Devolution of power to regional Churches? I think not.

There is a fear among some people with whom I converse that Pope Francis might undercut Roman curial congregations and devolve authority to regional conferences of bishops.

I am all for subsidiarity.  That said, some things just don’t work well at the local level.  Let’s consider the role in the Church of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, for example.  I would be delighted were regional conferences able to get their act together and do more of what the CDF does.  But… that’s unlikely to happen, as recent history has aptly demonstrated.

Assuming that all of you have have reviewed the important 1998 document of John Paul II Apostolic suos, there is something at Kathweb about comments that the present Prefect of the CDF made concerning Francis and such a devolution.

The prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, took a stand against a decentralizing of the Church to the level of the national bishop conferences. “The Catholic Church is made up of local churches, but it is one,” said the Prefect for the Italian daily newspaper Corriere della sera: [And, as usual, I can’t find that piece, since CdS has perhaps the worse search interface anywhere.  Maybe one of you can find it.] “There are no ‘national’ churches.”

The Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences are “coordinators, not Vice-Popes” stressed the Vatican’s defender of the Faith.

Pope Francis can’t simply wave aside Apostolos suos.  It is a theological document, and not just disciplinary.  It isn’t in itself as a document definitive credendum, but it contains affirmations that are (cf Lumen gentium).  It is not to be trifled with.  Müller said succinctly what the dogmatic issues are.  Let me crack this open for low-information liberals.

The Catholic Church involves a Communion of local Churches, but it is not merely a communion of Churches.  It is one Church.  Lumen gentium makes this point.  More?  Okay.  Local Churches are in communion with each other and with the Successor of Peter and the Church of Rome.  However, they aren’t just in communion with the Vicar of Christ and the Church of Rome insofar as they are in a communion of Churches.  Tracking? There’s more.  Every single local Church is itself also, on its own, in communion with the Successor of Peter and the Church of Rome.

The communion of local Churches, as a communion and as individual local Churches demands the primacy of the Successor of Peter and the Church of Rome over all the others.

Furthermore, the CDF must be beefed up, not slimmed down.  So too the local Churches should exercise greater oversight of all aspects of the life of the Church on the local level.  Take care of business before Rome has to get involved!  Be swift, clear and, please God, competent!

Lastly, former Father Greg Reynolds of Australia is still excommunicated.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Supertradmum says:

    If the persecution gets worse and worse, we all may be out of communication with Rome. We shall need very strong local churches, Catholic communities, dioceses. Could this be part of what is being considered? Remember the Pope Emeritus’ vision of the future Church-the Church of the Destitute.

  2. Matt R says:

    It’s important to remember that the local church is the bishop in communion with the priests of his diocese, and deacons too, who guide the lay faithful under their charge, not a collection of bishops making decisions for everyone else.

  3. Sixupman says:

    Devolution down to Bishops’ Conference level equals the creation of ‘National (Catholic) Churches’, which de facto the likes of, inter alia, the German and Austrian Conferences, having taken the mantle upon themselves. They have an Anglican/Lutheran for of attachment/detachment to the centre – Rome! The situation is incontravertible but ignored by Rome – perhaps Franciscus merely seeks to regularise the situation – just like all the other irregularities since Vatican II.

  4. ClavesCoelorum says:

    Father, reading “Lastly, former Father Greg Reynolds of Australia is still excommunicated”, may I note here that you have been anonymously featured on Catholic Answers’ recent blog post entitled “Francis the Wonderful”? Here’s the quote, in case you’re interested:

    “Unfortunately, it is not just lay Catholics who are speaking of the Francis Effect in problematic terms. A popular priest blogger recently created a line of merchandise to sell to Catholics who want to identify themselves as the “self-absorbed promethean neopelagians” Pope Francis expressed concern over in his recent apostolic exhortation (EG 94). Whenever Pope Francis does or says something that causes alarm for this priest or his readers, he has taken to repeating over and over—almost in mantra-like terms—that “former-Father Greg Reynolds is still excommunicated [at the direction of Francis].”

  5. Priam1184 says:

    It would be wonderful if the local bishops could take care of things at the diocesan level, acting like a local CDF which is, I think, what they are supposed to be doing anyways. So many problems we have in the Church today with dissident/heretic priests and religious would never had appeared if the local bishops had just put their foot down and done it immediately. But alas… Devolving any power to national bishops conferences under present conditions would be a disaster.

