Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Review: Unresolved Tensions in Papal-Episcopal Relations

I recently received an advance copy of the manuscript of the latest anthology published by Dr. Peter Kwasniewski's Os Justi Press, Unresolved Tensions in Papal-Episcopal Relations. This text is a series of essays occasioned by the deposition of Bishop Joseph Strickland in November, 2023, focusing on the question of the pope's relationship to the episcopate. As with previous anthologies compiled under the editorial hand of Dr. K, this work features a diverse cast of contributors tackling the subject matter from a variety of perspectives. In these pages you will find essays by José Antonio Ureta, Joseph Shaw, John Lamont, Brian McCall, and many others (by way of disclaimer, I should mention that I, too, have one essay in this book).

The fundamental question addressed by Unresolved Questions in Papal-Episcopal Relations is whether the Pope is the Vicar of Christ or the CEO of Vatican, Inc.? In other words, is the pope's relationship to the episcopate to be understood in a managerial sense, akin to a corporate CEO to whom all subordinate officers in the Church are merely vectors for the magnification and implementation of papal whims—or is there a way of understanding papal power that is more organic, capable of preserving the plenitudo potestatis of the successor of Peter while not canceling out the truth that "the bishops should not be thought of as vicars of the Pope," as taught by Lumen Gentium and the Catechism (cf. LG 27, CCC 895)?

You may wonder, in what sense are there "unresolved tensions"? Isn't the pope's relationship with the episcopate perfectly clear?  "The Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered" (LG 22). What more is there to discuss?

As it turns out, plenty. As Joseph Shaw observes in his excellent introduction, there has always been a degree of oscillation in the power dynamic between the papacy and the bishops; such is to be expected in any institution where there are multiple centers of power. Historically, this dynamic was given structure by the Church's canonical tradition, developed over centuries of experience and codified in the Code of Canon Law. The Code ensured that the pope's fullness of power did not degenerate into arbitrariness or tyranny, as it guaranteed a certain due process that even the pope was expected to follow. It provided a legal framework within which the plenitudo potestatis could be exercised in accord with reason, tradition, and the good of the Church.

The pontificate of Francis has upended this carefully crafted equilibrium with what can best be described as the pope's antinomian disregard for law. What are we to do when the supreme lawgiver disdains the law?  Given that bishops are true authorities and sources of law within their own dioceses, what are their obligations in the face of violations of canonical norms that emanate from Rome? If the bishops are not vicars of the pope, what is to be done when the pope treats them as such? Is there a way to restore some semblance of equilibrium to the papal-episcopal dynamic?

As with Dr. Kwasniewski's other anthologies (such as Are Canonizations Infallible?, Ultramontanism and Tradition, and From Benedict's Peace to Francis's War), you will find a variety of perspectives here, and not necessarily all in agreement. That's what makes these anthologies so valuable; they assist us in getting beyond stale talking points and clickbait theology to, if nothing else, give us a more variegated perspective on this important issue. I highly recommend getting ahold of Unresolved Tensions in Papal Episcopal Relations and all of Dr. Kwasniewski's anthology collections.


Laurence Gonzaga said...

Good review, thanks for sharing. Might want to edit the sentence.
"The fundamental question addressed by Unresolved Questions in Papal-Episcopal Relations is whether the Pope is the Pope the Vicar of Christ or the CEO of Vatican, Inc.?"

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

"On Divine Tradition" Joh Baptist Cardinal Franzelin, S.J. talks about what has become a forgotten subject., that those who succeed the Apostles have, collectively, their own magisterium - see Thesis V.

Thus, they have the duty to oppose and Pope who tries to lead the sheep away from Tradition.