Quinn Calls Again for Governance Reform
'Insistent Pope' with a 'Consultative Mechanism' Could Effect Changes, Retired Archbishop Says

By Dan Morris-Young
National Catholic Reporter [Spokane Wash]
September 29, 2003

Curial reform and a hard look at the exercise of papal primacy are critical for the health of the Catholic church as well as any realistic hopes of future Christian unity, Archbishop John R. Quinn told an audience of 250 here Sept. 8. But it would take “an insistent pope” working with a broadly representative “consultative mechanism” to pull if off, he said.

In an address titled “Shaping a new kind of papal government: a permanent synod,” the retired San Francisco archbishop covered many of the themes from his much-publicized 1996 Oxford lecture and his 1999 book, The Reform of the Papacy: The Costly Call to Christian Unity (Crossroad Publishing Co.), including a strong call for decentralization of church governance. “Highly centralized” administrative power in the Roman curia has led to frustration among Catholic church people around the world, he said, as well as keeping other Christian denominations wary about how they would be treated if agreeing to formally recognize Petrine primacy. The former president of the U.S. bishops’ conference (1977-80) said there is global concern about curial conduct, including “no meaningful” local consultation on appointment of bishops, reversing or ignoring actions of episcopal conferences, and meddling in local church issues.

For example, he said, he saw little reason “for Rome to be involved in the remodeling of the cathedral in Milwaukee” or for curia officials to be second-guessing English-language liturgical translations. Speaking with NCR the week prior to his Spokane lecture, Quinn said he is “often pulled aside” by fellow bishops around the world “and told they hope the Vatican takes it [his call for decentralization and reform] seriously.”

Wide spectrum of support

At the same time, Quinn told NCR, he felt there would be “great resistance” within the Vatican to an examination of how bishops are currently appointed as well as to “placing more responsibilities in the episcopal conferences.”

Support, however, for his call for reform of church administration has come from a wide spectrum of church people, he said. “Some very conservative people I know have been quite positive about the book … because they see these kinds of changes are necessary and need to be made.”

In his address Quinn advocated a “permanent synod made up of bishops from around the world and with limited terms” that would operate “permanently at the side of the pope” to govern the church. Such a synod, he said, would “be superior to the curia” and reduce the curia’s role from a legislative, governing one to an administrative capacity. Interestingly, Quinn was asked by the executive director of Spokane’s Catholic Charities, Donna Hanson, how a permanent synod of only bishops might reflect the insights or ideas of church women.

Calling it “an obvious question,” Quinn said he advocates much broader inclusion of both lay men and women in church decision-making and governance. In his book he advocates a lay role in selection of popes; he also envisions laity being not only members of Vatican councils, but heads of some as well.

In the structure of the curia there are congregations, councils and tribunals. A creation of Vatican II, councils include organizations such as the Pontifical Council for the Family and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Invitation to dialogue

“Lay persons have in fact been added to the membership of some councils,” he writes, “yet 35 years after” the Second Vatican Council’s call for increased lay participation “half the curial councils still have no lay men or women members. Lay persons are not members of any of the congregations.”

Quinn told the audience gathered in Gonzaga University Law School’s moot courtroom that his book, his Oxford lecture and other addresses have been in large part a response to Pope John Paul II’s own invitation to bishops of the world to dialogue with him about the exercise of papal primacy. That invitation is explicitly contained in the 1995 encyclical Ut Unum Sint (“That They May Be One”), Quinn said.

The archbishop said he hand-delivered a copy of his book Reform of the Papacy to the pope on Dec. 6, 1999, and then went “down the street” and gave one to Cardinal Edward Cassidy, then head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. Quinn said Cassidy made it clear Ut Unum Sint was the personal work of the pope himself, not a document primarily prepared by a committee or commission and then signed by the pontiff.

Cassidy told Quinn the pope had given a copy of Ut Unum Sint to him for his pontifical council to review. “He thought the pope wanted him to curialize and Vaticanize it,” quipped Quinn.

Almost immediately after Cassidy delivered the reworked Ut Unum Sint text to the pope, he received a phone call from the pontiff, Quinn said. “What you have sent me is not what I wrote,” the pope reportedly told the cardinal.

John Paul II’s personal investment in the encyclical makes its call for conversation about exercise of the papal office all the more significant, Quinn said. He called Ut Unum Sint “revolutionary” and “the Magna Carta of ecumenical efforts in the future.”

Brothers, not sons

Quinn said the pope makes it clear in the encyclical that he sees the first millennium as a model for possible changes in how the papacy is exercised. Ut Unum Sint “locates the primacy of the pope within the episcopate, not something outside and above it,” Quinn said, and does not portray it as “a sovereign, monarchical office.”

In the encyclical the pope alludes to fellow bishops as “brothers,” Quinn pointed out, “not sons.”

The pope “focuses strongly on the first millennium papacy,” Quinn said, emphasizing that the “sketch” or “paradigm” of papal authority in that time of church history rested on a “synodal principle” -- a communion of churches that existed on their own, at the same time being united “in communion” with the bishop of Rome.

Characteristically, Quinn said, the pope in that era would not intervene or take part in local church questions, only exercising a role at times of “major issues.”

While John Paul II appears to be open to a papacy whose authority is wielded in a more consultative, collaborative way, he is also clear he would not accept the idea of a papal office that verges on titular, Quinn said. John Paul II insists the papacy must have “true authority” to properly fulfill its function, Quinn explained.

By indicating it is “not necessary for the papacy to be exercised through a strong, centralized authority” and by acknowledging the “synodal principle,” the pope has opened the door to serious discussion of Christian unity, Quinn said, notably with Orthodox churches. The Orthodox and others, said Quinn, are amenable to the concept of papal primacy. It is how that office currently functions that concerns them.

Curial ‘micromanaging’

For example, he said, in 1999 the Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue issued a statement on the possibility of the primacy being recognized even if the two churches were not in full communion.

In a statement earlier this year, he added, the World Council of Churches said it was “open to continued study” on the topic of papal primacy. Quinn repeatedly called the Vatican to allow great autonomy for and collaboration with episcopal conferences. It often appears today, he said, that bishops are simply “field managers” carrying out dictates of the curia.

In Reform of the Papacy, Quinn illustrated his concern about curial “micromanaging” with an anecdote about his reception of an honorary doctorate in theology from a pontifical school. To be allowed, the degree had to be approved by the Vatican Secretariat of State, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the Congregation for Catholic Education. “It would suggest,” Quinn writes, “that a bishop in communion with the pope could be rejected as a candidate for an honorary degree yet would have the qualities necessary to be a teacher and witness of faith as a bishop.”

Although he has received little direct reaction to his book from the Vatican, Quinn said he knows officials there are aware of his message, including Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In a book-length interview with the cardinal, journalist Peter Seewald quotes the high-ranking curia official as alluding to Quinn’s book when questioned about the burdens and vast complexity of the papal office.

“Retired Archbishop Quinn of San Francisco has vigorously argued for the need for decentralization. Certainly, much can be done in this area,” Ratzinger is quoted as saying (NCR, Sept. 28, 2001).

Quinn’s address was sponsored by the Spokane diocese, Gonzaga University, and Catholic Charities’ Parish Social Ministry Office.

Dan Morris-Young is a freelance writer living in Arlington, Wash.

National Catholic Reporter, September 26, 2003


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