote from the bishops polled before the list was turned over to the Pope for his decision.
The Pope ran his finger down the list, bypassing the well-known from esteemed places and picked the guy at the very bottom. If this was indeed a terna, a list of three names, and if the guy the Pope picked had only one vote from the other bishops polled to create the terna, then the two others whom the Pope didn’t pick had a lot of votes.
The appointment of an interim secretary to a conference of bishops isn’t in itself a very big deal. The process of the selection is the big deal. It raises questions.
What happens when the Pope doesn’t agree with advice he requests from bishops?
What does the theory of collegiality suggest for how Popes make decisions?
Do you recall another occasion when a Pope set aside all the advice given by a panel he selected and went his own way?
What was it that Paul VI was subsequently pilloried for by liberals? He set aside collegiality.
What is a Pope to do? Is he supposed to give in and take the opinion of the bishops with whom he doesn’t agree? Is the Supreme Pontiff bound by collegiality? On the chess board of Church governance do “Bishops take Pope”?
To be clear, the answer is “NO!” The bishops do not bind the Pope. Liberals don’t like that, but even Vatican II made this clear. Sorry liberals… (not).
Another point. This is an interim appointment. QUAERITUR: When it is time for the bishops to elect a new Secretary, will the bishops vote in Papa Bergoglio’s interim choice or will they go with someone else?
Press this farther.
If, in a collegial process, the Vicar of Christ is not persuaded about something small, what role is collegiality to play when significant doctrinal, moral or liturgical issues are under discussion?
Some will argue that this appointment of the interim Secretary of the CEI is parva res. But if this is indicative of how Pope Francis intends to treat the advice he is given by bishops, I don’t think it is quite so parva as some will claim.
BOTTOM LINE: It doesn’t make any difference what liberals think about collegiality, or what you think about collegiality, or what I think about collegiality. What matters is what Pope Francis thinks about collegiality. Does anybody know?