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Tuesday, 1 October 2013



It is worth making five first observations:

First, that the evidently proposed delegation of powers from the Vatican Curia to the local Bishops' Conference or to some other regional structure, would be to honour the Catholic canonical principle of subsidiarity, whereby decisions are made at the appropriate level and not subject to being called, routinely or arbitrarily, to a higher, or the highest level, unless there is appeal according to due process, or there is a very grave cause.

Secondly, that the Council does not form part of the Roman Curia, but having been summoned informally at an early stage to advise Pope Francis in his intention to reform the governance of the Catholic Church and the work of the Curia in its service, he has now given it formal standing and power to proceed with its work with him directly and personally, and to advise him on a fresh Apostolic Constitution to replace Pastor Bonus.

Third, the Chirograph refers to the governance of the Universal Church. Is this a lapse into referring to the Catholic Church as the Universal Church, without remembering the Orthodox Churches, not to mention other Christians? Or is it shorthand for referring, for all practical purposes, to the Latin Church throughout the world, i.e. the Roman Catholic Church?

Thus, in referring to the Universal Church's governance, as distinct from the Roman Catholic Church's governance, and assuming that the Roman See is not claiming to make arrangements for other Apostolic Churches not currently in communion with it, is there to be such a reform that will apply the principle of subsidiarity in full to the Eastern Catholic Churches? Are they to be seen more as autocephalous than autonomous? What will become of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches? It is a glaring omission, it seems to me, that in the Council for the reforming of the governance of the Universal Church there are eight Latin cardinals but no Eastern Patriarch. What does this look like to the Eastern Catholics? What message does it send to the Orthodox Churches?

Does the Roman Pontiff, primate of the Latin Catholic Church across the world, need a Curial Congregation, run by a Latin cardinal, to oversee the affairs of Eastern Churches in communion with him; or does he need an office to support relations, mutual learning, education and aid, and foster communion in other ways; or should there be a joint Commission in Rome sponsored by the Eastern Patriarchs and the Western Latin Pope together?

Fourth, seeing that a large concern for Orthodox interlocutors with the Catholic Church, even those well disposed to reunion, is the function of law in the Western Latin Church that conditions its dealings with and assumptions about other Churches, and this takes specific form in the workings and extent of activity of the Roman Curia, if the Curia's activity is to be transformed from an authority of control and intervention, and rendered to be of  service to the Synod of Bishops and the Bishops locally, will it answer Orthodox concerns about the way in which the Catholic Church is governed on either worldwide basis or in the local diocese? Will the constitution of a standing regional level of decision-making by bishops working together, with thus a local primacy in communion with the Bishop of Rome, weaken the cohesion of the Catholic Church, or will it reflect to the Orthodox that it is possible for the Catholic Church to integrate the exercise of primacy and authority at the universal, local and, once again, at the regional level? How will the delegation, or perhaps more properly restoration, of power and authority regionally clarify the universal jurisdiction of the Pope for Catholics, and the ministry he has of serving the unity of the Churches, now to be manifested in a reform central service in Rome.

Fifth, part of the present Roman Curia is the Pontifical Council for Promoting the Unity of Christians. It is a permanent Pontifical Council, and thus not part of the governance of the Catholic Church, let alone the Universal Church, though it is meant to serve them, and it holds the responsibility for overseeing the Catholic Church's ecumenical engagement with other Churches and bodies of Christians within the one Church of Christ. What will be its role now? How will it relate to the reformed governance of the Catholic Church and the shape of a Curia with a new "mission statement" of service rather than oversight?

Fr Mark Woodruff, Vice Chairman

The text of the Chirograph Letter in Italian is here.
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