McBrien: Pope does not have full authority in the Church

The National Catholic Fishwrap is still running down Pope Benedict and defending Bp. William Morris, formerly of Toowomba, Australia, present cause célèbre of Catholic liberals.

The latest Fishwrap writer to use the ineffective and doctrinally odd Australian bishop to bash the Holy Father is theological luminary Richard McBrien.  My emphases.

Bishops and the Pope
by Richard McBrien on Jun. 06, 2011

Essays in Theology

The sacking of William Morris as bishop of the Australian diocese of Toowoomba raises more than a few theological questions about the relationship between bishops and the Bishop of Rome.

Many Catholics believe, and so apparently does Benedict XVI, that the Bishop of Rome is free, by the will of Christ, not only to appoint all bishops in the Roman Catholic church, but to dismiss them as well.

This is an incorrect assumption, and the firing of Bishop Morris provides us with a teachable moment in ecclesiology.

From the very beginning of church history, bishops were elected by the laity and clergy of the various local churches, or dioceses. And this included the Bishop of Rome, known more popularly as the pope.


Note his disdain for the title “Pope”.  Bishop of Rome is, of course, one of the titles which describes the Pope.  In fact, the Pope is the Pope because he is the Bishop of Rome, or the Roman Pontiff.  He is also the Vicar of Christ, though liberals like to say he is Vicar of Peter.  He is the Successor of Peter, but the Vicar of Christ. He is also called the Supreme Pontiff.  McBrien, however, in stressing “Bishop of Rome, seeks to reduce the authority of the Pope to that of any other bishop and to elevate the local churches to something like autonomy.

You don’t have to bother with the rest.  What follows is some spot reading of Patristic texts and tidbits about Popes in the ancient Church.  You would do better to spend some time with J.N.D. Kelly’s Oxford Dictionary of Popes.

This is McBrien’s main point: Popes and bishops should be chosen by popular election, and Popes don’t have any authority over other bishops.  The Pope is just barely a “first among equals”.

Keep this in mind when reading this stuff from the Fishwrap.  Liberals will with spittle-flecked righteousness fuss that the Vatican isn’t taking savage enough action against bishops whom they don’t think are in turn being savage enough in the pursuit of priests who are accused of harming children.

The liberal left loves to criticize Rome as slow to act, it is still slow to act, and it is acting too slowly.  “Why”, they shout, “isn’t the Vatican going after bishops?  Why are there no penalties from the VATICAN against bishops?”

Liberals want the Pope to remove bishops when it suits their own agenda to tear power from the hands of the duly appointed hierarchical pastors.  They can dovetail their agenda into everyone’s popular anger about priests who hurt children.  But when the Pope removes a bishop for a doctrinal problem, they become incensed that the Pope removed a bishop, that he has overstepped his bounds, that he doesn’t have the authority to remove bishops, and, by the way, all bishops should be elected by popular vote.

As intelligent as McBrien and those at the Fishwrap are supposed to be, how do they not see this double-standard?

Perhaps we should revive the protest!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. r.j.sciurus says:

    The old argument that “in the early Church, ‘we the people’ elected our bishops” was presented by angry parishioners during their meeting with Bishop Finn last week.

  2. fieldsparrow says:

    I started to read this article the other day, got as far as “And this included the Bishop of Rome, known more popularly as the pope,” and just stopped.

    To be fair, as a new Catholic, I haven’t had a whole lot of time to understand the process in abuse cases, but it does rather seem like a double standard, Father. And it seems, again as a newbie, that the wheels of the Church turn quite slowly — not fast enough for some things, apparently, yet there are accusations of lightning speed decisions without reflection where those do not seem to be fair.

    @RJ thank you for sharing that post. It was interesting to read and will give me something to think about.

  3. David Homoney says:

    Fr. McBrien just never stops. You know it sounds more like he is a big fan of Eastern Orthodoxy. Their major doctrinal issue with the Church of Rome is that the Pope is just the first amongst equals. Sounds like he should just join them, then he could have all he wants out of the Church. They even have some acceptance of contraception, married priesthood, divorce and remarriage (more liberalized annulment process), and all the other things libtards like Fr. McBrien love so much. Sadly, these people stay and try to rot from within.

  4. Andy Milam says:





    Fr. McBrien makes less sense than this post….no lie.

  5. Andy Milam says:

    This is McBrien’s main point: Popes and bishops should be chosen by popular election, and Popes don’t have any authority over other bishops. The Pope is just barely a “first among equals”.

    Thanks Father for the PERFECT summation of the problem with collegiality as misunderstood after Vatican Council II. I mean, this is a PERFECT summation…KUDOS!!!

  6. Sister H. says:

    A great idea…let us send all existing copies of the “fishwrap” to the homeless in our cities so that they may burn it to keep warm on cold nights…this is about the only way that I can see this waste of paper being useful.

    How can people like Fr. McBrien keep their jobs (especially at Catholic institutions!), and more importantly, why doesn’t his bishop/superior put the brakes on the drivel he (and those like him)has been spouting for years?

  7. benedetta says:

    He is a priest? Wearing a tie. Like Bishop Morris!