  6. McCall1981 says:

    It’s so sad that the Prefect of the CDF has to essentially defend the Church against the Pope, and that we all have to worry about something like this. I wish we had a Pope I could trust, is that really so much to ask for?

  7. Praying Pope Francis will take Archbishop Georg Ganswein and elevate him to Cardinal.The electors have dropped too.
    Just sayin

  8. Michael_Thoma says:

    The communion of local Churches, as a communion and as individual local Churches demands the primacy of the Successor of Peter and the Church of Rome over all the others.

    This may be the key to dealing with the local Latin dioceses (which are actually Churches, parishes are not). But this kind of language will irritate the Eastern Catholics and definitely is unproductive with the Oriental and Eastern Orthodox Churches; it’s important to specify in what way does this model not apply to the East, nor even Eastern Eparchies based in Western areas, and in fact shouldn’t apply to the West – but is necessary because of the issues the West is facing. In theory, each diocesan bishop should be as Catholic as the Pope, and when he is not, the rest of the Church should cut him off. In reality, this never occurs in Catholicism, unless the Pope does it; and occurs all too often regarding arbitrary squabbels in Eastern Orthodoxy. The Oriental Orthodox have a good middle ground – messy, but usually functional. [Eastern Churches in Communion with Rome also have to deal with and accept Lumen gentium.]

  9. mamajen says:

    I think this is the link:’uomo/

    For sites with cruddy search tools, you can go to Google and type, for example, ludwig muller to find pages that Google has crawled.

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  11. Incaelo says:

    I still believe Archbishop Müller is acting very much in tandem with Pope Francis. The latter simply has a very clear picture of what the Prefect of the CDF shoud do: provide the details and interpretation of what he presents in his open and accessible way. We could, however, use some very clear statements from the Holy Father that that is the case. Who knows, maybe the upcoming consistory will provide them?

    The fact that we need a strong CDF was made clear yesterday, as Archbishop Zollitsch, he of the “divorced and remarried Catholics must be allowed to receive Communion” proposal, gave an interview. His comments were worrisome. I write about the whole thing here:

  12. servulus indignus Christi says:

    Dear Fr. this is of course consoling but the fact is we still have a Pope who proposed as much in his first public (his own that is) papal writing. Just because Archbishop Muller is getting his practice at “interpreting” Pope Francis doesn’t make the fact that this needs to be done (incessantly) any less disconcerting, hurtful or harmful.

  13. incredulous says:

    Thus spake Father Z:
    Lastly, former Father Greg Reynolds of Australia is still excommunicated.”

    I hear that Generalissimo Francisco Franco has been resurrected though. Reynolds’ repatriation may be just ahead… ;)

  14. McCall1981 says:

    That article is worrisome for Archbp Zollitsch and the German Church, but not so much for the eventual outcome of the “communion for the re-married” issue itself. The author rightly points out that Muller has been conferring with Francis on the issue. I think it’s telling that neither Archbp Zollitsch, nor Card Kaspar in his interview the other day, even claimed to have support from Francis. They both just said that they themselves want communion for the re-married. On the other side, Muller of the CDF and Card. Miesner both say they have spoken with Francis and that Francis has said no. But yes, it is certainly distressing that the German Church seems to be ignoring the CDF.

  15. McCall1981 says:

    Sorry, I just realized you are the author. Very good article, and I definitely agree. Thanks for sharing!

  16. Incaelo says:

    Thank you, McCall1981 :) I realise it is in some way peripheral to the topic that Father Z raised, in that it underlines the importance of a strong CDF. I am increasingly happy to see Archbishop Müller heading that Congregation.

  17. Mike says:

    I second that. Though Muller is a bit too tough on the SSPX, he’s come through on this issue, and the question of female deacons (no way, I paraphrase, of course).

  18. Pastor Bonus says:

    Should that not be former ‘Father’ Greg Reynolds?!

  19. Pastor Bonus says:

    PS. The best description I herd of an Episcopal Conference was that ‘they are an administrative convenience, not a theological necessity.’

    Still, I suspect the devolution we will see will be more along the lines of enhancing the role of the Synod of Bishops, perhaps by using the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences more often?

    I’m very sceptical.

