Ad Limina Apostolorum (Blog) | St. Augustine's Library
Saturday, September 24, 2005

Blogging from Tropicanaland 

Only partly justifying my absenteeism as of late, I'm currently blogging from Tampa, Florida, where I'm combining a weeklong conference with a couple days of vacationing with family and friends in nearby Sarasota. I hope to check out the campus at Ave Maria in Naples while I'm here, and, if I manage to convince the wife and kids, drive across the peninsula to St. Augustine's on the East coast.

In the meantime, I hope to post a few passages and comments from a book I've just finished, Joseph Pieper's The Four Cardinal Virtues. I highly recommend the book, especially for those whose fairly extensive background in moral theology more or less overlooked the natural virtues. Pieper, of course, is thoroughly Thomistic and Aristotelian in his outlook, which is pretty much the only game in town when it comes to traditional virtue theory, as far as I've seen.
In regards to the first and 'chief' of the virtues, prudence, Pieper defines this virtue as pre-eminently an authentic knowledge of reality.
The pre-eminence of prudence means that so-called 'good intention' and so-called 'meaning well' by no means suffice. Realization of the good presupposes that our actions are appropriate to the real situation, that is to the concrete realities which form the 'environment' of a concrete human action; and that we therefore take this concrete reality seriously, with clear-eyed objectivity (p. 10).
This involves, of course, the commonly understood aspect of prudence, as the application of objective principles of moral law to the concrete situations of human behavior. This relates it to conscience. But it also includes the aspects of perceptive 'recollection' (memoria) of the truth of things, true 'open-mindedness' (docilitas) to authentic understanding, and a certain 'nimbleness' (solertia) in responding to suddenly-imposed moral choices.

And here, according to Pieper, is where casuistry most often rears its ugly head. Casuistry attempts to flatten prudence into an absolute system, morphing the necessary providentia ('foresight') required by the virtue of prudence into a full-scale program of constructing, analyzing and evaluating individual events in the abstract. This program is fueled by a quixotic desire to attain perfect 'security' in regard to human action, since all situations are envisioned and resolved in advance. Yet, for all of its assistance in this, the program is doomed to fail, since its system cannot hope to be anything more than a dim shadow of the 'flesh-and-blood' reality of the concrete human situation. It can never substitute for prudence as an absolute standard for making ethical judgments and performing concrete ethical actions.

In the end, no one can make a man's decisions for him, no matter how much these are foreseen and anticipated. Certainly, objective moral principles can be grasped and fastened upon. But the subjective approximation of these principles to a concrete human situation cannot be carried out by someone outside that situation. "But no," says Pieper, "there is a certain way, a single way: that is through the love of friendship." A prudent friend, strengthened by the chief of virtues, can make a friend's problem his own, can visualize and concretize that situation, so to speak, in the person of his friend, and help shape that friend's decision. This, of course, is made possible by the love of friendship.

# posted by Jamie : 11:54 AM


Friday, September 09, 2005

Observations on Episcopal Pastoral Decisions and Ecclesial Communion, Part III of III 

The following is a set of observations on the recent article, Episcopal Pastoral Decisions and Ecclesial Communion, which Bishop Donald Wuerl published in his diocesan newspaper. It intends to draw upon the reflections offered in the preceding Parts I and II of this series.

Bishop Wuerl's opening sections are both thoughtful and thorough, as they bring together all the relevant magisterial documents relevant to episcopal conferences (even going beyond Apostolos Suos). He has done a masterful job of drawing together this material. Wuerl is hardly a small-time theologian, and is regarded by his brother bishops as somewhat of a heavyweight when it comes to catechetics and Church teaching. His thoughts here are not to be taken lightly, nor will they be ignored by the Conference itself.

His closing section, entitled 'Practical pastoral solution', gets to the heart of the matter (though the transition between the sections is rather awkward): how to ensure that local pastoral decisions with national implications be carried out in a truly collegial manner.

Wuerl's observations are accurate in noting that, while the prerogatives of an episcopal ordinary in his own diocese are sacrosanct, there are necessarily implications of these actions in other dioceses. To stick to the subject of the denial of communion, what would happen if John Kerry were denied communion in his home diocese of Boston, but was allowed to communicate freely in neighboring Worcester? Or if, say, Jeb Bush was given communion in his Florida diocese, but denied it when he visited a Midwestern state? This type of arrangement, which seems to have more or less emerged in reality from the status quo situation, would merely serve to highlight the divisions within the American episcopate, and sharpen the edges of disunity on doctrinal and disciplinary practice between local churches. Certainly, it is a solution we can learn to live with, but if a better solution could feasibly be found, we would be bound to at least give it a shot. Is it possible to approach these decisions with a larger dose of the 'collegial spirit'?

