Roman Curia Defended; Discussions Continue on Church Governance

62nd General Congregation
November 7, 1963

The 18 speeches at the ecumenical council’s Nov. 7 meeting made three main points:

1. Although there may be some abuses in the practices of the Roman curia, it has done a service to the Church and should not be changed.

2. The text of the schema on bishops and diocesan government should not speak of grants of faculties to bishops, but rather of the restoration of the powers which are necessary for the care of a diocese.

3. There should be instituted an international body of bishops to assist the pope in the government of the Church.

Joseph Cardinal Ritter of St. Louis was the first at the Nov. 7 assembly to call for restoring to bishops powers which “are basically of divine origin.”

He was joined in this call by Archbishop Ermenegildo Florit of Florence, Italy; Bishop Piotr Kalwa of Lublin, speaking in the name of the Bishops of Poland; and retired Bishop Fidel Garcia Martinez of Calahora y La Calzada-Logrono, Spain.

At the U.S. bishops’ press panel following the day’s meeting, Msgr. George G. Higgins, council expert and director of the Social Action Department, National Catholic Welfare Conference, observed that there are two different approaches to the question of “restoration of faculties” developing in the council.

Almost all the bishops, Msgr. Higgins said, favor some restoration. But one group does so strictly for the practical reason of facilitating the operation of a diocese. The second group, he said, wants the matter to be discussed in terms of the theology of the collegiality of the bishops, with the application of the idea that faculties are inherent in the episcopal office rather than conceded to bishops by the pope.

A further suggestion by Cardinal Ritter was that the schema chapter entitled “The Relationships of Bishops with the Roman Curia” should be changed because, he said, “this organ (the curia) does not exist except as a delegate of the pope and does not have any autonomous existence.”

At the press panel both Father Robert Trisco, council expert and faculty member of the Catholic University of America, and Father Gustave Weigel, SJ, a council expert from Woodstock College, Md., said that the curia as it now stands is the arm of the pope and that reforming it is primarily up to him.

It may be said, Father Weigel stated, that after the council it will be reorganized as the arm of the pope and the bishops.

The curia was defended by Armenian Rite Patriarch Ignace Pierre XVI Batanian of Cilicia, who said:

“From the first Vatican Council we know that the pope has the fullness of jurisdiction, that his power comes directly from God and is not subject to limitation by any human authority. Consequently he has the right to organize the curia as he wishes. Since a tree is judged by its fruits and the general state of the Church today is good, we must conclude that the Roman curia, which has had such a great role in the expansion of the Church, has done its duty satisfactorily.

“Every institution has its weaknesses and we should try to correct them wisely and prudently. This does not mean publishing them and bringing them to the attention of everyone with the risk of scandalizing or shocking certain souls. It is not right to forget all the services rendered by the curia and to concentrate only on its weak points.”

Similar defenses of the curia were made by Bishop Aurelio Del Pino Gomez of Lerida, Spain, and Bishop Edoardo Mason, FSCJ, Apostolic Vicar of El Obeid, Sudan. Patriarch Batanian’s words were greeted with applause.

After Archbishop Florit, who repeated more or less what Cardinal Ritter had said, Bishop Jose Suoto Vizoso of Palencia, Spain, urged that “attention be paid to certain specific points, such as allowing local bishops to decide when the faithful could satisfy their obligation of Sunday or holy day Mass by attendance at evening Mass the day before.”

Coadjutor Archbishop Paul Gouyon of Rennes, France, repeated the proposal of summoning the bishops of the world to assist the pope in the government of the Church. Similar statements were made by Bishop Kalwa, Archbishop Owen McCann of Cape Town, South Africa, and Archbishop Herculanus Vander Burgt, OFM Cap., of Pontianak, Indonesia.

“This is a great step forward,” Archbishop Gouyon said. “It would be important that the bishops thus designated should not be resident in Rome but rather that they should be summoned periodically. This is because a prolonged residence away from their homes might cause them to lose contact with everyday situations.”

Archbishop McCann, speaking in the name of the Bishops of South Africa and of Northern Rhodesia, while urging the organization of a body of bishops in Rome to assist in governing the Church, suggested the use of such a body also to help shorten the work of the Vatican council.

He said: “In order to forestall undue prolongation of the council, this body of bishops could be empowered by the council to decide certain detailed points.”