    That’s about the best I can manage. Well there is also this: Fr. McBrien and all of his special friends want the Bishop Morris much more than they actually care about the children and so will happily say that Rome is not anyone’s authority but is a place to visit for some people who like to go to Italy occasionally…It’s a scrupulously adhered to dogma where I am: Rome is just another diocese…Yes, dream right on…keep on dreaming and deluding yourself and those for whom you are responsible before God…

    Cue Son of Monica’s rendition of “The Magisterium of Nuns”, for whom Fr. McBrien is an unswerving, unyielding, authoritarian soldier…

  8. I suspect that the late Anglican theologian J.N.D Kelly would have had far more respect for the See of Peter than does Fr. McBrien!

  9. benedetta says:

    I think that Fr. McBrien rather resembles someone such as Dick Cheney in this photograph next to the helpful reminder “to action”…I think he could benefit from a clerical makeover. You know, loosen up a bit. Lose the tie. I think a leisure suit would be more attractive on him given his dated ideas. Maybe grow his hair out a little. It’s about the authenticity.

  10. Athelstan says:

    Liberals want the Pope to remove bishops when it suits their own agenda to tear power from the hands of the duly appointed hierarchical pastors.

    Actually, at least a few have been honest enough to drop the mask and admit that they really want the power of removal taken away from Rome as well – usually, to be given to the local bishops’ conference, analogous to how it is done in the Episcopal Church. Which begs the question of why it is necessary to be fully democratic – down to the laity of the diocese – in selecting bishops, but much less so in removing them. But I suspect you can find a few liberals who favor a lay democratic impeachment vote of sorts if you look hard enough.

    But I still think that “democracy” is a means to an end, only popular in progressive circles now because they presume that it would result in more liberal prelates. After all, such bishops are generally no more tolerant and accommodating of different viewpoints than their Episcopalian colleagues have been. We all know those horror stories too well.

  11. mhinchi says:

    I don’t think it’s just liberals who call the Pope the Vicar of Peter…since it’s in the prayers for a funeral of a pope…

    “May your servant, [name], our Pope, vicar of Peter, and shepherd of your Church, who faithfully administered the mysteries of your forgiveness and love on earth, rejoice with you forever in heaven.”

  12. Centristian says:

    The NCR perplex continues. What, I wonder, do the contributors to this nominally Catholic journal ultimately desire for the Roman Catholic Church? They clearly lament what it is, so what do they want it, finally, to become instead?

    It seems to me they wan’t Catholicism to become…Protestant. What I don’t understand is the fact that everything that persons like this want in a church is available to them in the form of any one of endless denominations ranging from Unitarian Universalism to Anglicanism. So, pick one of them and make yourself at home in a denomination that shares your views.

    Catholics of the NCR variety remind me of people who complain that they got a skunky beer but who will sit there and drink the whole thing, complaining about it the whole time, rather than just ask for something else. Clearly, these people do not accept the divine origins and mandate of the Catholic Church, so why insist upon belonging to it? I just don’t get it, I’m afraid. Is their aspiration, perhaps, to deny orthodox Catholicism as an option for anybody?

    I can just see their protest placards now: “Catholics Against Catholicism”, “Papists Against the Pope”, “Nuns Against Nunnery”. I don’t know what to think about anyone who is actually against that which he insists upon subscribing to. It’s just plain bizarre. I don’t get it.

  13. Rich says:

    I’ll take the pope’s authority over McBrien’s any day.

  14. anilwang says:

    Technically, this is correct. The Pope doesn’t have authority to make someone not a priest. Once you’re a priest, you’re always a priest. And technically again, the Pope cannot prevent a bishop from making someone a priest as long as the rite is performed properly. So the Orthodox and SSPX have a valid priesthood.

    That being said, it’s irrelevant. You can’t be Catholic if you’re out of communion with the Pope. So if the Pope does not recognize a priest as being in communion with the Catholic Church, he won’t become a Catholic priest, and if he wishes to depose a priest, he can do so also.

    This is true even in the Orthodox (it’s easy to find examples via a google search), although it’s a bit more complicated because authority is more conciliar and thus harder to enforce and not all jurisdictions may agree with the disposal of some priests.

  15. Ralph says:

    I believe Rowam Williams is “first among equals”.
    I believe that the Orthadox Bishop of Istanbul is “first among equals”.

    Perhaps McBrien would be happier in one of these two churchs.

    As for me and mine, we will stick with the “Vicar of Jesus Christ”.

  16. irishgirl says:

    Me too, Rich! What you said!
    McBrien should just shut his yap.

  17. James Joseph says:

    How do they mess it up?

    Peter was the eldest apostle AND approached first. So as Moses was subordinate to Abraham, the Levites were subordinate to Melchezidek. It’s really, really, really elementary. Only a meathead could flabbergast himself.

    Likewise, it can’t be stressed enough. Creation is orderly. There is a hierarchy to grace and a lower-archy to evil. Thank you Fr. Ripberger, Fr. Schall, Dr. Kreeft, Dr. Gilson, and good old GK among others for teaching me that.

    If I can get it, yes, stupid graduated-last-in-his-class-and-they-only-let-me-out-of-highschool-because-I-was-an-idiot-me can get it…. anybody can. Now back to my hammer and nails and roofing tar.

  18. stpetric says:

    “The firing of Bishop Morris provides us with a teachable moment in ecclesiology,” and by gum, Dick McBrien is here to do the teaching!