Option I. Formal Incorporation into Conference Structure

Wuerl's first approach is to formalize and bureaucratize such disciplinary measures by incorporating them into the Conference structure.

A minor, preliminary step in this direction was taken by the establishment of a 'Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians', formed in 2003 under the chairmanship of Theodore Cardinal McCarrick to oversee the implementation of the CDF's 2002 document Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the participation of Catholics in political life. The ultimate fruit of this Taks Force was the 2004 USCCB document, "Catholics in Political Life," adopted by the full body of American bishops at their Spring plenary session of that year. This document was intentionally 'pastoral' in character, preferring to put forward general 'suggestions' rather than binding policies. In point of fact, the document could have done little more than this, since an 'authentic' document which would be binding on all bishops would have required either unanimous approval or a recognitio from the Holy See, neither of which would have been highly likely.

Bishop Wuerl's first suggestion would be to take even more steps in this direction. A formal 'mechanism' of the Conference would be established for the 'review' of a political candidate who is being considered as a subject for a ban on communion. However, this proposal runs up against the numerous limits of conference jurisdiction which we have already noted. It would require a formal, deliberative vote (apprently, on each candidate, considered individually) at a plenary session of the conference for it to be binding upon all members, along with a specific mandate from the Holy See to pursue such a course of action. Again, either a uninamous vote or a recognitio from the Holy See would then be necessary for adoption. If such a vote were carried out successfully, the Catholic politician in question would be formally barred from communion in every diocese, and bishops who failed to take steps to ensure this would be found in violation of ecclesiastical law.

The beauty of this approach is that it is in full accord with the limits canonical jurisprudence. Its beauty, however, is only superficial, inasmuch as the proposal would be utterly impossible to carry out in practice. First, the Holy See would almost certainly not grant a mandate for the conference to establish this mechanism, as there is little basis in prescribed law or jurisprudence for it. Second, the possibility of the American episcopate collectively voting to ban a candidate from communion, even in a full two-thirds vote (at least a 'moral unanimity' would be required to convince the Holy See that a recognitio is merited), especially given the divisions that currently plague the conference membership, is so unlikely as to be laughable. Third, as slow as the wheels of conference bureaucracy turn (or, for that matter, that of the Holy See), it could conceivably take years for this process to be carried out from start to finish. A presidential candidate would have already been elected, served two terms and happily retired before his communion ban was in place.

In addition to its impractability, such an approach would also be, theologically speaking, probably undesirable, as it would be difficult to avoid the impression of a collective bureaucratic entity usurping the rightful prerogatives of the local bishop, even if that bishop were to grant the usurpation. Disciplinary measures on members of the faithful have, in the past, nearly always been entrusted to the local ordinary, and to entrust it to a national episcopal conference would be little short of an innovation.

II. Formalization of Collegial Consultation

There is little doubt that Bishop Wuerl is aware of how impractical, and near impossible, the first alternative is. It is likely that he intends it not a serious suggestion, but rather as a foil for his second, more realistic proposal.

The latter wisely sidesteps the formal bureaucratic structures of the conference, and has a much more modest goal in mind, conversation between bishops: a "commitment on the part of all the bishops to discuss beforehand, through some conference structure, decisions that will impact all of the bishops and the church as a whole."

But Wuerl's proposal is more than a mere "let's talk about it" request. First, it also includes an implicit agreement among each bishop to "refrain from making individual pastoral decisions" on this matter until such conversation was carried out. A decision to bar an individual from communion could "be finalized only in concern with the conference of bishops" (emphasis added).

Second, and apparently as a consequence of what precedes, Wuerl's proposal is specifically noted to require the establishment of a 'conference structure'. What he has in mind is not clear. After examining existing conference structures, the following is the only solution that I can envision:

A permanent or ad hoc Bishops' Committee would have to be established, similar to the already-existent 'Task Force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians', consisting of episcopal members elected by the bishops themselves, which would offer consultation to individual bishops on this subject. Such a Committee would necessarily require a permament office in Washington with a significant staff, in order to provide the Committee members with the research data necessary to come to a decision on how to offer consultation (e.g., what is a given politician's voting record on relevant issues, what other dioceses might be affected to a decision to bar communion, how do the bishops of these dioceses feel about it, etc.).

In order to be a true exercise in collegiality, this committee would most likely have to include some level of consultation with the full body of bishops, in order to avoid having only a few 'power brokers' make decisions on such a matter. Correspondence would have to be sent to all the bishops, listing the names of politicians being considered for a ban on communion, and inviting feedback from every bishop. The committee would then use this feedback, along with the research data gathered by the USCCB office, to offer consultation to inquiring bishops. Such consultation, of course, could not be considered binding upon any local bishop, but would simply communicate to him how his brother bishops feel about the matter.

