29 August 2022

Two Cardinals and a Historian Accuse Pope Francis of Betraying the Council

Francis is going back to pre-Conciliar practice in his reform of the Curia and not the good kind of pre-Conciliar practice! At least, he's being called out on it.

From Settimo Cielo

By Sandro Magister

There is one point in the reform of the curia the cardinals have been called to discuss at the consistory of August 29 and 30 that “strikes at the heart of Vatican Council II and constitutes a decisive point for the future of the Church.” The one sounding the alarm so loudly is Alberto Melloni, a markedly progressive Church historian and co-author of the most monumental history of Vatican II published so far. But he is not alone. Two cardinals of such magnitude and proficiency in theology as the German Walter Kasper and the Canadian Marc Ouellet, not classifiable among the conservatives either, have also called attention to the danger of overturning one of the achievements of Vatican Council II.

The point in question is where “Praedicate Evangelium,” the apostolic constitution signed by Pope Francis that reformed the curia and went into effect last Pentecost, establishes that “any member of the faithful can preside over a dicastery or office,” if only the pope grant him the authority to do so.

But this is precisely what happened in the Church for many centuries, with the separation of the powers of orders, that is, those stemming from the sacrament of episcopal ordination, and the powers of jurisdiction, for example by attributing to abbesses an authority of governance equal to that of a bishop, or by assigning a diocese to a cardinal not ordained a bishop or priest.

All through the first millennium these “aberrations” were unknown. And it was to the original tradition that Vatican Council II wanted to return, in the dogmatic constitution on the Church “Lumen gentium,” regaining awareness of how the sacramental precedes the judicial nature of the episcopacy and of the powers connected to it, not only those of sanctifying and teaching, but also that of governing.

The key vote on these points, at the Council, took place in September of 1964. And the opponents were not many more than 300 out of about 3 thousand. But today, with the new curia reformed by Pope Francis, the winners are once again the former.

Serving to illustrate the new rules of the curia for the cardinals who will discuss them in consistory on August 29 and 30 is the report that Bishop Marco Mellino, secretary of the restricted council of cardinals that drafted the reform with the pope, presented last May 9 at a meeting with the heads of the curia, republished on August 9 in “L’Osservatore Romano.”

In it, Mellino writes in no uncertain terms that even the code of canon law, in canons 129 § 1 and 274 § 1, must be interpreted according to the new rules, “according to which the power of governance is not given with sacred orders, but rather through the canonical provision of an office,” and therefore also to ordinary baptized persons.

Exactly as already explained on March 21 2022, in presenting “Praedicate Evangelium” to the press, by the Jesuit Gianfranco Ghirlanda, the main canonist of Pope Francis and now made a cardinal, the true author of the entire reform:

“If the prefect and secretary of a dicastery are bishops, this must not lead to the misunderstanding that their authority comes from the hierarchical rank they have received, as if they were acting with an authority of their own and not with the vicarious power granted them by the Roman pontiff. The vicarious authority to carry out an office is the same if received by a bishop, a presbyter, a consecrated man or woman, or a lay man or woman.”

But let’s give the floor to Cardinals Ouellet and Kasper.

The former, who is prefect of the dicastery for bishops, has written an essay whose first part is reproduced below, entitled “The reform of the Roman curia in the context of the foundations of law in the Church,” published in “L’Osservatore Romano” of July 20 2022.

In it Ouellet clearly describes the state of the question, with the sharp contrast between the great canonistic schools of Eugenio Corecco and Klaus Mörsdorf, in line with Vatican Council II, and the anti-conciliar and “positivist” position of Fr. Ghirlanda and the current Jesuit school.

But his essay should be read in its entirety, because in it Ouellet develops a refined reflection “that could help to unblock this problem in the light of a Trinitarian and sacramental ecclesiology,” and also “gently” arrives at a proposal to rewrite the disputed canon 129 of the code of canon law.

As for Cardinal Kasper, who was president of the pontifical council for Christian unity, the text reproduced here is a short excerpt from his preface to the volume by the canonist Giuseppe Sciacca, former secretary of the supreme tribunal of the apostolic signatura, “Knots of justice. Open problems of canon law,” published by il Mulino in 2022.



by Marc Ouellet

The basic reservation that emerges in evaluating the  constitution “Praedicate Evangelium” concerns the decision to integrate lay people in the governance of the curia, which would mean in fact settling a very longstanding controversy in the history of the Church, that of whether the power of governance is or is not necessarily connected to the sacrament of orders.

“Praedicate Evangelium” is seen as implicitly taking the option of not considering the sacrament of orders as the origin of the “power of jurisdiction,” but of attributing this exclusively to the “missio canonica” given by the pope, who would in this way delegate his own powers to anyone who may exercise a function of governance in the Roman curia, be he a cardinal, a bishop, a deacon, or a layman.

