28 October 2010


I think the Pastor in the Adur Valley writes one of the most sensitive and elegant blogs there are around, but I don't always agree with him. I'm not sure that I went along with a recent piece which seemed to suggest that the status of Voting Cardinal should be restricted to those with a pastoral care of souls.

My reason is this. Cardinals elect a Roman Pontiff by virtue of their technical status as parish priests of the City. If anything, I would prefer an argument that voting status be restricted to those who, as members of the Curia, are really and truly members of clerus Romanus.

I think a good case can be made from early writings (particularly ante-Nicene) for the essence of the Petrine Primacy as inherent in the Church of Rome and then in its Pontiff by virtue of his occupying the episcopal cathedra of that Church (which is why, according to Vatican I, his infallibility is restricted to ex cathedra pronouncements). It is widely claimed that the Roman Church did not have 'monoepiscopacy' until quite late; S Clement has been categorised as merely the presbyter whose particular duty it was to write letters. I believe that the evidence for this theory is pretty thin; but, were it to turn out to be true, I do not think that it would, even to a tiny degree, dent the truth and force of Pastor Aeternus.

Giving logical priority to the Roman Church is completely compatible with the decrees of Vatican I. And it is very far from being a 'liberal' attempt to water down papal authority. The problem with a very narrow emphasis upon papal pronouncements which are ex cathedra is that this enables liberals to treat with scant respect the decisions of the pope which are not ex cathedra, and to be positively contemptuous of the decisions of the Holy Father's curial collaborators, Cardinal Bishops, Presbyters, and Deacons of the Holy Roman Church. The very words "The Curia" are sometimes turned into a cue for a massive sneer, as if these people are a repressive bureaucracy whose only purpose is to irritate the Universal Church with petty and illiberal restrictions. This liberal habit of thinking, helpful as it is to those who wish to take as little notice as possible of the Holy See, has the unfortunate logical result that the Roman Pontiff himself comes to look rather like a mysteriously empowered individual, capable of uttering magic oracles on the rarest occasions, who is nevertheless devoid of context within an actual ecclesia ... a papa vagans rather like those episcopi vagantes with 'valid orders' but no ecclesia of presbyterate, deacons, and laos surrounding them.

Of course we have to distinguish between different levels of the exercise of Magisterium. But the Curia is theologically part of the Petrine ministry of the Roman Church, not some unnecessary appendage with which History has deplorably encrusted it.


I do, however, share Pastor's view that curial cardinals do not need to be consecrated bishops, if they are not so already (unless of course they are being appointed to one of the suburbicarian bishoprics). It was, I believe, John XXIII who made this a rule, and it seems to me theologically inapposite; like a number of his decisions, well-meaning but misguided. The apparently underlying assumption (that any important person must be a bishop and that nobody listens to unimportant people who are not bishops) is not unknown elsewhere; a former Archbishop of Canterbury consecrated his 'Chief of Staff'' 'Bishop at Lambeth'. I think I am right in saying that Rowan has wisely discontinued this unfortunate practice.

My recollection is that Saxon Archbishops of Canterbury did have episcopal assistance; there was a gentleman called the Bishop at S Martin's. But he, although lacking diocesan authority, did have an episcopium with its corona of circumambient clerics and people; as, I suspect, the Roman suburbicarian bishops once did.

BTW, it was Eamon Duffy who, helping with the TV commentary on the Papal Inauguration, commented that Papa Ratzinger knew where the bodies were buried.


Fr Ted said...

Infallible only when speaking ex cathedra on behalf of the whole church?

Could this happen? Has it happened?

Thanks for the notes - most helpful.

Sadie Vacantist said...

Fr Hunwicke - do you have a quote from Newman which expresses similar concerns about the liberal tendency to ignore non ex-cathedra papal statements? Thanks.

Figulus said...

I agree with you completely. I first encountered the view that the Roman Church exercises the Petrine ministry and is infallible when it irremediably defines something (which is something that it cannot do without its bishop, obviously) when reading the excellent history of that diocese by Luke Rivington. There is an annoying tendancy among some to treat the pope as the bishop of bishops rather than as the bishop of Rome, and the cardinals as representatives of their native churches rather than as the chief clergy of the diocese of Rome.

The cardinal bishops did indeed once have ordinary authority in their suburbicarian dioceses, and not too long ago either. Of course, being busy, they farmed out most of their ordinary duties to assistant bishops long ago. Their ordinary duties were stripped from them ''de jure'' in the last century, making them titular bishops indeed, with no authority in their own suburbicarian dioceses. Something analogous happened to the cardinal pastors in the titular parishes. When a cardinal priest visits his titulus, he is entitled to preside in choir and at mass, but has no actual authority in running his parish.

These changes in law are necessary evils designed, no doubt, to protect the parishes and dioceses from the occasional meddling outsider who does not know his place, but they are unfortunate nonetheless. To turn the college of cardinals into an executive version of the Synod of Bishops, however, would be truly to subvert the entire notion of Roman primacy. It would be better to try to move in the opposite direction, and get these foreign cardinals more involved in their Roman parishes and dioceses, which would require lightening their foreign duties somewhat.

There is give and take here, of course. It is better if the cardinals have some understanding of the foreign churches they may be called upon to judge, but of course they also need to understand the Roman church they have been called to serve.

As far as curial bishops go, I prefer the ancient model, wherein Rome would send a couple of priests, or a priest and a deacon, to preside over an eastern synod of squabbling patriarchs, metropolitans, and bishops, and whose presence, followed of course by papal approval, would wonderfully transform said local synod into an Ecumenical Council, the canons of which (or at least those that Rome chose to propagate) the Roman church would henceforth defend around the world, effectively making them Dogma.

Pedro said...

Is it possible that Bl. John XXIII wanted to rectify what he saw as an anomaly in the Church's awarding precedence to cardinals lacking episcopal order over patriarchs, archbishops and bishops with jurisdiction by requiring all members of the Sacred College to have episcopal ordination?

I agree that the cardinals are electors as chief clergy of Rome, and this includes Cardinal-deacons who are generally of the curial variety. Furthermore, it used to be the case that Cardinal-deacons (who needn't have been bishops) did not celebrate pontifically outside of their diaconiae.

Albertus said...

''The problem with a very narrow emphasis upon papal pronouncements which are ex cathedra is that this enables liberals to treat with scant respect the decisions of the pope which are not ex cathedra''.

Not only Liberals. Traditional Catholics also know the truth, that infallibility is very limited indeed, and that not a few of the non-infallible decisions of the Vatican (pope and collaborators) are worthy of scant respect.

I am liturgically and dogmatically traditional, as Catholics ought, but my traditional religion does not keep me from being progressive in other areas, for the truth is more important than blind agreement with any human authority, even the highest religous authority. Which means that on occasion one finds oneself balking at impossible Roman pronouncements, of which many have accumulated during the last 20 centuries.