Collegiality: an inquiry

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?

Humanae vitae.

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?


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. VexillaRegis says:

    Haha! Now everybody with ties to the Vatican have to have Prilosec for breakfast.

  2. jmcj says:

    When liberals talk about collegiality, they are only wanting power. When asked about the fact that Pope Francis is against women’s ordination, some of the smart liberals respond: “That’s okay because he will give more authority to bishops and their conferences.” They know that putting doctrinal authority into the hands of bishops will give them the control they need to get women priests and bring about the fulfillment of all their other previously thwarted desires. They can’t wait to have that kind of power.

    If the Holy Father thinks that giving more authority to bishops’ conferences will strengthen the Church, then I’m afraid he’s gravely mistaken. He just might end up releasing a monster of which he will never regain control.

  3. Eliane says:

    Given the disdain he has expressed toward priests and bishops — including labeling some priests as “little monsters” — there is nothing surprising about this development. I wonder how many “fans” he has among Catholic clergy. Not that they would say so, but I bet more than a few are quite disgusted.

  4. RobS says:

    What an interesting situation. God does not play dice, but perhaps Pope Francis does! :)

  5. Unwilling says:

    Quotiens aliqua praecipua agenda sunt in monasterio, convocet abbas omnem congregationem et dicat ipse unde agitur, et audiens consilium fratrum tractet apud se et quod utilius iudicaverit faciat. RB3.1-2
    This, from the rule of St Benedict, although written for his monks describes the best kind of ecclesiastical collegiality.
    Whenever something significant needs to be done, let the Abbott call together the whole congregation and tell them how it goes; and then, listening to the advice of the brothers, let him work it through in his own mind and do what he judges best.

  6. mamajen says:

    Very interesting. I certainly don’t have any answers, but I like the idea of the Pope exercising his control–he has special graces that the bishops do not. Hopefully this reflects some careful thought on his part, not simply a matter of doing the opposite of what is recommended.

  7. Unwilling says:

    Fr Z, your link to your September note on NSR on “collegiality” a la North Korea has a picture of the Leader’s uncle who was recently arrested. Some reports in the past few days say he has been executed. The modality is reminiscent of Domitian. Declared a “dog” along with five colleagues, he was placed in an arena into which were introduced, after 3 days starvation, 120 actual dogs. Surely, such a thing cannot happen nowadays!? Perhaps we can ask Dennis Rodman and his Harmful Globe Trotters when he gets back from celebrating the Great One’s birthday.

  8. tjtenor2 says:

    I read somewhere else recently (I cannot remember where, otherwise I would link to the source) that for all of the talk of collegiality, in some ways this is one of the least “collegial” papacies in recent memory – I would agree with that assessment in light of examples such as this.

  9. Clinton says:

    My own opinion is that a Pope needs to attend to la bella figura. He will be working
    with the Curia, the College of Cardinals, and all the bishops if he hopes to make any reforms.
    Alienating the very people who will be implementing one’s proposed policies is a curious
    management style. To solicit carefully considered advice and then to dismiss it without
    bothering to explain one’s very good reasons for doing so– well, it seems haughty and
    capricious. And one’s advisors will probably be less apt to spend effort on future advice
    if they feel it’s pointless.

    Paul VI was able to articulate reasons for going against the opinions of his advisors in the case
    of Humanae Vitae. The present Pope could take a page from his book– by all means
    Francis must do what he thinks best, but he should also make sure that he does so in a way that
    doesn’t come off as disrespectful to his advisors. He will need their goodwill in the future,
    if he wants to get anything done.

  10. OrthodoxChick says:

    Didn’t Pope Francis do a good bit of reforming within his own order in Argentina as a cardinal? Thought I read that, and if true, this new next step seems to fit perfectly with his leadership style. I’ve felt all along that he’s a clever man who is familiar enough with the liberal media in Argentina to know how to play the liberal media in general. He knows how to give them lip service and sound like he’s telling them what they want to hear enough of the time to shut them up. Yet he hasn’t caved on any Church teaching. He seems to know how to walk the tightrope. All this while finding time for now at least a handful of personal meetings with Pope Emeritus Benedict in only a few months’ time.