  19. Joshua08 says:

    There was never popular election in the Church. There ancient canonical practice was that the canons or diocesan clergy elected a bishop. The electee was then present to the people for popular acclamation. They could, then, signify approval or disapproval, but they did not pick the candidate. And even then, to actually ordain a bishop, one needed the consent of three other bishops. As time went on there was an emphasis on respecting the metropolitan, the patriarch, the pope, etc approval

    The exception was Egypt where bishops were appointed by the “pope” that is the patriarch of Alexandria. Of course in practice, priests were appointed by whomever built the Church, bishops by the emperor or king, etc. Hence the fight with Gregory VII over Milan. As the middle ages went on the pope claimed the appointing of bishops whenever they died at Rome. They also would make appointments to positions within the dioceses, sending the cleric to the bishop with a letter. In point of fact, papal exercise of authority is a lot less now (which is, in this latter respect, a very good thing). To pretend that the pope’s exercise of authority here is some sort of novel expansion is pretty ignorant of history.

  20. tzard says:

    Of course he only sees this in terms of power – and such a viewpoint, while rooted in Marxism – is also from the beginning rooted in pride. (and that sin is not limited to the liberals, but they seem to be most blind to it’s existence).

    Throwing the word “theology” into this does not make it so. Elections were not intended derive consent of the governed – it wasn’t democracy, but was intended to manifest the will of the Holy Spirit. But how to you explain that so someone who doesn’t think in those terms. People who conformed their minds to the will of God used to be called “Christians”. But I digress….

  21. Martial Artist says:

    Fr. Z,

    You asked:

    “As intelligent as McBrien and those at the Fishwrap are supposed to be, how do they not see this double-standard?”

    I would humbly suggest that Jeremiah 5:21 answers that question, particularly when considered in the light of Genesis 3:5. It is their presumed intelligence and what they do with it that proposes the explanation.

    Pax et bonum

  22. It’s nice to see McBrien attempting to defend the SSPX episcopal ordinations. Well, not to sound ungratful, but we traditionalists would rather not have his help.

  23. Peggy R says:

    These progressives had better get their story straight. The local CTA affiliate and their liberal priest friends (they just love Fr. McBrien whose columns are prohibited from the diocesan paper) have been pushing for the Holy Father to sack our orthodox bishop who takes his responsibilities seriously and isn’t “collegial” enough for them in his administration of the diocese. Does the Holy Father have the authority to sack bishops or not?

    And yes, this same crowd has made the “we people elect our own bishop” argument as well here. They wanted their own man in, not the Church’s man.

  24. HighMass says:

    To Fr. McBrien……….Dio in Cielo, Papa in Terra

  25. JKnott says:

    In the picture above it looks like Fr. McBrien is speaking at a Call To Action event.
    Wasn’t there something not too long ago where a bishop proclaimed that anyone in his diocese who joined Call To Action would be automatically excommunicated? Not sure of the details. Think it had to do with heresy. So who listens to Fr. McBrien anyway?

  26. jarhead462 says:


    Semper Fi!

  27. JKnott: I think you’re thinking of Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincon, Nebraska who in 1996 excommunicated all members of his diocese who were involved with the following groups:

    Call to Action
    Planned Parenthood
    Catholics for Choice
    Hemlock Society (now renamed Compassion and Choice, advocates euthanasia)
    Society of St. Pius X
    All Freemasons

  28. BLB Oregon says:

    What does a bishop have to do to get removed, Fr. McBrien? Do they have to deny the Resurrection and the Incarnation outright? Or would even that be sufficient, if a shepherd succesfully dupes the Catholics in his diocese into believing his false teachings?

    If the “the will and voice of the clergy and laity remained normative” at the time of the Nicene Council, as McBrien asserts, then where did the bishops at Nicea get off anathematizing Theonas of Marmarica and Secundus of Ptolemais, who would not subscribe to the Nicene Creed? I suppose he has evidence that the people of Marmarcia or Ptolemais were consulted? After all, if the adminstration of the Church was as McBrien says, then surely those belonging to the dioceses of these two bishops would have had to decide whether or not their shepherds were errant.

    If there any question that Fr. McBrien and Bishop Morris’ other defenders are inventing reasons he ought to remain in his episcopal seat, no matter what he teaches? It is like listening to defense attorneys stuck defending suspects who are caught entirely dead to rights by the facts of the case. No matter how skillful the sophistry gets, they have to defend a premise is so preposterous that one wonders how they can present these defenses with straight faces.

  29. Augustin57 says:

    I don’t understand why this clown (McBrien) hasn’t had his faculties removed yet. Or have they?

  30. benedetta says:

    Keep on protesting…’Fight the power’!

  31. HighMass says:

    Kudo’s to Augustin57! Ditto my feelings are exactly the same….

  32. Andrew says:

    In one of his “punches” he pulls this from a letter of Pope St. Leo the Great: “Qui praefuturus est omnibus, ab omnibus eligatur.” (One who is to preside over all should be elected by all). There are many internet references to that sentence, taken from St. Leo’s Letter 10, as if this was some sort of a universal principle conveniently applicable to liberal catholicism of our day. Far from it! This letter deals with some illicit ordinations of a rebellious bishop and the Pope was strongly affirming his supreme canonical authority based on unchanging apostolic principles. McBrien would do well not to quote from that letter, lest he be compelled to be reminded of the following quotation also:
    “Anyone trying to infringe the power of this most sacred foundation of the Apostolic See, established by God, is doing so with an excessively impious presumption.” (Verum hanc petrae istius (Apostolicae Sedis) sacratissimam firmitatem, Deo, ut diximus, aedificante constructam, nimis impia vult praesumptione violare quisquis ejus potestatem tentat infringere …)
    I love it when liberals pull some patristic quotations out of context thinking that they sound so very learned in doing so. Everything in St. Leo’s works, as well as all the Fathers of the Church has to do with affirming the supremacy of the See of Peter.

