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A New Papacy in the Horizon

Atila Sinke Guimarães

Book review of the work The Reform of the Papacy by Archbishop John Raphael Quinn
(Herder & Herder, New York, 1999), 189 pp.

Book Cover for the Reform of the Papacy
Archbishop Quinn is being pointed to as a pioneer in promoting progressivist reforms for the Papacy. In reality, however, his ideas are not new. He is repeating what so many other theologians and Prelates have already asked for. Cardinal Congar, Cardinal Suenens, Fr. Rahner, Fr. Chenu, Fr. Küng and many others, not excluding Cardinal Ratzinger, have made similar demands. The reader wishing to know what they have said can consult the book Animus Delendi I (1).

I believe, however, that Msgr. Quinn really is carrying out an important function in the progressivist plans. Not so much as the thinker who elaborates a new theory or special blueprint of the Papacy, but as one of the vanguard knights who advance and initiate the cavalry charge after the trumpet has sounded the order to “attack and destroy.” After Pope John Paul II in his Encyclical Ut unum sint (n. 95) raised the question of thinking about a new form of exercising the Primacy in a manner agreeable to the Schismatics and Protestants, Msgr. Quinn was one of the first and boldest to respond.

He chose June 29, 1966, a date symbolic for being the Feast of St. Peter, to deliver a lecture at the prestigious Campion Hall at Oxford University in which he proposed reforms for the Papacy. The title of his lecture was The Claims of the Primacy and the Costly Call to Unity. A detailed analysis of this document was published and is still available to the interested reader (2). The text of Quinn’s lecture was reprinted in many journals and magazines around the world, was the topic of much discussion, and became one of the more recent reference points for the reform of the Papacy.

Three years later, Archbishop Quinn has again surfaced to insist upon the same points. This time, however, he has tried to give a more moderated and academic tone to his proposals for reform. One fact is indicative of his new approach. As soon as the book was published, Quinn requested an audience with John Paul II in order to offer him a copy. The audience was granted. Anyone who knows a little about Vatican protocol is quite aware that an audience like this one never would have taken place if the Pope had not approved of the contents of the book.

With this reception, therefore, Quinn armed himself against his enemies with a necessary weapon: the implicit support of the Pope. In fact, back in 1996 when his Oxford lecture became the object of a polemic, the former Archbishop of San Francisco could not prove that he had the permission of John Paul II to say what he said. He found himself in the crossfire between progressivists and conservatives. A vulnerable position for an Archbishop who not long before had prematurely submitted his resignation from office in quite embarrassing circumstances (3).

John Paul II signing Ut Unum Sint

Quinn: The revolution in the Papacy comes from the Encyclical Ut Unum Sint by John Paul II
It is interesting to note that in the present book Quinn changed the radical-progressivist approach of his Oxford lecture in 1996 to take on more “moderate”-progressivist tones. While in 1996 he was making imperative and urgent demands, now Quinn presents only suggestions. He does not give deadlines. He appears better grounded in facts, more erudite, more rational, in a word, more “moderate.” It is certainly the price that had to be paid in order to be received not only by John Paul II, but also by Cardinal Ratzinger.

In chapter I of The Reform of the Papacy, the author bases his suggestions for reform on the requests of John Paul II. Toward this end, he copiously cites the Encyclical Ut unum sint. Quinn fearlessly affirms – and on this point I agree with him – that the initiative of the “revolution” in the Papacy issues from the words of the Sovereign Pontiff in that document. In effect Quinn argues: “The Encyclical of Pope John Paul II on Christian unity .... must also be called a revolution. For the first time it is the Pope himself who raises and legitimizes the question of reform and change in the papal office in the Church” (pp. 13-14).