This solution would effectively achieve the goal. A local bishop who intends to discipline an errant Catholic politician in his diocese would be able to approach the subject knowing the sentiments of his brother bishops, and would be able to weigh these sentiments against his own, while always aware that the ultimate responsibility for this soul belongs to himself.

The cost, however, would be significant, as it would result in the creation of yet another standing committee of bishops along with a permanent staff office. The warning note of Apostolos Suos should always ring in the background when we make such a consideration:
Such aims, however, require that an excessively bureaucratic development of offices and commissions operating between plenary sessions be avoided. (AS 18)

That the office and commission we are considering would carry out most of its operations 'between' plenary sessions is unavoidable. Since it would intend no binding or 'authentic' teaching or action being carried out by the full body, it would have no conceivable need to bring anything before the full body in plenary session.

Now the sentence from Apostolos Suos is no blanket prohibition, merely a general guideline. But it does rest upon solid principle, viz. that the Conference is never to substitute for or infringe upon the pastoral authority of the local bishop. Certainly, a well-informed commission could offer a good deal of pastoral advice to an inquiring bishop regarding the sentiments of fellow bishops and the voting record of the politician in question.

But the question remains, what can this committee do that the local ordinary cannot do on his own accord? Presumably, or at least in theory, a man's shepherd is the best judge of his soul, and would know the most about his own political record as well. He would also know best what other dioceses would be affected by his decisions. There is little to prevent him from conversing with other bishops to assess their opinions about the matter, and private conversations could generally be more candid than public conversations. More importantly, since they would remain in private, such decisions would never become media spectacles, which decisions about a man's soul should never become. The process could also be carried out much more swiftly than a bureaucratic mechanism could possibly move. The local ordinary would also retain his essential liberty in such decisions, since Wuerl's proposal specifically requires that the bishop "refrain from making individual pastoral decisions" until the conference has offered its consultation.

What is gained, then, by incorporating such a process into the bureaucratic structure of the Conference? A certain formalization and objectivity, perhaps, a minimalizing of personal bias and subjectivity. A broader and more inclusive extent of episcopal consultation would, no doubt, be achieved. But the costs involved, as noted above, may end up weighing against such a proposal, and leaving the matter where it lay in 2004, with the USCCB's last words on the subject:
Given the wide range of circumstances involved in arriving at a prudential judgment on a matter of this seriousness, we recognize that such decisions rest with the individual bishop in accord with the established canonical and pastoral principles. Bishops can legitimately make different judgments on the most prudent course of pastoral action. (Catholics in Political Life).

# posted by Jamie : 12:36 PM


Thursday, September 08, 2005

Reflections on the Reform of the Episcopal Conference, Part II of III 

The call for a reform of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is not itself controversial, as this call has been voiced many times by the leadership of the Conference itself. Many agendas for such reform have been offered, often by episcopal members of the Conference. A Committee has even been established, the Committee for Priorities and Plans, which has as its sole purpose the establishment of a program to reform the conference structure. In fact, I intend to propose little in this post that has not already been proposed by a member of the Conference itself.

One of the instigations of this reform, in fact, is the aforementioned document Apostolos Suos, which many Americans took to be directed specifically at the USCCB, and which was not altogether uncritical in its tone. I will first point out several observations on the need for reform, and conclude with reflections on the means by which they reform can be brought about.

The need for reform can be seen from several different perspectives, which tend to reappear in nearly every proposal.

First, nearly all recognize a need to reduce the bureaucratic structure of the conference, which necessarily means a reduction in the number of staff. The USCCB currrently claims a staff of '350 lay people, priests and religious' (source) in Washington alone, excluding additional offices in New York and Miami. Given that the number of active U.S. bishops is just shy of 300 (including auxiliaries, with retired bishops bringing the number up to 450), many have expressed concern that the support staff might outnumber, and overshadow, the bishops whom they serve. Although cuts are already being made, the general consensus holds that a more serious reconsideration of staff needs is necessary for an authentic reform of the Conference.

Second, the operating budget of the USCCB, by all accounts, borders on the unjustifiable. Although incoming revenues (through publishing services, government grants, etc.) help to absorb most of these costs, a significant amount inevitably falls upon individual dioceses and their faithful, both in direct contributions and in annual 'second collections' which go to specific offices (CNS, Communications Campaign, etc.). Given the budget crunch that most dioceses are feeling these days, complaints from bishops have been not been lacking. Last November, the bishops of the Conference overwhelmingly voted to reject a proposed increase in these contributions to the Conference, leaving the latter even more strapped for funds. It has been noted that a curbing of the Conference's budget is no longer a hypothesis, but an inevitable fact of life.