  33. AAJD says:

    This idea, asserted above, that “There was never popular election in the Church” is demonstrable rubbish as anyone actually familiar with history knows. (See, inter alia, Peter Norton’s book *Episcopal Elections 250-600*, Oxford, 2007) . In point of fact, the Church, both East and West, has used, or tolerated, a variety of means to selecting bishops–as I make clear in my book *Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy* (UND Press, 2011). The current one in practice dates only to 1917, as Eamon Duffy, John Pollard, and other reputable historians have shown. The idea that either Roman appointment or “popular” election (n.b. the idea of “popular election” in antiquity is often quite at variance from our own notions today: see, e.g., the virtual election by mob of St. Ambrose of Milan, or of St. Gregory the Theologian ) will somehow guarantee good bishops is a fantasy. No system is perfect. But it cannot be overlooked that the current modern system wholly lacks any explicit theological justification. There is nothing in Pastor Aeternus, Lumen Gentium, or any other magisterial document justifying theologically the appointment of bishops by the pope. You can claim it is an extension of papal power or “universal jurisdiction” but no magisterial document makes that explicit.

  34. theophilus says:

    So he quotes St. Cyprian circa AD 250 and neglects all the other evidence that precedes it.

    “The Church of God which sojourns in Rome to the Church of God which sojourns in Corinth….If anyone disobey the things which have been said by Him through us, let them know that they will involve themselves in transgression and in no small danger.”
    Pope Clement of Rome [regn. c A.D.91-101], 1st Epistle to the Corinthians, 1,59:1 (c. A.D. 96).

    “Thereupon Victor, who presided over the church at Rome, immediately attempted to cut off from the common unity the parishes of all Asia, with the churches that agreed with them, as heterodox; and he wrote letters and declared all the brethren there wholly excommunicate…”
    Pope Victor I [regn. A.D. 189-198], in Eusebius EH, 24:9 (A.D. 192).

  35. teaguytom says:

    The question is, what does it take for a bishop to remove Fr McBrian? I believe the Lutherans need more ministers Fr McBrian. Since the Bishops wont severely reprimand or remove you, just make it easy and officially join a protestant group. One term of correction. Anytime someone says they are a Liberal Catholic it should be I am a heretic or I’m a protestant. You can’t be a liberal in Catholicism. Liberal Catholics are heterodox to doctrine and are nothing more than Eastern orthodox or reformation wannabees.

  36. chironomo says:

    The progressives love to imagine that concepts like “Collegiality” can have whatever meaning they wish them to have, and so the same with concepts like “Ecumenism”. But the meanings that they imagine are never those that the Church professes, as has been so eloquently demonstrated by Pope Benedict, refuting both the progressive definition of collegiality AND ecumenism, not with words but with actions. Anglicanorum Coetibus angered the progressives not because of the outreach to traditionalists, but because with a single stroke of the pen, it redefined what ecumenism means in the Catholic Church. The removal of Bishop Morris (or as McBrien calls him… “William Morris”…showing that his disdain for authority extends even to those he feigns at supporting) has effectively done the same for collegiality, making it clear that Bishops are not untouchable “sub-popes” in their own Diocese regardless of how loudly progressives claim otherwise. And they were not terribly happy about the backhand given to theologians a few years ago either. They were certain that they (Theologians) were the actual arbiters of Catholic doctrine…

  37. Ezra says:

    Someone should erect a billboard outside Fr McBrien’s office emblazoned with the glorious words of Pope Leo XIII:

    We hold upon this earth the place of God Almighty, Who will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the Truth

    As for Kelly’s History of the Popes: given the, uh, material contribution it made to McBrien’s own work on the papacy (of which it may be said that what is original is not good, and what is good is not original), I imagine Fr Z’s recommendation may be one of the few points on which he and Fr M could find agreement.

  38. Brent S says:

    – – -This is McBrien’s main point: Popes and bishops should be chosen by popular election, and Popes don’t have any authority over other bishops. The Pope is just barely a “first among equals”. – – –

    If members of the Roman Church want to elect their bishops and “call” them to shepherd their diocese, then by all means go join the Episcopal Church.

    Vivat, Papa Benedictus!

  39. nanetteclaret says:

    Every time I read something like this, I envision a 14-year old, stomping his feet and screaming, “You’re not the boss of me!”

    Sister H: –
    I’ve suggested that the “fishwrap” might make nice bird-cage liners. It might as well be useful for bird poo literally, since that’s what the contents are figuratively, anyway.

  40. priests wife says:

    David Homoney – it saddens me that you equate some Orthodox parishes allowing contraception (which is unnatural) with the married priesthood- a discipline that has been a tradition since the beginning of the Church. The Eastern Catholic Churches who are ‘sui iuris’ are obedient to Rome in all matters and Rome needs to be respectful of our traditions as well. The OCA was formed, losing many Byzantine Catholics, when the married priesthood wasn’t allowed in the US.

