Bishop David Walker – bishops must not be too careerist
By Chris Hook and CNS
Decentralisation and the principle of subsidiarity within the Church structure are shaping up as the big themes of the month-long synod currently
taking place in Rome.
In the first week almost a fifth of the Bishops who spoke addressed the issue of Church governance, with several questioning whether today’s model achieved the co-responsibility
envisioned by Vatican II.
“We must realise that all the measures taken (at the Council) have not yet found their meaning and their objective,” said Bishop Norbert Brunner of Switzerland.
Zealand’s Bishop Patrick Dunn proposed that heads of bishops’ conferences meet “every year or two with brother bishops of the Roman Curia” to discuss pressing pastoral challenges. His examples included use of
general absolution, admitting divorced and remarried Catholics to the Eucharist and the validity of Anglican orders.
But Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger,
said bishops should take more responsibility for correcting doctrinal error within their dioceses.
“If bishops have the courage to judge and decide with authority in this battle for the Gospel, the so-called
decentralisation happens automatically,” he said.
Cardinal Ratzinger said in a speech that received loud applause that the world had a thirst to know “not our Church problems, but the fire that Jesus brought
to earth. Only if we have become Christ’s contemporaries and this fire is alight within us will the Gospel announced touch the hearts of our contemporaries. The central problem of our time is the emptying of the
historical figure of Jesus Christ”.
Cardinal Ratzinger cited a speech by German Cardinal Joachim Meisner who had urged bishops to take a stronger approach towards governance and correcting doctrinal error.
Cardinal Meisner said Catholic leaders were partly to blame for a “crisis of faith” facing the Church because they had adopted a laissez-faire approach to governance.
However, Belgium’s Cardinal Godfried
Danneels urged his colleagues to be strong teachers of faith, but also urged greater Vatican recognition of the authority of bishops on the local level and within the synod.
He said he was not trying to set
the Pope or Roman Curia against any bishops or bishops’ conferences.
“We need both a strong Pope and a strong episcopal college. We have nothing to gain by promoting one to the detriment of the other,” he
The local bishop “is not simply a moderator who passes on teaching”, he must announce the truth and make sure it is accepted.
Cardinal Danneels said it would be helpful if Vatican congregations
sent proposed documents to local bishops for comment before releasing them publicly.
“In the intimacy of the congregations they can be vaccinated against the microbes of scepticism and anti-authoritarianism
which reign here and there throughout the world, without damaging their nutritional value.”
While the Church must practise the “art of defining” how Church teaching is applied in the modern world, it cannot
ignore “the art of persuasion and commun ication, which is the task of the bishop, above all”.
The president of the Canadian Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop James Weisgerber, warned that an imbalance of power
within the Church impeded its mission and harmed its image.
“Communion involves mutual recognition and respect, confidence and trust, openness and reciprocal communication,” he said.
Weisgerber said the primacy of the Pope and the collegiality of the bishops are needed to “show the world the fundamental reality of the Church as a communion of Churches”.
Each local bishop must be respected
for his authority and consulted for his perspective, he said. The role of bishops’ conferences as an irreplaceable tool for helping bishops respond to the challenges in their own country must also be respected.