Further on, he cites another fact:
“The search for unity [with the other religions] must pervade the whole life of the Church. This is another example of the revolutionary character of this encyclical. Until the Second Vatican Council, ecumenism was regarded as dangerous to Faith, and only tried and true experts engaged in it very cautiously, if at all. Here the Pope is saying that it must pervade everything in the Church” (p. 17).
Further on, Quinn continues and offers more evidence:
“Another sign of the revolutionary character of this encyclical are these words of the Pope: ‘This is a specific duty of the Bishop of Rome .... I carry out this duty [the search for unity among religions] with the profound conviction that I am obeying the Lord’ (UUS 3-4)” (p. 18).
The former Archbishop of San Francisco presents yet another argument:
“Still another revolutionary feature of this encyclical, the invitation to join the search for a new way of exercising the primacy, is not confined only to Orthodox and Catholic Bishops and theologians. The Pope addresses all Christian churches and communions, issuing the same invitation: ‘Could not the real but imperfect communion existing between us persuade Church leaders and their theologians to engage with me in a patient and fraternal dialogue on this subject ....?’ (UUS 96)” (p. 22).
Regarding the revolutionary character of the papal document, the author’s conclusion seems indisputable to me: “The Encyclical Ut unum sint is clearly precedent breaking and, in many respects, revolutionary. It calls for a discussion of the Papacy by all Christians with the goal of finding a new way of making it more a service of love than of domination. It holds up the synodal [democratic] model of the Church in the first millennium and emphasizes that the Pope is a member of the College of Bishops and that the primacy should be exercised in a collegial manner” (p. 34).

With this first chapter, Quinn clearly and calmly takes his revenge on those who accused him of defying John Paul II in his 1996 lecture. He seems to be saying: “You accused me of being revolutionary, and you’re right. I am. But see here, Pope John Paul II was revolutionary even before I was. Now what do you have to say for yourselves?” When one considers that the author was received by the Pontiff to accept The Reform of the Papacy, and if one assumes that John Paul II was aware of its contents, one can conclude that the Pope was giving his endorsement to the author’s interpretation of the revolutionary character of his Encyclical.

In chapter II, the author establishes a presumption dear to progressivists: for a true reform, it is necessary that a climate of criticism be established in the Church. “If the Church is in need of a continual reform, she is necessarily in need of continual criticism,” he states (p. 44). The author develops this chapter by understanding “criticism” in a simplistic way. In practice, he considers all criticism as ipso facto favorable to his thesis and propitious toward forming a “public opinion” in the Church (4). From my point of view, Quinn is imprecise in employing that concept of criticism because, in application, he considers both a constructive criticism and a pernicious criticism favorable to his thesis.

Let me explain. A constructive criticism is, for example, like that which Our Lord made to the religious authorities of His time – the pontiffs, scribes and Pharisees. It was the criticism that St. Paul made to St. Peter. It was the criticisms that many Saints made to religious authorities of their time. Among others, Quinn cites those of St. Bernard and St. Catherine of Sienna (pp. 45-47, 70). Now, in practice this type of criticism aims to preserve authority, to defend its mission against the person who erroneously exercises the authority. Thus, a weak Pope, or a bad Pope, can and should be criticized, with due respect, precisely so that his authority be preserved, his mission fulfilled, and the whole of the Church not made to suffer from the erroneous action of the person who occupies the office. There is no doubt that this kind of criticism bolsters the ecclesiastical institutions. It preserves the monarchic structure of the Catholic Church.

Pernicious criticism is that which in practice takes advantage of the defect or error of the person who occupies the office, generalizes such an error, and, instead of attributing it to the person, attributes it unduly to the office itself. Criticisms like this seek to destroy or “reform” the authority and establish a new regime of government in the Church.

Without establishing these practical differences, Quinn de facto admits both types of criticism in order to advocate the reform of the Papacy and the establishment of a “public opinion” in the Church. Authority would only be legitimate when it listens to the criticism of “public opinion.” Thus, according to the author, the essentially monarchic authority should be done away with – and another form of authority should be installed. Now, this latter would be molded by the grassroots, that is to say, it would be an essentially democratic authority, even though it would not use this name. Thus in the applications he takes advantage of the two types of criticism, trying to convince his reader that both support his thesis of a reform of the Papacy. His method is at least intellectually simplified. And his conclusion of the need to reform the Papacy is false.

Chapter III looks at the Papacy and collegiality in the Church. Collegiality is understood by the author as an essential participation that the ensemble of the Bishops would have in all the powers of the Pope. The central argument employed by Quinn and other progressivists could be summarized like this: With Vatican II “the Bishops of the world became convinced that the strong centralization wrought by Rome had to be balanced by a clear teaching on collegiality” (p. 82). Centralization would be an evil. Based on this presumption, Quinn goes on to suggest changes in the distribution of powers in the Church. In this chapter, he argues that collegiality should be introduced to remedy the “evil.”