  20. Pastor Bonus says:

    Oops my bad, you did say ‘former’ Greg Reynolds, it’s late here!

  21. amont says:

    What concerned me at the time of the Papal Conclave earlier this year, was a report that Intellectuals (of some sort) at an Italian University had prepared a scheme whereby Ecumenism might be advanced by “devolving” papal authority. This would be done in such a way that it would appear to be an “inclusive” (love the liberal buzz words) decision making authority, but definitely taking the process out of papal control. It may be that this proposal was taken-up by various Cardinal Electors, Pope Francis being amonst their numbers. This may be a dumb question, but may a papal conclave be considered to have acted in a licit manner, when it gave the office to someone who’s intention is to devalue it? I’m just aking!

  22. CharlesG says:

    The centralized authority that Tradition and most explicitly Vatican I grant to the Pope as successor of Peter (and by extension the Holy See) has been crucial to the Catholic Church’s avoidance of national Erastian churches like the Orthodox or fissiparious doctrinal heterodoxy like the Protestants. It is probably not what 21st century man would have come up with if he were constructing on his own a new church governance structure in the present time, but it is what the Lord and the Apostles and their successors have bequeathed us and has been a benefit to the Catholic Church down the centuries. I worry that the current Pope does not value this precious heritage and might seek to try to dissipate the Holy See’s authority if he listens to dubious advisers like Maradiaga and Marx. I worry that the Curia has no presence on the Pope’s cardinalatial kitchen cabinet. Could this be like Paul VI’s granting the task of liturgical reform to a body completely independent of the Curia, i.e., the Consilium? Just as the liturgical reform could have used a stronger voice in defense of tradition, likewise I hope that voices in favor of the Holy See’s authority and last resort guardianship of doctrinal orthodoxy, like Archbishop Mueller, faute de mieux, will have at least an equal voice in the counsels of the Pope as he pursues curial reform. As said above, decentralization would be OK if bishops could be trusted to uphold the deposit of faith, but given the outright dissent and rebellion in the German episcopate, I think the Pope would be naive to rely on this at this time. At the very least, the Holy See needs to retain the right to intervene to defend the deposit of faith in the last instance if necessary. I hope the Pope does not try to reverse Vatican I or Vatican II’s Lumen Gentium. I also worry about complete decentralization of liturgical authorizations and translations, which could be a recipe for continual liturgical revolution and watering down of the faith (lex orandi, lex credendi and all that), as well as the unity and coherence of the Roman rite. I am definitely a worrier and am worried about how this curial reform will turn out, as well as the Synod on the family. I can only pray and trust that God will ensure that the Gates of Hell will not prevail against his Church under our Holy Father Francis’ pontificate.

  23. I harbor the uneasiness that devolving such responsibilities to the Bishops Conferences might bring into play Parkinson’s first 3, or perhaps even first 4, Laws, with results that we would all rue for as long as the Lord allows us the time on earth to rue anything.

    For those unfamiliar with Parkinson’s Laws, the first 4 are reproduced herewith for reference:

    1st Law: Work expands to fill the time available for its completion; the thing to be done swells in perceived importance and complexity in a direct ratio with the time to be spent in its completion.

    2nd Law: Expenditures rise to meet, and tend to exceed, income.

    3rd Law: Expansion means complexity; and complexity decay.

    4th Law: The number of people in any working group tends to increase regardless of the amount of work to be done.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  24. The Catholic dogma of the Body of Christ as both perfect society with visible delineation and mystical organism is a beautiful mystery, as is the unity of the Catholic Church in a multiplicity of particular and local Churches, founded on the Chair of St. Peter and maintained by the episcopate united in Petrine solidity. The authority and unity of Peter descends into the Churches and their Bishops through the Church of Rome, the Head and Mother of all Churches. In this way does the Church cohere in visible and mystical unity through Sacramental communion, being built up in the Eucharist.

  25. Confitemini Domino says:

    It’s always worth re-reading the latest interview/article of archbishop Mueller in the Passauer Neue Presse.
    That’s what I call an exhortation.

