More Criticism of Roman Curia, But Also Concerns About Nat’l Bishops’ Conferences

61st General Congregation
November 6, 1963

Repeated and increasingly stronger criticisms of the Roman curia were heard in the Second Vatican Council on Nov. 6.

It seemed the lid was off for plain language as speaker after speaker rose to demand a curial organization more representative of the Universal Church. The topic under discussion was the schema on bishops and diocesan government.

After only two days of debate the council Fathers voted to terminate discussion on the general acceptability of the schema — by a vote of 1,610 to 477 — and proceed to a discussion of the schema chapter by chapter.

At the U.S. bishops’ press panel after the meeting, Msgr. George G. Higgins, council expert and director of the Social Action Department, National Catholic Welfare Conference, noted that if the schema as a whole had not been accepted, its rejection would have meant putting off the entire matter until the next council session or later. The acceptance vote meant that the Fathers wanted to avoid this postponement, he said. But it does not mean, he added, that the Fathers will not make amendments and additions to the schema.

One more procedural change was initiated in the Nov. 6 meeting according to the new principle that, instead of a daily rotation in the presiding moderator’s chair, the complete discussion on a particular theme will be regularly directed by the same man. Accordingly, Josef Cardinal Suenens of Malines-Brussels, Belgium, continued as presiding moderator.

The first speaker in this 61st general meeting since the council opened 13 months ago was Ernesto Cardinal Ruffini of Palermo, Italy. He noted the objection of the previous day that the schema makes no reference to the concept that the bishops, headed by the pope, form a college charged with governing the Church.

This objection presumes that the matter has already been settled conclusively, and this is not so, he said.

He then supported the position taken earlier by James Francis Cardinal McIntyre of Los Angeles, saying that “the discussion of the proposed national conferences of bishops can lead into dangerous waters if these conferences are given real authority to carry out their decisions.”

Cardinal Ruffini foresaw two dangers: “The faithful would see different aspects of the Church in different countries,” and “since the pope could hardly turn down the recommendations of these national conferences, this would in fact and for all practical purposes mean the disappearance of his primatial jurisdiction.”

Caution on the question of giving juridical powers to national conferences of bishops was voiced also by Franziskus Cardinal Koenig of Vienna. “The long experience of the National Catholic Welfare Conference in the United States and the Conference of German Bishops,” he said, “shows that very fruitful results can be obtained even when the conference has only moral and not juridical authority over its individual members.”

Bernard Cardinal Alfrink of Utrecht, speaking in the name of the Bishops of the Netherlands, indicated another possible danger in concrete terms. He said:

“It is frequently said that the organization of a College of Bishops in Rome would be an expression of the collegiality of the episcopate and that this would be even more true of the institution of one central organ in Rome to assist the sovereign pontiff in the government of the Church.

“But such an organ, whether composed of cardinals in charge of dioceses or otherwise, does not reflect the collegiality of the bishops, nor would it be a parliamentary expression of their authority. It might even increase the danger of being accused of undue centralization in Rome. So with such an organ the Roman curia would be the executive branch of the legislative power of the episcopate and would be directly at the service of the bishops.”

Commenting on Cardinal Alfrink’s statement at the U.S. bishops’ press panel, Father Robert Trisco, council expert and faculty member at Catholic University of America, said the Cardinal meant that a College of Bishops — although not a parliamentary one, since the bishops sent to it would not have a mandate from their national conferences of bishops — would nevertheless be an expression of collegiality. He noted that the Cardinal said this wouldbe a step toward centralization but that this in itself would not be a bad thing.

Augustin Cardinal Bea, SJ, president of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, urged the council Fathers to take courage. In this connection he cited St. Paul’s reference to the Church as a living body having a variety of members but always in close union with one another. “Thus,” he said, “there is no danger of schism but everything contributes to mutual concern for one another.”

He added that therefore “the role of authority is not to replace individual members in what they can do by themselves but only to supply what they cannot provide. This is true of any authority but particularly of authority in the Church, and is especially applicable to those special members of the Mystical Body who are the bishops. They should be able to do what they can do. Bishops from the outside should be brought to Rome to work with the pope in the way determined by himself.”

Michael Cardinal Browne, OP, former Dominican superior general and now an official of the curia, cautioned against putting the cart before the horse.

“It is quite definite,” he said, “that we do not yet have a sufficiently clear idea of just what constitutes this collegial character (of the bishops). … We must await the report of the Theological Commission for a clarification of this basic point before we can take any concrete action.”

A similar point was made by Coadjutor Archbishop Pierre Veuillot of Paris, who said: “Any discussion on the schema is premature because the exercise of episcopal power, as here set forth, is closely connected with the theological doctrine on the episcopate.”

“This doctrine would make a big difference,” he went on, “in determining the relationships between the Roman curia and the bishops, in deciding on the authority of national episcopal conferences and in the organization of ecclesiastical provinces. Until this point is made definitely clear, the schema in its present form cannot be submitted to the vote of the council.”