Third, a perception exists among many theologians and bishops that the Conference has, both in general and in several specific instances, stretched its own juridical limits in ways that threaten to impede the authority and liberty of local bishops. This has already been noted as a major theme of Apostolos Suos, viz. that the Episcopal Conference cannot susbstitute for, or transgress upon, the sacred responsibility of a bishop for his own territorial flock. Complaints have occasionally arisen from local ordinaries who, although personally unsatisfied with a conference document, nonetheless feel pressured or even compelled to comply with it.

Fourthly, according to the operating description of Episcopal Conferences by Apostolos Suos, the structure of the Conference itself may require re-envisioning in light of the demands of canon law. These demands, in sum, mandate that the Conference and its staff exist to serve the bishops and not vice versa, and that the conference only exercises its authentic teaching authority in plenary sessions, not in its committees or offices. This last dimension, in my opinion, has been insufficiently noted.

As for proposals for reform, I will begin with the more general and proceed to the more concrete.

I. A Return to Ad Intra

Archbishop Dolan's April 2005 First Things article, "The Bishops in Council," skillfully narrates how the formative years of the American Episcopal Conference (then identified by the awkward acronym 'NCCB/USCC') were fueled largely by what he calls 'ad extra concerns':

First and foremost, the conference became explicitly enthusiastic about ad extra concerns, setting itself up as a "prophetic voice" in American society, especially on domestic and international issues of social justice. War and peace, the economy, nuclear weapons, unemployment, labor issues, the environment, Central America, Africaconference eagerly issued statements on all of these complicated and controverted areas of public policy. At least partially as a result, the bureaucracy and budget of the NCCB/USCC mushroomed.
As a result, the vast majority of staff of the USCCB are devoted to these sorts of ad extra concerns. For example, the USCCB's Office for Migration and Refugee Services currently boasts 75 staff, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development has 20, Catholic News Service over 30. Doctrine, however, has four; Liturgy, six; Priestly Life & Ministry and Priestly Formation have two apiece.

Besides its effects on bureaucracy and budget, the Conference's eagerness to engage in ad extra issues resulted in a profound shift in Conference structure, giving immense significance to the work of episcopal committees and administrative offices (who oversaw and engineered such activities) and turning the plenary sessions into simple 'rubber-stamp sessions', where the full body would vote (overwhelmingly) to approve and advance nearly every policy or document proposed by a Committee or office. Archbishop Dolan reports much the same:

Their annual meetings increasingly became reports of what the different departments and committees of the NCWC [i.e., the Conference staff] had done in their name since the last general meeting.
Once the Committee reports were done and their work approved, the sessions would disband, giving the general impression that the plenary sessions served the offices and committees, and not vice versa.

The relative inattention paid to internal issues - such as addressing widespread catechetical illiteracy, marriage and family life, liturgical reform, the renewal of the priesthood and religious life, etc. - have now returned full force as urgent priorities of the American Church. The rising generation of bishops now seeks to return the Conference's focus to these internal issues:

Above all, these patriarchs were concerned with building the Catholic Church in the United States. Bishops today increasingly ask whether it is now necessary to rebuild the Church in America, through reform and renewal.
If carried through effectively and seriously, a reform with this goal in mind would not only reorient the vision of the Conference, but would have a serious impact on staff size and budget as well.

II. Re-tracing the Line

After the Second Vatican Council, the Episcopal Conference of the United States was officially restructured and re-established as the NCCB/USCC. Its identity as a dual organization was clear by the awkwardness of the title: the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB), which was the aggregate of all the bishops in the country; and and a permanent bureaucracy in Washington, the United States Catholic Conference (USCC). The clear distinction between the American episcopacy and their non-episcopal support staff was, and is, seen as an essential characteristic of the Conference's identity.

In 2001 the Conference was renamed the 'United States Conference of Catholic Bishops', a single and monolithic identity which, while easier to pronounce, lacked the dual character of the previous moniker. This change, it must be noted, was purely nominal; in its actual structure the clear distinction between bishops and staff remained clear and functional. No one, inside or outside the Conference, seems confused about that distinction in itself.

Yet, due to the aforementioned developments in the structure of the Conference, the importance of non-episcopal staff (formerly the USCC) ballooned. Motivated by external concerns and economic/social issues (on which few bishops are thoroughly educated), the Conference came to rely more and more upon 'experts' in these fields. Episcopal documents in the 1980s tended to nearly all be written by outsiders, often laypersons, and in some notorious cases, even non-Catholics. Staff of the 'ad extra' offices swelled with those properly trained and licensed in the appropriate fields, and (at least on lower levels of administration) many who lacked a Catholic identity, if they were Catholic at all. Every Bishops' Committee received several non-episcopal 'Consultants' from relevant national bodies, who offered consultative input to the bishops on the areas within their competence. While all formal deliberative authority remained within the episcopacy, much day-to-day business of the Conference was handled by staff.