Permit me to briefly describe the pontifical powers and that which is being called centralization. The Pope has three powers: the power to sanctify, the power to teach and the power to govern. Each of these powers has special characteristics.

The power to sanctify is the power to administer the Sacraments. It is, therefore, the power to confer the Sacrament of Holy Orders (to consecrate Bishops and ordain priests), to say the Mass, and to administer the other six Sacraments – Confirmation, Confession, Holy Communion, Extreme Unction, Matrimony, and Baptism. This power was conferred by Our Lord equally on all the Apostles and to their successors, the Bishops. For this reason, the Pope has the same power to sanctify as the other Bishops. However, the Bishops must obey the Pope, not because of the power to sanctify, but by reason of the power to govern. In fact, by this power to govern the Bishops are chosen and established in their Dioceses. Their obedience is required in order to maintain the unity needed to discipline the Church. I do not see any reason to apply collegiality to the power to sanctify, because as such the Pope and Bishops have essentially the same power.

The power to teach was also conferred upon the twelve Apostles. However, it was conferred upon Peter over and above the others. For this reason, when the Pope speaks as the Universal Pastor and Doctor of the Church, he is infallible. According to the doctrine of Papal Infallibility, the certainty of the teaching of the Bishops relies directly on the Pope’s power to teach, whether the Bishops are spread throughout the word or joined together in council. The Pope’s power to teach is not an absolute power; it is limited by the dogmas of Faith and by the ordinary and universal teaching of the Church throughout the preceding centuries. Thus, if a Pope teaches something different from traditional dogma and the perennial Magisterium, he should not be obeyed. The Bishops and even the faithful have the right and the duty to resist the erroneous teachings of that Pope.

Certainly the Bishops have the power to teach because they, as heirs of the Apostles, received the divine mandate to preach the Gospel and they are Doctors of the Faith. But their teaching is not supreme, i.e. it must be judged by the Pope. If the Bishops’ power to teach would have the same authority as that of the Pope, in a short time the unity of teaching and, after that, the unity of the Catholic Faith, would be broken. The Protestant and Schismatic sects are incapable of having unity in doctrine because they preach the equality of the power to teach. Those who want to apply collegiality to the power of papal teaching – that is, to consider the Bishops’ power to teach as equal to that of the Pope – in reality want to transform the Catholic Church into something similar to these sects.

The Pope’s power to govern is the most decisive. It includes the supreme power to act, legislate, judge, and punish. Traditionally, the Pope delegates most of the exercise of these powers to innumerable intermediary bodies of the Church – the Roman Congregations and the other Vatican Dicasteries: Tribunals, Pontifical Councils, Administrative Bodies, Special Committees, etc. He also traditionally delegates powers to Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops, Nuncios and Apostolic Delegates outside the Vatican. He reserves to himself the power to make final decisions or judge extraordinary cases.

The Church’s regime of government is also extremely rich in its source. The Pope is elected by a vote of the College of Cardinals. The papal monarchy, therefore, issues from an aristocratic body, which democratically elects the successor to the Pontifical Throne. The papal monarchy, in its human character, is similar to the elective Polish monarchy of times past. We have, therefore, the three regimes – monarchy, aristocracy and democracy – proportionally represented in the Church. Once crowned, the Pope receives from Our Lord the “power of the Vicar” (potestas vicaria), that is, he comes to be the representative on earth par excellence of Jesus Christ. This is the significance of the titles Vicar of Christ and Sovereign Pontiff. Our Lord sanctions the new Pope during the ceremony of coronation and bestows a divine stamp on the choice of the Cardinals. Therefore, over and above the human character of the election of a Pope, two divine notes are added – the representation of Christ and the special assistance of the Holy Ghost. In this specific sense, the governing regime in the Church is a monarchy of divine right, and its nature is properly defined as human-divine.