The next five speakers expressed ideas already heard in the council. Archbishop Fernando Gomes dos Santos of Goiania, Brazil, said that “a national conference should have sufficiently wide authority to meet its needs.” Maronite Rite Bishop Pierre Dib of Cairo complained that there should be perfect equality between the bishops of the East and West.

Bishop Carlos Saboia Bandeira de Mello, OFM, of Palmas, Brazil, said there is no question of “granting” faculties to bishops but only of determining their ordinary powers.

Archbishop Hermann Schaeufele of Freiburg, Germany, said that bishops should have a part in a central organ to be set up in connection with the Holy See.

Bishop Alejandro Olalia of Lipa, the Philippines, asked for more emphasis on “the collegiality of bishops in charity and unity.”

Bishop Francis Simons, SVD, of Indore, India, returned to the attack on the curia. He declared that “at least as presently organized, the Roman curia is no longer a satisfactory organ of communication between the pope and the bishops.”

To this, Bishop Giuseppe Ruotolo of Ugento, Italy, added: “The relationships between the bishops and the Roman curia should be characterized by a spirit of genuine catholicity and mutual understanding.”

Bishop Joseph H. Hodges of Wheeling, W. Va., said “the schema needs a new chapter on the relationship between the bishops and the pope as head of the Episcopal College. … It should explain the meaning of the phrase referring to ‘faculties reserved to the Roman pontiff’ — which is not the same as ‘faculties reserved to the Apostolic See.’” [This distinction is between the power reserved to the pope and powers reserved to one or other of the congregations and offices which make up the Roman curia.]

Later, at the U.S. bishops’ press panel, Bishop Hodges said there is a need for a clear statement on the nature, function and authority of the Roman congregations, stressing that they are instituted by the pope and do not exist independently of him but only as a help to him in governing the Church.

The election of a pope was brought up for the first time in a council discussion by Auxiliary Bishop Rafael Gonzalez Moralejo of Valencia, Spain:

“Because the pope is not only the Bishop of Rome, but also the head of the Universal Church,” he said, “his election should not be the exclusive right of the College of Cardinals who represent the Roman Church. It should devolve on the entire body of bishops legitimately represented either in the sacred college or in some other fashion.”

At the bishops’ press panel, Archbishop Leo Binz of St. Paul noted in reference to Bishop Gonzalez’ suggestion that a change in conclave procedures “is not to be expected.” Archbishop Karl J. Alter of Cincinnati added that conclaves are difficult enough without having all the world’s bishops represented in the election of a pope.

Father Aniceto Fernandez, OP, Master General of the Dominican Order, urged closer union of the secular and Religious clergies on the diocesan, regional and national levels.

However strongly worded were the criticisms of the curia up to this point, Archbishop Thomas B. Cooray, OMI, of Colombo, Ceylon, suggested that they might be even stronger if the bishops could speak less publicly.

He said: ‘The fact that there are weaknesses to be corrected in the curia and that the curia works in the name of and with the authority of the Holy Father would seem to advise against any discussion of this point on the council floor. Observations would be much more free and objective if they were presented in writing and then studied by a special council commission appointed for this purpose.”

Ukrainian Rite Archbishop Maxim Hermaniuk, CSSR, of Winnipeg, Man., rose to repeat the recommendation that “the organization of an apostolic college to aid the pope would be very effective.”

The last speaker was also the most surprising speaker of the day. Melkite Rite Patriarch Maximos IV Saigh of Antioch asked in effect: Why should the curia be organized in its present manner at all?

Speaking in French, Patriarch Maximos said that “to assist the pope, the schema offers only the curia in its present structure. It adds a timid suggestion that some bishops of the world be given a share in the government of the Church. This does not answer the needs of today nor does it reflect the collegial responsibilities of the bishops in the Church. Just as the pope uses priests in the government of his diocese of Rome, so also he should use bishops in the government of the entire Church.

“The court of the Bishop of Rome is one thing, the college of the Apostles with Peter as its head is quite another.

“The present court reflects a certain particularism and is an obstacle to ecumenism. The very fact that the Roman cardinals are assigned to particular titular churches in Rome shows that they belong more to Rome than to the entire world. The Church should have at its disposal a genuine “Sacred College” composed of patriarchs, according to the early Church councils, and of cardinals whose title would come from the cathedral churches of their dioceses, not from a parish church in Rome.

“To assist the Holy Father there should be something along the lines of what the Oriental churches have had for centuries, namely, a ‘permanent synod’ with members succeeding each other by term. This body would be supreme, even over the curia, with the last word always resting with the sovereign pontiff because of his supreme primatial jurisdiction. The Church should impose only essentials, not accidentals, according to the example set by the first council in Jerusalem.”

At the opening of the day’s assembly the deaths of Archbishop Daniel Mannix of Melbourne, Australia, and Bishop Ferdinand Piontek, vicar capitular of Breslau, the part of the archdiocese remaining in Germany, were announced. Eugene Cardinal Tisserant, dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals, led the Fathers in prayers for their repose.

Msgr. James I. Tucek
NCWC News Rome bureau chief

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