Every Bishops' Committee is, as is necessary, staffed by a permanent office in Washington. Although these offices exist solely to serve the Committees, most of them carry out routine affairs as well. The staff of these offices see their role not only as facilitating the decision-making capacities of the bishops they serve, but also as communicating the bishops' decisions and policies to other, external bodies. In this fashion, other national organizations are able to understand and implement the decisions and policies of the American episcopate. This facet of the staff's work, however necessary and beneficial it may be, obviously entails a significant amount of time, expense and resources. This function of the Conference staff may need to be re-examined in light of new priorities of the Conference.

The role of the Episcopal Conference as a whole is to respond to pastoral problems which occur on the national or territorial level, or at least those pastoral problems which require a collegial response. In addition, Episcopal Conferences have significant authority in responding to initiatives and tasks delegated to them by the Holy See. The latter might include the writing of catechisms of the translations of liturgical texts, for example. These twin focii - responding to pastoral problems on a national level and to those tasks entrusted to it by the Holy See - must remain at the forefront of all Conference activity. The Conference cannot, in light of its own identity, see itself as a source for creative and innovative ventures or policy-making, unless these are required by serious pastoral needs which have a national scope. Nor can its commitees see themselves as responsible for, or as having juridical oversight of, all local activities which relate to its subject.

III. Lessons in Downsizing

'Downsizing' is now, for the USCCB, not only a purposeful methodological decision, but also a necessary economic one, given budgetary constraints. I offer two suggestions of my own in this regard, simply for the sake of conversation. They may be more or less helpful, as the case may be.

First, learn to outsource. For the sake of convenience, the USCCB has, over the course of recent decades, progressively made decisions to incorporate many administrative functions as 'in-house' tasks. Hence, the USCCB includes a mailroom, a print and copy shop, a travel agency, a publishing office, a news agency, a technology office, a legal counsel, and several other 'support' offices. Several of these offices it is difficult to imagine the bishops living without. The USCCB, it seems, would of necessity need its own mailroom and human resource office. Others, however, could feasibly be outsourced without excessive inconvenience to the Conference mission. Certainly, there are reasons for keeping them in-house, as this generally reduces the cost and adds to the efficiency of the Conference mechanism. Yet one may wonder if a slight increase in expenses would be a small price to pay, literally, for a strong reduction in bureaucratic size. Also, there are inevitable downsides to in-house support offices, as the staff of the Conference are generally not given the option to use alternative, external resources, even when these are found cheaper and more desirable than in-house operations.

Second, 'embrace the apostolate'. One of the rich gifts of the Catholic Church is the expansive diversity of effective apostolates which function at the local and national levels. When these apostolates prove themselves to be faithful to the magisterium, obedient to the episcopate and effective in producing quality work, there would appear to be little reason not to delegate certain tasks to them. Ignatius Press, for example, would seem well-suited to handle the publication of USCCB materials, and thus enable the downsizing of the massive USCCB Publication office. It is difficult not to see the Bishops' foundation of Catholic News Service as an attempt to establish competition with EWTN, albeit through different mediums (the lamentably poor relations that have often troubled the USCCB and EWTN need not be addressed here). The proliferation of solid and effective Catholic apostolates in other areas, especially in the areas of human development and social justice, need hardly be noted.

The Catholic principle of subsidiarity also holds that nothing should be done by a larger and more complex organization which can be done as well by a smaller and simpler organization. Of course, the question of whether and to what extent this principle applies to the Church is an ongoing discussion, but to raise it here at least brings some elements into focus. Clearly, many activities of the Conference, such as the solemn exercise of teaching and pastoral practice, cannot possibly be delegated to others. Nothing which concerns the collegial action of the episcopacy can, in fact, be delegated to a non-collegial level.

Yet at the same time, some activities of the Conference do not properly fall within the proper scope of this collegial activity, and might be best suited to an appropriate apostolate. A Bishops' Committee on Migration and Refugees would certainly be necessary, given the need for clear teaching and pastoral action on what is fast becoming a central issue for the Church (and a teaching that is often ignored). Yet the actual, concrete resettling of refugees and migrants, it would appear, is not something that requires the direct action of the bishops themselves, nor their staff. With competent and faithful organizations such as Catholic Charities, which already work closely with the bishops, there would seem to be no good reason why much of the USCCB staff which work to resettle migrants could not be turned over to these apostolates, while doctrinal teaching and ultimate pastoral oversight on this issue would be the prerogatives of the Conference.

