Friday, September 16, 2005

Pope Benedict & Church Bureaucracy

In the second of his two-part series on "The Man Who Was Ratzinger" in New Oxford Review (September 2005), Michael S. Rose addresses a number of issues of interest. One of these is the Pope's view of Church bureaucracy. He writes:
As Cardinal Ratzinger, the future Pope gave some indication that he is not only interested in remodeling the face of the Church, but also the inner workings of her bureaucracy. Despite his reputation as a so-called authoritarian, he is averse to the excessive bureaucracy that has characterized the Church in recent decades. While parishes and other Catholic institutions in many dioceses are closing or merging, the bureaucracies are growing as new committees and chancery offices are formed to address perceived challenges in the local or universal Church. "In the past two decades an excessive amount of institutionalization has come about in the Church, which is alarming," wrote Ratzinger in his 1998 book, A New Song For the Lord. "Future reforms should therefore aim not at the creation of yet more institutions, but at their reduction." According to Sandro Magister, the religion editor for the Italian newspaper L'Espresso, Pope Benedict XVI would love to see a Church that is simpler in terms of bureaucracy: "He doesn't want its central and peripheral institutions -- the Vatican curia, the diocesan chanceries, the episcopal conferences - to become 'like the armor of Sual, which prevented the young David from walking.'"
A fine point. Some chancery offices and episcopal conferences may even be starting to resemble Goliath more than David.
Ratzinger believes that, like big government, these bureaucracies have become self-perpetuating and self-interested, incapable of serving the best interests of those to whom they owe their responsibility and their existence. It would not be surprising then if the new Pope initiates a reform of Church bureaucracies, including diocesan chanceries, national bishops' conferences, and even the Roman Curia itself, all in the interest of shedding paperwork and returning to core pastoral concerns.
What's this? In Rose's treatment, the former Cardinal Ratzinger almost comes out looking like a Republican opponent of the big government policies of the tax-and-spend Democrats. I wonder, does this qualify His Holiness as a NeoCon too? One thing I have appreciated about the Republican platform, even though it hasn't been implemented all that consistently in post-Reagan administrations, is its opposition to top-heavy bureaucracies in government. There's even enough of that in academic administrations to get my ire up these days -- new vice presidents of this and that at every turn! Anyway, Rose continues:
One important aspect of this "reform" is the relationship between the Vatican (including the authority of the papacy) and the national bishops' conferences. For some time now, the Church has been suffering under the weight of these ecclesiastical bodies. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) provides a perfect example. In recent decades it has produced a mass of commissions, committees, and documents on every coneivable subject. Too often, however, the USCCB (formerly NCCB) has served to undermine the Church's official positions as enunciated by the Vatican. It took the U.S. bishops' committee on Catholic higher education a whole decade to study the implications of Ex Corde Ecclesiae before releasing its own guidelines for its implementation in the U.S. Even then, these guidelines were criticized by the Vatican as inadequate. Cardinal Ratzinger's 1986 document on "The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons," and his 1992 follow-up on legistlatin concerning homosexual persons, was undermined by the USCCB when it released Always Our Children, another committee document that was found by the future Pope to be deficient enought as to require substantial revision before being reissued. The U.S. bishops did make the requested revisions and produced a new version of Always Our Children, but not before the initial version had already been distributed across the country and had become the primary text in homosexual discussion groups that were cropping up in dioceses across the country.
Rose actually has an extensive treatment of the problem of homosexual priests in this same article that is relevant to this discussion, but which I cannot address in this context (see pp. 25-26 of the September 2005 issue of NOR). Rose concludes:
Ratzinger sought to reign in some of the abuses by bishops' conferences with the release of his 1998 document Apostolos Suos. He sought not only to redefine the nature and understanding of bishops' conferences, he also argued they had no teaching authority on their own. Signed by Pope John paul II, Apostolos Suos declared that national episcopal conferences were not an expression of collegiality, but derived their authority solely from their unity with the Pope. Therefore, these national conferences could not issue statements on moral or doctrinal matters unless they were approved unanimously or had prior approval from the Vatican. Many regarded this as a classic exercise of raw political power when in fact it was a reasonable clarification of a confusing matter in the Church, one that Cardinal Ratzinger and Pope John Paul II thought could threaten to reduce the Catholic Church to a loose federation of local or national churches, similar to the Anglican Communion.

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