  41. robtbrown says:

    I have been unable to find in Scripture the account of St Peter being selected head of the Apostles by a vote by the people.

  42. robtbrown says:

    Anyone who wants locally elected bishops needs to learn a bit about the Catholic vs Orthodox bishops in Communist countries–the latter having been little else than party apparatchiks.

  43. benedetta says:

    And of course the Holy Father is and was elected through vote. And if you trace the arc of Fr. McBrien’s undermining commentating, it was apparently a great surprise to some, an upset even. Apparently human minds were banking on someone else. Thanks be to God it was not someone else and thankfully the Holy Spirit was present in the outcome. Had there been a different outcome which aligned exactly with what certain empowered and influential American elites agitating within and from outside the Church had earnestly and openly desired, then, most predictably, Fr. McBrien would be the first among many to revise, update, change, convert, alter, refresh, renew, reform and sunshine their thinking into newfound and profound respect for the deposit of faith which encompasses, and someone like him with various and numerous titles and degrees would obviously know best, not just, the first instance of voting and clarification of doctrine and dogma, but the entire history, the good, the bad and the ugly, to recognize that what we have been doing all along is not contrary to voting or inconsistent at all with what the very first Christians did and also at the same time takes into account everything that has happened and will be happening.

    Maybe if in the places where the “liberals” (and we all know they are not truly liberal and give liberalism a bad name) are in charge and are really into all of this stuff and Fr. McBrien’s ideas, there was dialogue, tolerance, consensus, respect for differences of opinions, recognition of unpopular but vital truths, etc., I would feel more encouraged by his alternative envisioning for the Church and ready to try yet another time (as if it hasn’t already been totally tried and the results displayed pretty sad).

    It is precisely because of our great diversity that a Supreme Pontiff needs to be able to freely step up to lead. Also what good is it to attempt to force the Church through this sort of mechanism into having to do whatever the times deem popular (as if recent history has taught us anything at all) when we all know that whole societies, cultures, and nations can and do get caught up in the pursuit of evil, evil intentions using violent and barbaric means. And also the quite common occurrence of human corruption is exactly why a courageous man willing and unafraid to step up is needed. If we are free to dream about this, past Jesus’ words in Scripture, considering all the “political” types of configurations, recognizing that in fact the Church is not a political state, is not a “government”, that we are not a collection of votes, nor are “citizens” in the way we are tied to our geography, what we have is what we have. And we currently have and have had excellent leadership we ought to listen to, more and more, and not, less and less, as Fr. McBrien and cronies would want, and we ought to listen, because more and more our spiritual health depends upon it. His envisioning has led to, less vocations, the laity are convinced of all of his dogma and yet do not care for the social justice or the liturgy, Catholic institutions, closed, the entertainment of so much good for you abortion has been a horrible plague and has compromised the health and well being of a generation.

    I’m not working on his farm. I won’t be a good little worker and accept the government approved version of the faith. Our dignity is much greater than his tiny idea and much broader than his skinny red tie.

  44. The Cobbler says:

    Revive the protest? It died? That’s a crying shame. Gotta get me a Paypal account. Then send you a sizable donation in five-dollar chunks over the course of a few years so the protest doesn’t die again.

    Priest’s Wife, what’s the OCA? I’m afraid my aquaintance with Byzantine/Orthodox matters is rudimentary — better than it would have been if I hadn’t met a few Byzantine Catholics in college, but still kinda… oversimplified, I suspect.

  45. pseudomodo says:

    I propose that we elect Richard McBrien a Bishop. Then we can get the Pope to dismiss him.

    Works for me…

  46. Sword40 says:

    I get so sick of hearing the ramblings of this “should be defrocked” priest that I can barely read an article about him. Our Holy Father, B16, should dig out his sword and clean house.

  47. The notion that McBrien would be happy in the Orthodox Church is perhaps one of the more stupid comments that I have ever read on this blog. His liberal views would be called for what they are — heresy. Any similarities to our ecclesiology is at best theology light. Frankly the RC liberals have done far more to drive a wedge between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church, than any of the past historical events. Please, be more thoughtful about ill thought out statements.

  48. Mundabor says:

    The man just doesn’t think straight.

    If he is right, than the Church is wrong and has been these two thousand years.

    If the Church is wrong, than it can’t be that it is Christ’s Church.

    If it isn’t Christ’s Church, than it doesn’t matter who “elects” (ha!) the Pope.


  49. Captain Peabody says:

    He seems to be confusing the issue of the appointment or election of Bishops from the question of deposition of Bishops.

    In the earliest times of the Church, Bishops were indeed chosen by the diocesan clergy and people, though with the approval by the neighboring Bishops; but over time, the problems of heresy among the people and clergy and most of all the problem of rank interference by temporal powers and factions into the running of the Church led to the Church in both East and West placing further checks on these elections, starting with approval of the election by centralized authority (Metropolitans, Patriarchs, and of course the Pope in the West) and then all the way to actual selection of the final choice by the centralized authority based upon some number of candidates chosen by the diocesan clergy, which is basically the system we have today, bar a few changes.