Commenting on this point at the bishops’ press panel, Msgr. Higgins said that some bishops feel that some of the schemas are less important than those now being discussed and that they should be turned over to a commission of bishops. Most bishops want the council to be over within a year or two, he stated.

Father Frederick McManus, council expert and faculty member of the Catholic University of America, added that no post-council machinery has as yet been set up.

Bishop Michael Browne of Galway, Ireland, was the first speaker of the day. He treated the idea of the collegiality of the bishops as nonsense. He returned pointedly to the attack on the curia and was called to order by the moderator, Gregorio Cardinal Agagianian, prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, for being repetitious. He continued speaking just the same.

Bishop Browne said: “It is incorrect to say that the organization of national episcopal conferences is an exercise of collegiality. Some countries have had such conferences for years without collegiality ever having been thought of.”

On the matter of the curia he added: “It is regrettable that the bishops assembled in the council are not free to discuss on the floor certain important points which touch them closely, such as the handling of marriage cases, the reservation of jurisdiction and the payment of taxes on certain ecclesiastical acts. There is nothing in the text on the necessary international character of the curia nor on the qualifications to be demanded of its members.”

A new element in the council — government interference in the appointment of bishops — was raised by Archbishop Antonio Ferreira Gomes of Oporto, Portugal, and repeated by Archbishop Joseph Attipetty of Verapoly, India.

“The council should speak out against the abuses of secular authority in the appointment of bishops,” said Archbishop Ferreira Gomes. “No bishop should be obliged to take an oath of fidelity to civil officials. … It is most regrettable that sometimes the Church is less free under Catholic governments than under Protestant ones.”

Archbishop Ferreira Gomes left Portugal for “an indeterminate period” in 1959. In 1958 he had written a letter to Portuguese Premier Antonio Salazar criticizing his regime.

Archbishop Attipetty said: “The council should abolish any existing right to present episcopal candidates and should invite the heads of civil governments to renounce any privileges hitherto enjoyed in this respect.”

Bishop Sergio Mendez Arceo of Cuernavaca, Mexico, asked for a complete revamping of the subject matter of the text.

Archbishop Van der Burgt, speaking in the name of 30 Indonesian bishops, suggested that members of any central body of bishops in Rome should be designated by their respective national episcopal conferences. He further urged internationalization of the curia and a complete reorganization of the present system of apostolic nuncios “in the light of present day needs.”

Full power to govern a diocese, said Maronite Rite Archbishop Ignace Ziade of Beirut, Lebanon, should come from episcopal consecration. This is not a detraction from the powers of the pope, he added.

Bishop Del Pino urged that any measures intended for the reform of the curia “should be left to the paternal good judgment of Pope Paul VI, who has already made it clear what his mind is on this point.”

Bishop Francis Mazzieri, OFM Conv., of Ndola, Northern Rhodesia, suggested that “in view of the pastoral aims of the council, missionary bishops should be provided with broader faculties … particularly in urgent marriage cases.”

With reference to the Roman curia, Bishop Pablo Barrachina Estevan of Orihuela-Alicante, Spain, said: “Decentralization is more important now than ever before. The assistance provided by the Roman curia should be more pastoral and less administrative in character.”

After his defense of the Roman curia, Bishop Mason took a negative stand on increasing bishops’ faculties.

He said: “Instead of looking for an extension of new faculties, we would do well to give up some of those we now have, such as wearing a ‘cappa magna’ with a long train and using the title of ‘excellency.’”

Msgr. James I. Tucek
NCWC News Rome bureau chief

* * * *

The ecumenical council commission that drafted the schema on bishops and diocesan government, now being debated by the Fathers, intended to provide for a sort of “permanent council,” according to Bishop Giuseppe Gargitter of Bressanone, Italy.

Bishop Gargitter, who spoke at a press conference sponsored by the German Bishops, was directly concerned with preparation of the schema.

The world’s bishops, he said, are to be enabled to take an active part in the government of the Universal Church under the direct authority of the pope. This in no way does away with the administrative responsibilities of the Roman curia, which will always be in a position to render useful services as it has in the past, he said.

But, he continued, the authority of individual bishops should be enlarged and better defined.

Whether territorial or national conferences of bishops should assume responsibility for an enlarged role in governing the Church is open to question, Bishop Gargitter said. He noted, however, that the commission that drew up the schema never intended that such conferences exercise binding authority in regard to individual bishops or assume prerogatives now belonging to the pope.

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