IV. Reform the Plenary Session

The plenary session is, according to Apostolos Suos, the only structure by means of which the full body of American bishops can act and/or teach in a manner that is, theologically speaking, 'authentic'. Yet, as mentioned above in regards to Archbishop Dolan's observations, the overweening importance in past years given to permanent offices and committees has tended to diminish the significance of the plenary session, which has often functioned as a mere means of collectively affirming and ratifying the work of the commitees and offices. Apostolos Suos has these words regarding the priorities of the Conference:

Such aims, however, require that an excessively bureaucratic development of offices and commissions operating between plenary sessions be avoided. The essential fact must be kept in mind that the Episcopal Conferences with their commissions and offices exist to be of help to the Bishops and not to substitute for them. (AS 18)
If this mandate is to be effectively implemented, it would mean that a permanent committee or office would be justified solely to the extent that it served the bishops, and that in their plenary session. This would require more than merely reporting on an office's activities or accomplishments, and more than merely issuing an occasional, token document to celebrate this or that occasion. While it is easy to imagine committees on Marriage, Ministries, or Doctrine putting forth serious items of pastoral concern for the consideration of the plenary session of bishops, it is difficult to imagine this for other offices. The Office for Aid to Catholics in Eastern Europe, for example, serves mainly to gather and distribute financial aid to Catholics in this region: there is little doubt that this aid is much-needed, but it is worth asking what a fund-distribution office might bring to the plenary session that the bishops would find worth talking about (the 'embrace the apostolate' theme might come in handy here). Of course, this entity's incorporation into the Conference certainly helps to facilitate its charitable income, and hence its aid to those in need, but more serious, overriding considerations may take priority.

On another matter, the structure and programming of the plenary sesion itself has been recognized as being in need of reform. Father Neuhaus' 2004 First Things column, "Bishops at a Turning Point", encapsulated and gave voice to the gratitude of many bishops that these reforms were already on the way.

Above all, the bishops desire plenary sessions with less staff and media present, a looser and less predetermined agenda, and more substantive discussion between bishops. In short, they want to meet as bishops, to discuss what concerns them as bishops. They are often frustrated by rigid regulations about who gets to speak when and for how long, and by the harried pace of the meeting agenda itself, which actively discourages lengthy, substantive discussion between members, and lends itself only to brief, curt and pre-written presentations by heads of committees, with a quick 'up or down vote' by the full body, with as little discussion and debate as possible between.

This is difficult to avoid, of course. The meetings already last up three days or more, and the number of issues on the table, as well as the sheer number of members present, make real discussion and conversation impractical. Radical measures, like expanding the meetings over 4-5 days, or closing larger sections off from the staff and media, would be unpopular with most parties, but perhaps necessary. I like, for my own part, to envision a whole week with bishops residing in a hotel or residence together, with no staff or media alllowed, with only the afternoons reserved for meetings. The mornings would have no agenda, but only open coffee bars and round tables for bishops to meet, mingle and discuss what is on their minds. The media, staff and chanceries would hate it, of course. But I have a feeling the bishops would love it.

# posted by Jamie : 4:46 PM


Wednesday, September 07, 2005

A Reflection on the Nature of Episcopal Conferences, Part I of III 

As I promised a few days ago, stimulated by Bishop Wuerl's thought-provoking article on the role of episcopal conferences, I would like to offer a few words of reflection on the same subject. My own reflections have as their object John Paul II's 1998 Apostolic Letter Apostolos Suos, 'On the Theological and Juridical Nature of Episcopal Conferences.' This entry will be one of three on the subject: the first will reflect on the nature of episcopal conferences themselves in light of Apostolos Suos, the second on the ongoing efforts to reform the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in light of such mandates, and the third on the specific implications of Bishop Wuerl's suggestions in light of the aforementioned reflections. The second and third have yet to be written (give me a day or two while you're chewing on this one).

The document begins by summarizing the solemn mandate given to the 'college of apostles' by Christ, which was then passed on to their successors. This mandate, in sum, entails that every successor of the apostles, as such, is charged not only with the pastoral care of the faithful directly entrusted to them (i.e., their diocese), but also with that of the whole Church of God (AS 1-2). Without prejudice to a bishop's authority in his own diocese, this larger, collegial responsibility cannot fail to find concrete expression, and history has manifested a broad variety of 'means, structures and ways of communicating' this charge (AS 3). Particular mention is given to the holding of particular councils, plenary councils, provincial councils, provincial conferences and assemblies, and finally, distinguished by their stable and permanent character, Episcopal Conferences (AS 3-4).

The call for the establishment of episcopal conferences, at least in seminal form, was made by the Second Vatican Council itself, in the document Christus Dominus:

[I]t would be in the highest degree helpful if in all parts of the world the Bishops of each country or region would meet regularly, so that by sharing their wisdom and experience and exchanging views they may jointly formulate a programme for the common good of the Church (CD 37, cf. Lumen Gentium 23).
In 1966, Pope Paul VI, by the Motu Proprio Ecclesiae Sanctae, more or less mandated what the council had suggested. These developed quickly and significantly, and became the ordinary means by which the bishops of a country or a specific territory 'exchange views, consult with one another and cooperate in promoting the common good of the Church.' By facilitating this communication, episcopal conferences 'contribute effectively to unity between the Bishops, and thus to the unity of the Church, since they are a most helpful means of strengthening ecclesial communion.'