    The need for defense against the constant attacks of temporal power and heresy, exacerbated by technological advance and wider geographical range, have necessitated over time more frequent recourse to central authority and especially to the ultimate central authority and bulwark of the Rock of Peter; and this of course extends to the most crucial question of the selection of Bishops. I don’t think this should be particularly controversial or a particularly thorny issue for any Catholic. You know, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and all that.
    But even as a historical question, the progression is fairly clear, easy to follow, and easy to justify.

    However, where he truly doesn’t have a leg to stand on is the idea that the fact that Bishops were once selected by election somehow means that the Pope has no authority to remove Bishops from office. This is absurd. From the earliest times of the Church that we have records of, the Bishop of Rome has had the supreme authority for the removal, trying, and excommunication of Bishops called to account for heresy and other offenses, a power extending even to the other Patriarchal sees.

    We can see this quite clearly in the case of the famed St. Athanasius, who was charged with heresy and summarily removed from the Patriarchal diocese of Alexandria by a synod under orders of the Emperor himself; in response, Pope Julius I wrote an indignant letter to the synod in protest, in which he says:

    “And why was nothing said to us concerning the Church of the Alexandrians in particular? Are you ignorant that the custom has been for word to be written first to us, and then for a just decision to be passed from this place ? If then any such suspicion rested upon the Bishop there, notice thereof ought to have been sent to the Church of this place; whereas, after neglecting to inform us, and proceeding on their own authority as they pleased, now they desire to obtain our concurrence in their decisions, though we never condemned him. Not so have the constitutions of Paul, not so have the traditions of the Fathers directed; this is another form of procedure, a novel practice. I beseech you, readily bear with me: what I write is for the common good. For what we have received from the blessed Apostle Peter , that I signify to you; and I should not have written this, as deeming that these things were manifest unto all men, had not these proceedings so disturbed us. ”

    This is, of course, from the Fourth century, and it testifies quite plainly to the Apostolic origin and universal acceptance of the Pope’s authority to remove and condemn Bishops, the same power which was exercised by the Ecumenical Council of Nicea over the whole Church and eventually by the Metropolitans and Patriarchs in the East over the dioceses under their sway; this same authority and its universal acceptance is also clearly shown in Pope Victor’s excommunication of the entire Church in Asia during the second century, the account of which from Eusebius is quoted above (a condemnation that was reversed at the pleas of various Bishops; but the authority of the Pope in principle to excommunicate the entire province was never denied by any party).
    Even the Eastern Orthodox would acknowledge the authority of the Pope, as Patriarch of the West, to remove and condemn the Bishops of his Rite; in fact, they would consider it his duty as Patriarch to remove from office and condemn a Bishop who, like Morris, preached heretical doctrines like female ordination and challenged the doctrine of Apostolic succession in such a manner.

    As far as I can see, the issue of election is a red herring in this issue, and has absolutely nothing to do with the question of removal. As regards to the former, McBrien is on fairly solid grounds, though he’s historically ignorant and incorrect with regards to the conclusions he draws from this temporal custom. But as to the latter, he has not a single leg to stand on; nay, he has not even a single toe to stand on. If he wants to continue to maintain that opinion, he must of necessity become a Protestant; there is no other way around it.

  50. benedetta says:

    Dear Fr. McBrien, even if the Holy Father only has one ounce of worldly authority it will still be best by far to follow him. Even if not strictly in the obsessive definition of faith and morals. I raise my toast of Fantastic to you.

  51. paenitentia says:

    McBrien needs to dust off that Codex Iuris thats been sitting on the shelf all these years. To say the Roman Pontiff does not have authority to discipline and, if need be, remove a bishop – is to set yourself against the teaching of the Church. Canon 331 of current law in force provides:

    The office uniquely committed by the Lord to Peter, the first of the Apostles, and to be transmitted to his successors, abides in the Bishop of the Church of Rome. He is the head of the College of Bishops, the Vicar of Christ, and the Pastor of the universal Church here on earth. Consequently, by virtue of his office, he has supreme, full, immediate and universal ordinary power in the Church, and he can always freely exercise this power.

  52. RMT says:

    Two quotes come to mind, from St Francis de Sales in “The Catholic Controversy”:

    “The people cannot send the pastors; for the pastors are greater than the people, and mission is not given without blessing. For after this magnificent mission the people remain sheep, and the shepherd remains shepherd… It is necessary then that the sheep should receive the shepherd from elsewhere, and should not give him to themselves.”

    “Once when Absalom wished to form a faction against his good father, he sat in the way near the gate, and said to all who went by: There is no man appointed by the king to hear thee… O that they would make me judge over the land, that all that have business might come to me, and I might do them justice. Thus did he undermine the loyalty of the Israelites. But how many Absaloms have there been in our age, who, to seduce and distract the people from obedience to the Church, and to lead Christians into revolt, have cried up and down the ways of Germany and of France: There is no one appointed by the Lord to hear and resolve differences concerning faith and religion; the Church has no power in this matter! If you consider well, Christians, you will see that whoever holds this language wishes to be made judge himself, though he does not openly say so, more cunning than Absalom.”


  53. theophilus says:

    Guess where Fr. McBrien will be in a few days…. the ACC conference in Detroit for heretics. Along with Sr. Chittester, and Hans Kung. They will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the “Spirit” of VII.

  54. Jayna says:

    This is the kind of thing about liberals that kills me. They bang on and on about progress and the need to reform and the “living Church” and then every argument they make begins with “in the ancient Church….” as if the past millenium and a half hadn’t actually happened.