    Maybe Francis is ignoring the bishops and ditching collegiality because P.E. BXVI is bringing Francis up to speed on just whom is pushing which agenda? Afterall, who would know better than our dear Emeritus Holy Father? If Pope Francis is seeking a sage, honest, and trustworthy advisor, he knows where to find him.

  11. Magpie says:

    But there’s one sound
    That no one knows
    What does the Pope say?

  12. vetusta ecclesia says:

    Could he be underlining his point about bishops accepting obscure minor dioceses and not aspiring to greater and more fashionable ones?

  13. Phil_NL says:

    I disagree on one point, and one point only, Father.

     Cassano allo Ionio is even below the equivalent of Biloxi. I, not being an American nor an Italian, havd heard several times of the latter, but never of the former. We need something more obscure than Biloxi to compare with.

  14. robtbrown says:

    My guess at what’s happening here:

    1. The pope is a religious, and most religious have little use for the careerism often found in diocesan clergy, i.e., working one’s way up in the bureaucracy of a diocese, Episcopal Conference., or Roman Curia (NB: This has nothing to do with a priest wanting to be a pastor.)

    2. There is the notion, also held by BXVI, that the Curia is now so independent that a pope has little control over it. So if the pope is not controlling the Curia, who is? The probable answer is Italian careerists. IMHO, the pope is trying to mitigate the Italian influence. And so we see Cardinals Piacenza and Bagnasco removed from the Cong of Bishops. Also keep in mind that a Jesuit, Cardinal Martini, was in Milano and was roundly opposed by the Italian hierarchy, led by Cardinal Ruini. (Of course, Martini was liberal, and Ruini was considered the man who organized the election of BXVI.)

  15. Bea says:

    It has been notably pointed out that the first mention of “collegiality” among bishops was in the bible:
    “And they all left Him and fled”
    Mark 14:50

    So much for collegiality: as long as the Pope does what the bishop’s agenda wants there will be collegiality.
    In this upside-down world of nowadays, will it be He that leaves and flees for fear of the wolves?

    “What matters is what Pope Francis thinks about collegiality. Does anybody know?”
    Who knows what lies in the hearts of man….”the shadow knows” (old time radio program from: “The Shadow” l am dating myself). (actually the words were: “who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men, the shadow knows”-but didn’t want to use the original words so I paraphrased.).
    Actually we can only guess and be witnesses to his words, only God really knows: after all, “Who are we to judge?” to quote a famous person.

    Talk about misplacing the “Keys”
    “Collegiality”: another name for “passing the buck”
    Let us pray that he uses the keys wisely and not pass the “keys” to his “colleagues”.

  16. M.D. says:

    What matters is what Pope Francis thinks about collegiality. Does anybody know?

    One may get an indication of his views from the June meeting with members of the ordinary council of the Synod of Bishops. The Pope is attracted to the concept of GREATER input from a wider group — that has been traditionally available.

    This could indicate he wants as much info as possible to make better informed decisions.

    In the text prepared for the June 13 meeting — a text the pope said would be handed to the council members — Pope Francis had described the synods as “one of the fruits of the Second Vatican Council” and a structure “at the service of the mission and communion of the church, as an expression of collegiality.”

    “Open to the grace of the Holy Spirit, the soul of the church, we trust that the Synod of Bishops will undergo further developments to further promote dialogue and collaboration among the bishops and between the bishops and the bishop of Rome,” he had written.