The human choice of the Pope, however, proceeds also from a more vast organic reality, which antedates the formation of the College of Cardinals. It is the reality of the Church herself, which was formed through the centuries under the form of a feudal monarchy. Like every living reality, like a large family, the Church was gradually formed in function of her vitality and needs. Each Diocese has its own history, its special relations with the Holy See, its rights, and its privileges. For each country the Holy See had a special solicitude, assisting it according to its apostolic needs. The Pope respects the relative autonomy of the government of the Bishops, just as in a feudal monarchy the King respected the autonomy of his nobles. The Pope normally acts in accordance with the rules of the principle of subsidiarity – the superior power should act only when the inferior power shows itself incapable of fulfilling its mission. However, according to the Pope’s discretion, which usually is applied in extraordinary situations, he has the right to intervene directly for any of the faithful of a Diocese independent of the concurrence of the Bishop, or even in opposition to him. Constantly orienting the individual Dioceses, the ecclesiastical Provinces and the Countries’ Episcopates who directed themselves to her, throughout time the Holy Church elaborated a system as perfect as possible to hear and be heard. This permits her to fulfill her mission adequately and to make as just as possible the power of government.

This wise system of government caused the Catholic Church to transform herself into the human institution most cognizant of reality. This is the opposite of a supposed exaggerated centralization that Quinn is criticizing. The system of government established in the Church is feudal – in the best sense of the word. That is, it is the wisely constituted government of the head over the body. This centralism has nothing of evil in itself, it is the normal centralism of the head in relation to the rest of the body that permits the head to direct the whole well. To want to “reform” the present system in the Church in order to make the head equal to the body, would be the same as trying to transform the Church with her divine-human likeness of the body and soul of Our Lord Jesus Christ into a slug or jellyfish, a type of mollusk where the head and body are indistinguishable.

Msgr. John R. Quinn would have benefited from distinguishing the three powers that I described above. His failure to do this left Chapter III somewhat confused. Dealing with collegiality, at times he refers to the fundamental equality of Bishops and the Pope in the power to sanctify; at other times he touches on the power of teaching and argues for the need of giving more say to the Bishops. He acts as if this were some novel idea that would demand a new structure of government, but in fact it is something that was never denied in the History of the Church. At other times he talks about the power to govern and proposes doing away with the “centralism” that he points to as the cause of many evils.

In sum, his argumentation is not clear, he does not distinguish the fields that he deals with. And in the points where he is clear, he is wrong, because he is trying to establish an equality between the Bishops and the Pope in the power to teach and the power to govern.

In chapter IV, the author alights on a particular point: the Pope choosing the Bishops. He hopes that the present system of selecting Bishops will be modified in order to make the Catholic Church more like the Anglicans and Schismatics. I present two criticisms.

First, Quinn’s generalization is excessive, because in fact there are innumerable ways of choosing a Bishop according to the traditions and privileges of each Diocese, and they are not able to be reduced to a single formula.

Second, I deny the presupposition of his argument: that it is necessary to make the Catholic Church more like the Anglicans and Schismatics. Any ecumenism that does not seek the conversion of heretics and Schismatics is a false ecumenism that partakes of religious indifferentism, proclaimed anathema by the perennial Magisterium of the Church. Therefore, there is no reason to change this or that institution of the Church just to make her more agreeable to those who do not accept the Catholic Faith.

Chapter V deals with the College of Cardinals. Since the Church is a monarchy, those who have the right to be the next Pope are the heir princes of the Pope. They are on par with the blood princes of the temporal monarchies. Quinn is indignant with this definition, which is found in the Annuario Pontificio. He affirms:
“The …. problem is the creation of a distinct body superior to and set apart from the rest of the College of the Bishops, making the rest of the Episcopate a body of second importance. The mention of rank has odious overtones” (p.145).
For my part, this is a false accusation. The Bishop is the one who received the plenitude of the power of Orders, which constitutes the very essence of his office. Nothing can diminish this dignity that was conferred on him in an indelible way. The existence of the College of Cardinals in no way diminishes the office of a Bishop, or, much less, of the College of Bishops. I affirm the opposite. The College of Cardinals normally is formed by Bishops. Far from reducing Bishops to persons of “secondary importance,” its existence stimulates the other Bishops to carry out their mission. In principle, those who distinguish themselves more in the service of the Church are those who receive the honor of a cardinal’s hat. For this reason, the existence of the College of Cardinals strengthens and gives prestige to the College of Bishops.

Allow me to present an analogy. The French Academy of Letters is the most prestigious literary institution in the world. Its membership is restricted to 40 persons. The practical function of this institution is to safeguard the beauty and integrity of the French language, as well as to publish a dictionary from time to time. Beyond this function, however, the institution represents the literary glory of France. Its existence is a powerful stimulus for all French writers. When a chair becomes vacant, new members of the French Academy are voted on by the 39 most renowned writers judged to have rendered the greatest service to the French language. Following Quinn’s criteria, this would place all the other French writers in a position of “secondary importance.” I do not agree. I think that it glorifies the whole body of French writers to have 40 “immortals” who are elected from among them.