  55. AnAmericanMother says:

    Dear Fr. McBrien:

    Sincerely yours,

    P.S. you can have my old seat. Send any faithful Anglicans you find this way, and there will be more room for you and your buddies. And you can believe anything you want about the Bishop of Rome.

  56. benedetta says:

    Didn’t Vice President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden recently pay a visit to “the Bishop of Rome, known more popularly as the pope”? Is it the Vice President’s habit to pay a visit to every Bishop in all of the various dioceses, American as well as the rest of the world, wherever he travels in the course of his duties as the Vice President of the United States? Clearly a great many professed Catholics in various circumstances, positions and occupations “assume” that the one “known more popularly as the pope” does have authority.

    If it wasn’t the case why the fixation, or that matter the double-talk and sneaking around. Why stop with Masses that tow the line just barely and with a whiff of the illicit but why not just go all out..Either there is authority or there is not. Having it both ways is irrational and leads to chaos. The chaos can be quite readily observed and easily grasped without requiring massive amounts of research.

    But even on the level of Fr. McBrien when Bishop first refused to meet with the Bishop of Rome was that collegiality? What about the second time or the next time that he was asked to meet. At what point in his announcement that ministers of Protestant denominations etc etc would be called upon to celebrate Catholic Mass for Catholics did Bishop Morris signal that he “heard” or “listened to”, um, just about anything that even a ten year old could encounter in the basic catechism and show that he was engaged in a discussion or conversation with another Bishop in another diocese? The idea is farcical because what Bishop Morris was doing had nothing to do with collegiality and everything to do with simply thumbing his nose at teachings that are not even nuanced or require a team of post-doctorate level crack theologians to tease out in its vast complexity. That any fool can see that plainly shows that he actively chose his own route which was far from the general spirit of collegiality that Bishops rightfully enjoy together with the Holy Father. If it wasn’t for the leadership of the Holy Father, which all point out is reluctantly exercised in situations like this, the people of that diocese would be facing untold damage in their attempting to live out their faith.

  57. Jason says:

    Centristian said, “Is their aspiration, perhaps, to deny orthodox Catholicism as an option for anybody? ”

    Bingo. With whom might that put them in league?

  58. Pachomius says:

    Technically, isn’t Fr McBrien correct? The Pope can’t hire-and-fire bishops as he pleases (successors to the apostles, and all that). But to link that with the case of Bp. Morris and to suggest this is what the Pope has done in this case is astonishingly devious. And of course, the great, malicious genius of it is that Fr McBrien does this to paint the Holy Father as being just as devious and political as the sort of person who comes up with this kind of vile untruth. I’m tempted to call it Satanic in its sheer cunning.

    With that said, I do think a lot of the problems with liberals disobeying the Papacy ultimately derive from the authority of the Papacy being too ill-defined by the Church. It would have helped had Vatican I been able to conclude, I think, and placed the promulgation on the Papacy in a full context. But as it is, I think it’s pretty difficult to tell when one is legitimately entitled to disagree with the Pope on a matter of faith. Clearly, there are occasions (cf: Honorius), but still.

    Since the subject of the East came up… a question about the Papacy: what is the Pope’s role, exactly, in the Eastern Catholic churches? I mean, I assume he takes the role of first-in-faith-and-morals, and so on, but are they subject to the CDW, Ecclesia Dei, and all that? Or do they get to self-regulate all that sort of thing? I’m just curious which powers of the Pope are as Patriarch of the Latin Church and which as Successor to the Prince of the Apostles and Vicar of Christ.

  59. Alice says:

    The Cobbler,
    I’m not Priest’s Wife, but I did learn about the founding of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) when I was taking a class about Catholicism in America. Basically Archbishop John Ireland of Minneapolis-St. Paul refused to accept a Slovakian born Ruthenian priest, Father Alexis Toth as a priest. According to some versions of the story, this was because Father Toth was a widower and had been married at the time of his ordination. Father Toth left the Catholic Church for what would become the Orthodox Church in America in the 1890’s. More Catholics left the Church for the OCA at least partially because of the Apostolic Letter Ea Semper of 1907, which stated (among other things) that the Eastern Catholic churches in the United States could only ordain unmarried men. As I recall, in all 100,000 Eastern Catholics left the Church through all this.

  60. Oleksander says:

    “Orthodox Church in America (OCA)” used to be an arm of the Russian Orthodox and was called such until the 1970s, anyways the OCA is commonly regarded as the second largest Eastern Orthodox jurisdiction in America, the Greek Orthodox being first, if it wasnt for Fr Toth and mistreatment from Latin bishops of the day Eastern Catholicism would be much larger in America.

    The same Bishop Ireland also caused a group of Poles to break similarly to create the “Polish National Catholic Church” which is old catholic and survives to this day, which makes me think the archbishop didnt understand Slavs in general.

    In the 1930s a second, though smaller, schism to Greek Orthodoxy among American Eastern Catholics was caused from perceived mistreatment from Rome on banning married clergy

  61. robtbrown says:

    NB: Bishop Ireland was one of the more prominent promoters of Americanism.

  62. chonak says:

    Is there something about the Pope’s universal jurisdiction that Fr. McBrien finds too hard to understand?