    Note that the English translation misses the point sometimes, as in the sarcastic remarks on Küng, but you’ll get the spirit.
    see also:
    another report

  26. robtbrown says:

    Some here seem to be concerned that a reorg of the Curia will dilute Papal authority. No doubt there are some liberals who hope that is true. But people need to realize that the Curia was not very responsive to the wishes of JPII and especially BXVI. The present structure of the Curia, the basis of which comes from Paul VI, at first increased the power of the pope because the heads of the Congregations didn’t have immediate access to him. Now, however, it has decreased it because it has isolated the pope.

  27. cwillia1 says:

    The problem with decentralization is that Roman Catholic bishops do not and will not hold each other accountable. Rome can take care of it. The bishop’s conferences are not synods and are certainly unsatisfactory substitutes. So the Catholic Church needs the staff organizations in the Vatican even though this centralized approach to administration raises an almost insuperable barrier to reunion with the Orthodox.

    Orthodoxy needs a universal primate and suffers from the absence of the pope but it does not need the centralized administrative apparatus of the Vatican. And to be sure the sad experience of the Eastern Churches in communion with Rome demonstrates this.

    To the Orthodox, the Roman Church puts a higher value on formal loyalty to Rome than on adherence to the apostolic faith. At the same time as Father Patrick Henry Reardon has pointed out, Catholicism needs a strong, central authority and weakening that authority would have very negative consequences.

    To me, the situation is like dependence on steroids. Sudden withdrawal would be catastrophic. Continued dependence is not the answer either.

  28. JKnott says:

    I haven’t read “Apostolic suos” yet but will now. However I was recently perusing “Pascendi Dominici Gregis” and was alarmed to find this in #38″
    “They cry out that ecclesiastical government requires to be reformed in all its branches, but especially in its disciplinary and dogmatic departments They insist that both outwardly and inwardly it must be brought into harmony with the modern conscience which now wholly tends towards democracy; a share in ecclesiastical government should therefore be given to the lower ranks of the clergy and even to the laity and authority which is too much concentrated should be decentralized The Roman Congregations and especially the index and the Holy Office, must be likewise modified The ecclesiastical authority must alter its line of conduct in the social and political world; while keeping outside political organizations it must adapt itself to them in order to penetrate them with its spirit. With regard to morals, they adopt the principle of the Americanists, that the active virtues are more important than the passive, and are to be more encouraged in practice. They ask that the clergy should return to their primitive humility and poverty, and that in their ideas and action they should admit the principles of Modernism; and there are some who, gladly listening to the teaching of their Protestant masters, would desire the suppression of the celibacy of the clergy. What is there left in the Church which is not to be reformed by them and according to their principles? ”
    Glad that Archbishop Muller put this talk to rest.

  29. Hans says:

    Some of the original Italian, at the same link mamajen posted:

    E non si sottrae a nessuna domanda: dai sacramenti ai divorziati risposati alle nuove «eresie», compreso il «rischio di particolarismo» nella Chiesa: «Alcuni interpretano la Evangelii Gaudium come se il Santo Padre volesse favorire una certa autonomia delle chiese locali, la tendenza a distanziarsi da Roma. Ma questo non è possibile. Il particolarismo, come il centralismo, è un’eresia. Sarebbe il primo passo verso l’autocefalia».

    In che senso, eccellenza?
    «La Chiesa cattolica è composta di chiese locali ma è una. Non esistono chiese “nazionali”, siamo tutti figli di Dio. Il Concilio Vaticano II spiega in concreto il rapporto tra il Papa e i vescovi, tra il primato di Pietro e la collegialità. Il Pontefice romano e i singoli vescovi sono di diritto divino, istituiti da Gesù Cristo. Anche la collegialità e la collaborazione fra i vescovi, cum Petro e sub Petro, hanno qui il loro fondamento. Ma i patriarcati e le conferenze episcopali, storicamente e oggi, appartengono solo al diritto ecclesiastico, umano. I presidenti delle conferenze episcopali, pur importanti, sono coordinatori, niente più, non dei vicepapa! Ogni vescovo ha un rapporto diretto e immediato con il Papa. Non possiamo avere una decentralizzazione nelle conferenze, ci sarebbe anche il pericolo di un nuovo centralismo: con la presidenza che ha tutte le informazioni e i vescovi sommersi da documenti senza il tempo di prepararsi».

  30. Hans says:


    Do you have a reference for Cardinal Müller on female deacons?

  31. David Wood says:

    Seems to me that he doesn’t want to be pope.

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