Doctrinal “devolution” to the bishops’ conferences? Francis already endorsed it in 2013.
Amidst all the talk from some Synod delegates and spokesmen about the “devolution” or “delegation” of important moral questions to the bishops’ conferences, and the criticisms of a very few Synod fathers and Catholic commentators against this idea, there is the proverbial “elephant in the room” that no one wants to mention. We are referring to the fact that Pope Francis already endorsed the idea of “devolution” or “delegation” of doctrinal authority in nos. 32-33 of his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium,
the true blueprint for his entire pontificate (our emphases):
32. Since I am called to put into practice what I ask of others, I too must think about a conversion of the papacy. It is my duty, as the Bishop of Rome, to be open to suggestions which can help make the exercise of my ministry more faithful to the meaning which Jesus Christ wished to give it and to the present needs of evangelization. Pope John Paul II asked for help in finding “a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation”. We have made little progress in this regard. The papacy and the central structures of the universal Church also need to hear the call to pastoral conversion. The Second Vatican Council stated that, like the ancient patriarchal Churches, episcopal conferences are in a position “to contribute in many and fruitful ways to the concrete realization of the collegial spirit”.Yet this desire has not been fully realized, since a juridical status of episcopal conferences which would see them as subjects of specific attributions, including genuine doctrinal authority, has not yet been sufficiently elaborated. Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach.
33. Pastoral ministry in a missionary key seeks to abandon the complacent attitude that says: “We have always done it this way”. I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in their respective communities. A proposal of goals without an adequate communal search for the means of achieving them will inevitably prove illusory. I encourage everyone to apply the guidelines found in this document generously and courageously, without inhibitions or fear. The important thing is to not walk alone, but to rely on each other as brothers and sisters, and especially under the leadership of the bishops, in a wise and realistic pastoral discernment.
When Evangelii Gaudium
was published in November 2013, we at Rorate
immediately grasped the central importance of this passage, which is why we chose to highlight it
. The reality is that for all the talk of “conspiracies” and “muddling through” in this pontificate, Francis
and his closest advisers (Cardinals Maradiaga
and Abp. Tucho Fernandez
in particular) have been nothing if not clear about their intentions for “deep, total and irreversible” change in the Church. This passage in EG
could not be any clearer about the direction where Francis wants the Church to go.
If ever a measure of doctrinal authority were to be devolved to the bishops’ conferences, then Rome would be faced with a never-ending battle to regulate, limit or claim back that authority. The damage to the papacy’s authority and the chaos that will take place in the universal Church is too terrible to contemplate. If we were talking here of local Churches deeply rooted in Tradition and jealous in guarding their ancient theological, liturgical and canonical heritage then there would be much less disquiet (even though the idea of doctrinal “devolution” would still be thoroughly unacceptable from a traditional Catholic point of view). Unfortunately, a genuine sense of Tradition has largely disappeared in our Church, and any “devolution” of “doctrinal authority” will most certainly result in numerous hierarchies hastening all the more to be guided by the spirit of the world.
It is the height of irony for Catholic apologists and commentators to continue to be silent in the face of this obvious attack on the authority of the Apostolic See and the unity of the universal Church, due precisely to their misguided sense of “loyalty” to the papacy and the desire to foster “unity” (often understood to mean that criticism should be stifled and that everyone should all pretend that everything’s just fine).