This 'ecclesial communion' between the successors of the apostles, the fruit of the spirit of collegiality, is something without which the Church cannot function. In fact, 'the supreme power which the body of Bishops possesses over the whole Church cannot be exercised by them except collegially' (AS 9, emphasis added). A bishop cannot exercise this collegial action at the level of his individual diocese, even when he does so with the good of the whole Church in mind (AS 10).

This collegial spirit cannot remain a disincarnated abstraction: it is 'an organic reality which demands a juridical form' (AS 8). Episcopal Conferences constitute 'a concrete application of the collegial spirit.' (AS 14) Yet at the same time it is essential to distinguish between the spiritual reality and its juridical application. Hence, as this document is at pains to point out, the action of the episcopal conference is clearly distinguished and demarcated from the collegial acts of the College of Bishops itself (AS 10). In no way are the actions of the episcopal conference of a territory to be construed as the actions of the sacred college of bishops itself, but only as one, limited juridical expression of this reality. (AS 12; cf. 13).

Thus distinguished from the exercise of the sacred college of bishops per se, the episcopal conference is a reality authorized by the Holy See, which offers general delineations of that conference's form, laying out guidelines for the establishment of a general secretariat and permanent ('administrative') council, the holding of plenary sessions, along with recommendations for committees which would facilitate collegial cooperation in response to the following (non-exhaustive) list of issues:

[T]he promotion and safeguarding of faith and morals, the translation of liturgical books, the promotion and formation of priestly vocations, the preparation of catechetical aids, the promotion and safeguarding of Catholic universities and other educational centres, the ecumenical task, relations with civil authorities, the defence of human life, of peace, and of human rights, also in order to ensure their protection in civil legislation, the promotion of social justice, the use of the means of social communication, etc. (AS 15)
The document continues with a set of stern admonitions regarding the dangers of over-expanding such structures:

Such aims, however, require that an excessively bureaucratic development of offices and commissions operating between plenary sessions be avoided. The essential fact must be kept in mind that the Episcopal Conferences with their commissions and offices exist to be of help to the Bishops and not to substitute for them. (AS 18)
One reason for these limits is the limited nature of the authority of the Conference itself. Sacred tradition has established severe limits to the authority of conferences to act in the name of all bishops. Even if a bishop desired to voluntarily limit or derogate his own authority to the episcopal conference of which he is a member, this could never obtain in reality (AS 20). In order for the conference or its president to speak in the name of all bishops, 'each and every bishop' (to a man) must give his consent.

Even more restrictions are placed upon the conference's exercise of the teaching ministry, limits of which the conference's are 'well aware.' Even in those cases where they are 'official and authentic and in communion with the Apostolic See, these pronouncements do not have the characteristics of a universal magisterium.' But even for a declaration of the episcopal conference to merit as 'authentic teaching' it must receive either the unanimous consent of all bishops, or a clear 'moral majority' of all bishops plus the formal recognitio of the Holy See (cf. AS articles 1 and 2 of the complementary norms).

In all this, the role of the plenary council is pivotal, the sine qua non of the 'official and authentic' action of the conference: 'The very nature of the teaching office of Bishops requires that, when they exercise it jointly through the Episcopal Conference, this be done in the plenary assembly.' Smaller bodies or committees cannot carry out this task, even were the whole conference to delegate it to them. A 'plenary council' would be the equivalent of the highly-publicized 'general meetings' of the USCCB, which tend to occur twice a year (once in the Spring, and once in the Fall). It is only through these meetings that the authentic teaching office of the conference can be exercised.

In sum, the collegial action of bishops is essential both to their own ministry and to the well-being of the whole Church. The episcopal conference is one of the means by which that collegial spirit is enhanced, especially with regard to certain tasks which could not easily be accomplished otherwise. By virtue of their own nature, however, these conferences cannot substitute either for the authority of the diocesan bishop or for the magisterium of the Church, both of which they serve. Hence, a solemn and binding pronouncement by this conference, even in the rare cases in which it is achieved, would be such by virtue of the authority of the Holy See and the individual diocesan bishops, not by virtue of the authority of the conference itself. This authentic exercise of collegial ministry is carried out, in point of fact, only through the plenary council, for the sake of which the entire conference, and all of its juridical structures, subsist.

# posted by Jamie : 3:49 PM


Tuesday, September 06, 2005

As those who know me understand, I am an addict to ecclesiastical gossip. Hence, I have no way of avoiding the obligatory trips through the stateside gossip mills that are a part of that trade. One tendency I have come to deplore among bloggers is the trait of constantly updating one's readers about how many hits and page views one has 'racked up'. This tendency seems to be exaggerated in a few of these gossip mills (cf. Exhibits A and B), which only makes these more painful to read.