  63. Alice says:

    Are you sure that the PNCC was a result of Bishop Ireland, Oleksander? I thought they started in Pennsylvania and I don’t think he was ever a bishop there. I can’t imagine that he treated the Poles very well, though, because he was also pretty nasty to the German Catholics. I think plenty of them left the Church as well, but they didn’t form a new church the way the Greek Catholics did.

  64. The Cobbler says:

    Alice, Oleksander,

    Many thanks for the info! Very interesting, especially with the addition of Robtbrown’s comment (thank you as well); certainly a history to stick in one’s pipe and chew on, if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphor.

  65. Random Friar says:

    The Pope does not have full authority, that much is true. E.g., he does not have the authority to pronounce that women may be ordained to the ministerial priesthood.

  66. benedetta says:

    Didn’t that mainstream media darling, NBS’s The Today Show, recently take stars and crew all the way across the Atlantic and farther still just for a stop in to see the Bishop of Rome? “Also known popularly as the pope”…and His Holiness. With Archbishop Dolan. I don’t actually watch the Today show as at that time I am often otherwise engaged however I was able to view the excellent coverage on the blog of Mr. Rocco Palmo. I wonder, does Mr. Lauer and the NBC Today Show visit all the various dioceses to broadcast from meeting with Bishops all over the country and the world? Or is there something special about the Bishop of Rome also known more popularly as the pope who despite professional underminers continues to bless us with his prayers, leadership and works as the Holy Spirit with the Church clearly by electing him has asked him personally to do. Even if his authority is just small potatoes in the eyes of the world.

  67. benedetta says:

    Also agree with Centristian btw. What is the aim and purpose if not to demolish, after all this time.

  68. TC says:

    I don’t suppose Fr McB is capable of imagining that the pee-pul might choose a “conservative” Latin-loving Bishop? Or a contested election with two “Bishops” in the same diocese?
    No thank you.

  69. My understanding is that the Eastern rites of Catholicism are under their own Curia bureaucracies — which is only fair, because they do have different disciplines and canon law, etc. I think the patriarch cardinals and bishops have their own gatherings, too. Some things are Universal Church, some things go by Rite — depends on the issue at hand.

  70. youngcatholicstl says:

    As difficult as it is to do, lets presume for a minute that Fr. M’s ideas were actually practiced. Has he, or anyone else for that matter, ever shown any evidence that the majority of Catholics in the Diocese would have (1) elected B. Morris; and/or (2) that B. Morris had enough support of the people and clergy to stay in power? Everything I’ve read/seen seems to indicate that the people and the clergy of the Diocese did not care for B. Morris and that he would never have been elected or remained in power if the clergy/people of the Diocese had their way. So even in practice, Fr. M’s ideas wouldn’t have worked. In fact, it is only because of Rome’s desire to work with the B. Morris and give him a way out did he did actually stay in charge so long.

  71. Young Canadian RC Male says:

    Being a Canadian I have to say NO to voting popes by popular election. It’s bad enough that in Canada, this past federal election, only 60% of eligible voters voted at all, and Harper got a conservative majority from 39% of the total votes cast. So problem #1 is: That not everyone will take themselves out to vote out of laziness or apathy. Furthermore, politics is evident in the Church as a physical institution with humans, just like Canadian parilaments. You have people who are “traditional”/conservative, and you have liberals, just like parliament (This isn’t new. proof? Just look at GOOD writings of Vatican II like John O’Malley’s 2008 book “What happened at Vatican II?” or Xavier Rynne’s “Letters from the Vatican” sessions from the view of a periti or observer). Furthermore the population has “hardcore” voters to each side that vote automatically with “fencesitters” who will turn the tide in the election depending how much one party pushes themselves or bribes, lies etc. Therefore problem # 2: This will turn the voting of the Pope, and hence the head of the teaching authority of the Church, the Magisterium, into a popularity contest. Problem 2 also contributes to problem 1 because then people who don’t vote have a new reason to vote: the country/province/state, etc. is mainly Liberal/Conservative and will vote candidate X in, so why bother to cast one insignificant vote that won’t change things? So therefore, No way that the Pope should ever be instituted by a popular vote.

  72. benedetta says:

    Has anyone else noticed the way that Fr. McBrien and company’s rhetoric is in populism and inclusiveness and they pretend that the implementation of their ideas result in great numbers practicing the faith “authentically”, completely one with the secularism, and joining the faith, when in practice in places where they are asserted with a vengeance, using all measures of growth and participation, the results show that participation and “belonging” has dwindled, the practice, decimated. I expect many who entertained his notions seriously at one time are now stunned at what has actually occurred. But the ones who remain in lockstep with his ideas and style of leadership, in stubborn insistence of his agenda and theories, obviously totally know what he is envisioning is a much tinier and diluted Church. Even though all of his dogma has been accepted, taught, implemented, served up as best pastoral practice, and anyone even questioning it let alone proposing something different has been stamped out, the result finally has been a small and exclusive “faction” and it gets smaller and smaller all the time. Fr. McBrien and company are clearly quite satisfied and comfortable with this result. Perhaps a little freshening up and updating is required in light of the “current events”.

  73. MisterH says:

    For those of you who are on Facebook and who are interested in efforts to restore the Catholic identity of Notre Dame, the following Facebook group might be of interest to you:
    “Pro-Life Alumni, Students, & Friends of the University of Notre Dame”

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