In chapter VI, Quinn defends a radical reform in the Roman Curia, the ensemble of high-level ecclesiastics in the Vatican who help the Vicar of Christ to govern the Church. His agenda for change would include the following: more internationalization; more decentralization; more horizontal communication with the Bishops (again, the argument that the Curia would transform the Bishops into “second class” persons, pp. 161, 169, 173); a greater participation of laymen, and especially women, in decision-making positions of the Curia.

The author makes yet more criticisms: that the Curia is a barrier that stands between the Episcopate and the Pope; that it passes over the decisions of the Episcopal Conferences; that it does not take into account the opinion of the “local churches” for the choice of Bishops; that its members act as if they are the “proprietors of the Church” when they resist the directives of Vatican II, etc.

Quinn also presents the solutions for such supposed problems: more laymen and fewer Bishops in the Curia; the establishment of transitory offices for its members; giving priests and Bishops a voice in choosing its members; setting up a commission charged with reforming the Curia in three years. This commission would be composed of three persons: a president of a Bishops’ Conference, a member of the Curia, and a layman.

Once again, I do not think that Quinn’s criticisms are objective. The space that I have for this article does not permit me to refute them one by one. But even if they were valid criticisms, in my opinion the solution would not be to change the character of the Roman Curia, but to improve it without disturbing its multi-centuries structure.

In his conclusion, Msgr. Quinn reveals the key for his desired reform. It would be to transform the Church into an organism governed by “directed autonomy.” And he would make the Papacy fit into this structure. From what I could understand of this new formula, it would not be much different from the self-management that is being installed everywhere today – in the business place, the school, and the family. Now this self-management, according to Quinn’s proposal, should also enter the Church.

Self-management, according to the constitution of the old U.S.S.R., is the final ideal of Communism (5). Consistent with Hegel’s philosophical laws (thesis, antithesis, and synthesis), which were transposed by Marx onto society (dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, dictatorship of the proletariat and the final synthesis), self-management would be the equivalent of the final synthe sis after the dictatorship of the proletariat. It is interesting that after Communism has entered a different phase and in a certain way has changed its face, the progressivist Church is striving to adapt itself to this important “sign of the times.”
1. A.S. Guimarães, Animus Delendi I (Los Angeles: TIA, Inc., 2000), Chap. IV, §§ 2-4, pp. 230-307.
2. A.S. Guimarães, Toward the Year 2000: Archbishop Quinn’s Strange Council, published in The Wanderer Dec. 26, 1996. Reprinted in pamphlet form (11 pp.) and available from TIA, Inc., PO Box 23135, Los Angeles, CA, 90023.
3. Three reasons were said to be at the root of Quinn’s premature resignation as Archbishop of San Francisco at age 66: the discontent of many of his faithful over his decision to close nine churches; two scandals of homosexuality and pedophilia involving churchmen in high office; and charges of financial misdeeds (Arthur Brew, “Churches Close as Conflicts Continue in San Francisco,” The Wanderer, Oct. 7, 1994; “Two Notorious Priests Resign in San Francisco,” in News Notes, idem, Nov. 15, 1994). On December 27, 1995 the Pope accepted Quinn’s resignation. On February 11, 1995, while Quinn was still in power, a blasphemous event, described as a “major celebration of homosexual power in California” took place in a meeting room of St. Mary’s Cathedral (“San Francisco Cathedral is Site for ‘Gay Power Bash,’” The Wanderer, Feb. 22, 1995.
4. In this 39-page chapter (pp 36-75), only at the end when Quinn deals with Qualities of the Criticism in the Church (p. 70) does he admit in theory a difference between constructive and destructuve criticism: the presence or absence of love. But, this distinction does not have any practical consequence on his intended reform of the Papacy.
5. In the Preamble of the Soviet Constitution, one can read: “The supreme objective of the Soviet State is the construction of a classless Communist society in which the social communist self-management will be able to develop” (Constitución – La Ley Fundamental de La Unión de las Repúblicas Socialistas Soviéticas, October 7, 1977, Moscow: Editorial Progreso, 1980, p 5).

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