  17. Jim R says:

    Let me make sure I understand the situation:
    1. The CEI is moving from being appointed by the Pope to an elected body
    2. Appointments are lapsing and interim appointments are needed until voting can be organized
    3. The Pope was never a member of the CEI as he is Argentinian, i.e., he presumably is not too familiar with the body of Italian Bishops as a whole
    4. The Pope has expressed interest in greater collegiality
    5. The Pope asks for a list of names for the interim and picks the last name, i.e, someone who has little support but at least on Bishop thinks the nominee is qualified

    It seems to me that IF the Pope wants true collegiality and an election to be as free from Bishops just trying to give him what they perceive he wants, this is the perfect way to do so. He has named someone arguably capable (he got one nomination), but he has not anointed a permanent person since the interim really had so little support. If he appointed a front runner, too many Bishops would see that as HH declaring his preference. By nominating someone with almost no support he leaves the Bishops with wide latitude to make a largely free decision when the vote occurs. He clearly hasn’t opted for any faction. I think it’s a brilliant move to encourage free elections while making reasonably sure the interim is up to the job. I have no idea if this is what’s going on, but my guess is…yep, it was a well played hand to keep the engine running without interfering with the upcoming choice by the CEI at the election.

  18. asophist says:

    So, how does the pertinent Vatican II document define collegiality?
    Isn’t this a new concept that V-II made out of whole cloth? What does it mean?

  19. Robbie says:

    Francis is all for collegiality so long as everyone agrees with him.

    He’s conducting a slow motion purge of conservatives. It won’t happen all at once, but just ever so often.

    This is how he’s going about it.

  20. Uxixu says:

    I pray for the Holy Father and tend to defend him but have to admit there are times it’s difficult to understand what he’s doing and fear he’s more Paul VI than Benedict XVI

  21. Phil_NL says:

    As for the pope vs curia line:

    At this point I have severe doubts if there will be any reform of the curia. Not because the Pope has lost control over it, but because he refuses to exercise it. The problem isn’t as much collegiality, but more the ‘Romanita’ of letting (nearly) everyone save their face. The pope could sack the entire curia on the spot, and all assign them nice parish churches in the Abruzzo. Of course that would punish quite a few people who are loyal and good servants of the Holy Mother Church, but at this stage, I do think it would not make the church worse off overall (very few functions in the vatican couldnt stand a 6 month shutdown, in fact, if they speed up a bit afterwards no-one would even have noticed, so to say). A more judicious rearrangement of affairs could certainly help produce an overall improvement, but Francis still seems to value some aspects of the governing tradition of Popes, and not rocking the boat is among those.

    That also works in two directions, by the way. Robbie sees a purge of conservatives in the offing, at this rate I don’t see any significant purge in any direction being possible during this pontificate.

    I get the impression that Francis simply nudges the administration here and there, making life a bit easier on himself when possible, and for the rest makes living the faith in acts as his main agenda point, and quite probably the only one he’ll be remembered for.

    Of course, the 8 cardinals still have to report, so I could be wrong entirely and that this is just silence before the storm, but even at the vatican’s glacial paces, it would be a very long silence already, and with Francis at 77, a 2 year preparation followed by a 10 year implementation followed by a 5 year revision to correct errors in implementation, seems like an overly lengthy program for this pontificate.

  22. ladytatslace says:

    Pope Francis did not bypass the choices listed by the Bishops, he picked one from the list.
    It might have been the least supported choice, but he was still on the list. How do we know the choice isn’t the best one for the job.
    The Bishops may have put his name there as a joke, but if so, the joke is on them.
    Everyone who is someone had to start at the bottom of the list at some point and the “person in charge” of choices had to choose them.

  23. HighMass says:

    Uxixu says:I pray for the Holy Father and tend to defend him but have to admit there are times it’s difficult to understand what he’s doing and fear he’s more Paul VI than Benedict XVI.

    Uxixu: Couldn’t have said it any better! You called this one! I also fear he is more Paul VI than Our Dear Pope E. Benedict XVI…..GOD HELP US!

  24. Deacon Augustine says:

    Wasn’t it the Italian bishops’ conference which, on the news that a Pope had been elected, issued a press release congratulating Cardinal Scola on his election? Perhaps the Pope is messing with their heads a bit!