I offer my handful of readers the Ad Limina promise: As bad, unreadable and self-serving as my blog gets, you will never, ever receive an 'update' about how well-liked and frequently-visited it is.

That's all.

# posted by Jamie : 2:39 PM


Lunchtime reading 

After you're done with Shea, read:

Jeff's (aka the Curt Jester's) conversion story. (ht, e-pression).

John Lamont's NOR article "Why the Second Vatican Council was a Good Thing and is More Important Than Ever", republished on-line at the Pertinacious Papist. (ht, Curt Jester)

# posted by Jamie : 1:00 PM


So That No Thought of His, No Matter How Stupid, Should Ever Go Unpublished Again" 

Mark Shea is back in action.

# posted by Jamie : 12:27 PM


Thursday, September 01, 2005

Headline of the week 

"Pope tells Catholics to multiply"

Hat tip, Zorak.

# posted by Jamie : 1:50 PM


Bishop Olmsted of Phoenix defends the Church's right to defend herself. At least I think that's what he's doing.

--Also check out this interview with Bishop Olmsted from Insight Scoop.

And Bishop Wuerl of Pittsburgh pontificates on the role of the USCCB and its response to dissident Catholic politicians. Wuerl's piece is quite interesting; I had the chance to review it pre-publication, and had a number of thoughts on it. I hope to expound a few of these later in the day, if I get the chance.

For now, I'll merely note that Bishop Wuerl made this statement in May of 2004.

(Hat tip Amy Welborn on all three links).

# posted by Jamie : 12:22 PM


Get your Pope Innocent III Action Figure now 

Introduce this Pope Innocent III Action Figure to your other figures and watch the spiritual sparks fly! Armed with his formidable power of excommunication and an intimidating scroll inscribed with Latin text, this 6" tall, hard plastic model of the 176th Pope will soon have all your other action figures lining up for confession. Read the back of the illustrated blistercard and you'll find that Pope Innocent III was a good guy in all respects. He was a patron of the arts, cared about orphans, built a hospital and reunified the Papal States! Comes with removable fancy Pope hat.

I wonder what happens when Innocent III goes up against Nunzilla. I'm getting Innocent for my sons now. I'd like to ask the company to make a Piux X ("armed with the formidable Index of Forbidden Books, Pius X will have your other action figures reciting the Oath against Modernism in no time!").

Hat tip, Ut unum sint or whatever the heck Bill calls his blog now.

# posted by Jamie : 11:08 AM


Behold, Lazarus lives... 

As the Vatican curial offices return from a month-long vacation, the VIS just sent its first news transmission since July.

In an ocean of other updates were the following news items (most of which have already been made available to the press):

August 4: Declaration by Holy See Press Office Director Joaquin Navarro-Valls concerning the admittance to Rome's Gemelli hospital of Pope Benedict XVI's brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, with heart problems.

August 24: Appointment of Archbishop William Joseph Levada, emeritus of San Francisco, U.S.A., and prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, as member of the Congregation for Bishops.

August 24: Appointment of Fr. Michael A. Blume S.V.D., under-secretary at the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Itinerant Peoples, as apostolic nuncio to Benin and Togo, at the same time elevated to the dignity of archbishop. The archbishop-elect was born in South Bend, U.S.A., in 1946 and ordained a priest in 1972.

August 29: Declaration by Holy See Press Office Director Joaquin Navarro-Valls concerning the audience granted by the Pope to Msgr. Bernard Fellay, superior general of the "Fraternity of St. Pius X." The audience was granted at Msgr. Fellay's request.

# posted by Jamie : 9:15 AM


Under the Patronage of
St. Augustine of Hippo

Contact me:

Ad Limina Apostolorum: An ecclesiastical term meaning a pilgrimage to the sepulchres of St. Peter and St. Paul at Rome, i.e., to the Basilica of the Prince of the Apostles and to the Basilica of St. Paul "outside the walls".

"Augustine of Hippo Refuting Heretic"
(illuminated manuscript,
13th century)

"Jamie . . .
I could kill you in three seconds.
-Bishop Sheridan

Books Recently Read or Currently Reading

John Milbank's Theology & Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason (next in stack)

Colson Whitehead's Zone One (reading)

Michael Wyschogrod's Body of Faith: God and the People Israel (reading)

J. B. Schneewind's Invention of Autonomy: A History of Modern Moral Philosophy (reading)

Paul Hacker's Ego in Faith: Martin Luther and the Origins of Anthopocentric Religion (finished: 3 stars)

Edward Peter's Modern Guide to Indulgences: Rediscovering this Often-Ministerpreted Teaching (finished: 1 star)

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