Some jurists point out that this position represents a Copernican revolution in the governance of the Church, not in continuity with or even going against the ecclesiological development of Vatican Council II. In fact, it has brought into question the sacramentality of the episcopacy and collegiality, without, however, completely settling the question of the origin of “sacra potestas.”

For centuries experts in canon law have been debating over the origin of this “sacra potestas” that determines the hierarchical structure of the Church and its way of governing the people of God. Is this an (immediate) divine will inscribed in the sacrament of orders, which founds the powers of sanctifying, teaching, and governing, or is it rather a (mediate) determination of the Church conferred on the successor of Peter by virtue of his mandate as universal pastor with the special assistance of the Holy Spirit?

History furnishes elements that can be interpreted in favor of one or the other position. The tendency to separate the powers of orders and of jurisdiction is based on many pontifical provisions of the past, which endorsed acts of governance without the power of orders, for example the governance of some abbesses from the Middle Ages to modern times, some bishops who governed dioceses without being ordained, or permission the pope gave to some ordinary priests to ordain other priests without being bishops, etc.; the list could go on of facts showing how the power of governance does not depend intrinsically on the power of orders, but rather on another source, which is then identified with the “missio canonica” conferred by the pope.

The canonistic school of Eugenio Corecco (1931-1995) and the canonists of Munich interprets some of these facts as borderline cases or aberrations (an unordained bishop!) and strives to demonstrate the Church’s slow coming to awareness of the sacramental nature of the episcopacy and of the powers connected to it (“Lumen gentium” 21). Hence the effort of Vatican Council II to explicitly root the powers of sanctifying, teaching, and governing in the power of orders, leaving open for discussion by experts the question of the foundation of the distinction and unity of the power of orders and of jurisdiction.

Does the new constitution perhaps overstep canon 129 § 2 of the code of canon law, which says: “Lay members of the Christian faithful can cooperate in the exercise of this same power (of jurisdiction) according to the norm of law”? How are historical events to be reconciled with current law, which reflects the new sacramental awareness of the Church? In a broader sense, how is the foundation of the unity of these two powers to be explained theologically, recognizing their distinction and operational complementarity?

If one follows the theses of Corecco, the position of Fr. Gianfranco Ghirlanda and of the current Jesuit school is understood as positivist and not integrating the progress of Vatican Council II. It is seen as affirming the unity of “sacra potestas” and therefore the sacramental root of the “tria munera” of sanctifying, teaching and governing. What then would the “missio canonica” add to the power of orders, if this already contained the foundation of jurisdiction?

The contribution of Klaus Mörsdorf (1909-1989), the great teacher of the Munich school, lies in his having argued that the sacrament of orders already confers the foundation of fitness for the “tria munera,” even if the “missio canonica” would add to this the effective insertion into the college of bishops through the simultaneous entrusting of responsibility for a particular Church.

More than anyone else Mörsdorf reflected, studied, and published on this issue that, according to him, merits special attention in order to avert schismatic tendencies. Without separating them he is careful to distinguish the two powers, which are intrinsically united in the sacramental identity of the bishop dedicated to a particular community. He nonetheless recognizes that there is still a lack of multidisciplinary, historical, dogmatic, sacramental, canonical research to account for the foundation of this varied and yet singular “sacra potestas.”



by Walter Kasper

The main area in which Church and law meet is the sacramental nature of the Church. […] The first millennium maintained the sacramental rootedness of the juridical order; only in the second millennium did there come about a coexistence and a dualism between the authority sacramentally conferred by ordination and the authority of governance or jurisdiction conferred by mandate. Thus law could end up becoming detached from the sacramental life of the Church and could also develop a certain life of its own with consequences not always happy. [...]

Vatican Council II tends to reconnect the two areas and unite the two powers, “ordo” and “iurisdictio,” in the one “sacra potestas,” which is conferred, in its fullness, in episcopal ordination, which, of course, can be exercised only in hierarchical communion with the head and members of the episcopal college (“Lumen gentium” 21). “Sacra potestas” is not an end in itself; it serves to build up the Church, for the good of the whole Body of Christ and for the free and orderly cooperation of all the members (“Lumen gentium” 18). This character of service is already established Christologically and soteriologically in “Lumen gentium” 8, and is clearly reaffirmed in the documents of the Council.

“Sacra potestas” does not concern power, nor the just distribution of power and the proportional distribution of power. It has to do with the exercise of the threefold ministry of the proclamation, celebration, and administration of the sacraments and of the pastoral ministry of Church governance. These must be done in the name of Christ, which at the same time means in the manner and according to the example of Christ. Thus the hierarchical pyramid is turned upside down. The top is at the bottom, the hierarchical office must serve, and the pope is the servant of the servants of God (Mark 9:35; 10:43; John 13:15 ff; 1 Peter 5:3). On the contrary, whoever aspires to ecclesiastical office in order to share in power is riding a dead horse.

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