  25. My employer runs a very collegial business. Most of the time, it works okay. Most of the time, it makes everyone feel valued, and no leader is perfect, after all. Sometimes, however, the leader needs simply to do a James T. Kirk at the end of A Piece of the Action and say, “This is the way we’re going to do it, and if anyone doesn’t like it, he gets cut out.” Sometimes, the leader has to acknowledge the sign on his desk that reads, “The buck stops here.”

  26. Bosco says:

    @Deacon Augustine,
    “Perhaps the Pope is messing with their heads a bit!”

    And if that were so, are we to take it that that is a thing to be applauded?

  27. robtbrown says:


    The only Curial reform I am certain they want is changing the authority of the Sec of State. In an organization chart he is between the pope and every Congregation. No Congregation has immediate access to the pope– the exception is that JPII gave Cardinal Ratzinger immediate access. This was the invention of Paul VI, who decided he had his own plans and wouldn’t let anyone disrupt them. Of course, the result was a disaster.

    Other than that, it’s hard for me to imagine what, if anything, will be done.

  28. govmatt says:

    Perhaps a bit of a different take:

    We all know Pope Francis has a lot of… Papal Capital. He could probably get away with more than just appointing a backwater Italian as an interim secretary. However, this seemingly insignificant appointment is a gentle reminder of what doesn’t need reminding: Francis is in charge and the status quo ante is not going to keep on rolling without a good reason.

    Basically, what I see His Holiness doing is taking a run of the mill bureaucratic task and causing just the slightest bit of “holy lio.” Now, I’d think every conference around the world is going to take at least a few additional moments before rote confirmations and appointments. I welcome that kind of change.

    To the “he’s purging conservatives!” hysteria: well… if conservatives aren’t out there stalwartly defending what matters and taking the time and effort to preserve the deeper meaning behind outward ceremony… then what are they conserving?

  29. bposullivan says:

    Isn’t the pope’s respect for collegiality the reason that this is an interim appointment and that the Italian bishops will now have the opportunity to elect their own officers? As you say, Father Z, it will be interesting to see whether the bishops elect the pope’ guy or someone else. Maybe he picked an obscure bishop with little support in the conference was because he wants his pick to be only a placeholder and didn’t want to interfere too much with collegiality by taking sides between the conference’s favorites.

  30. ASD says:

    What was it that Paul VI was subsequently pilloried for by liberals? He set aside collegiality.

    I don’t get that. Pope Paul did not follow the advise of the commission majority; instead he followed the minority (how much smaller than majority? idk) AND centuries of tradition.

    But, that wasn’t a commission of bishops as such right? That is, it wasn’t a group of bishops exercising their supposed bishops’ collegial kind of power vis-à-vis the Pope, was it?

    Anyway, collegiality isn’t a very impressive construct. I mean, consider: How many biblical citations where given for it in LG §19 (which I take to be the original announcement that any such thing existed)? I count zero.

  31. HighMass says:

    ASD …..

    THIS MAY BE OFF THE SUBJECT…but the liberals had Paul VI in there pocket with this implementation of the NOVUS ORDO MISSE……
    Card. Alfredc Ottaviani, appealed to Paul VI, not to implement the N.O. and sited what abuses would happen if the Novus Ordo replaced the Mass of 1962………Did Paul VI Listen????

    Look what the last 45 yrs have been like…..we had Hope when Pope E. Benedict was our Holy Father to reform SLOWLY the new Liturgy…..can we say that hope still exsists under Pope Francis and his liberal crew?????

    It seems like history is repeating itself, in other words a Paul VI Pontificate all over again…..the other day a dear friend said to me the present Holy Father is a Conundrum, sure looks that way….never know what he is going to do next but what you can be sure of the liberals again are going to have the upper hand……AGAIN what did that get us after VII and the N.O.?????

    Pray for Pope Francis that he doesn’t lead us down the path of the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s etc again.

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