The Crisis of Bishops and "Centralisation"

Cardinal Murphy O' Connor and Bishop Kieran Conry
It seems to me that Pope Benedict XVI, as well as being remembered as a great and holy Pope, will also be remembered as a Pope who saw that the 'power of the keys' can be exercised by one in authority by laying the keys down and entrusting them to Jesus Christ to hand to another for the good of the Church.

Though setting a mysterious or even risky precedent, in modern times at least, Pope Benedict XVI shows us that the Church does not revolve around himself, but depends entirely on the Lord Jesus. It is the extraordinary final act of an extraordinary and highly gifted Pope whose memory will be treasured by the Universal Church for all ages to come.

Though meekness is not a weakness and humility more powerful and wonderful than might, key figures in the English Hierarchy have taken the opportunity of the Pope's generous gesture of resignation to criticise aspects of Benedict XVI's pontificate. Not long after Benedict XVI named disunity in the Church as being a serious impediment to the proclamation of the Gospel, one Bishop in the South of England has been talking to Ruth Gledhill of The Times to make his thoughts on Benedict XVI's reign plain for all to see.

According to The Times... 

'The Right Rev Kieran Conry, Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, said he had over-centralised the Catholic Church and led it away from some of the reforming ideals of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. Bishop Conry specifically highlighted the recent new Mass translation as an initiative from Rome that had had a negative impact on many Catholics in the pews.' 

The New Translation of the Mass

With the greatest respect to His Lordship, I am yet to meet any Catholic who has a problem with the new translation of the Roman Missal. Is this really the most pressing concern of the 'man in the pew'? I have met people who, like myself, find themselves still accidentally responding, 'And also with you', instead of, 'And with your spirit', but I guess that this calls us to be more focused and attentive so we respond as we should at various times of the Mass. In the Church I attend, there are plenty of new Mass translation cards, so I really cannot see there being a great problem, since we are not an unlettered age.

The new translation of the Mass
I really do wonder who are these Catholics who feel terribly aggrieved by the new translation? Is there a chance that the Bishop himself and some Catholics with whom he associates are the ones aggrieved and that, for the vast majority of Catholics, this is a non-issue? If this is the case, then would it not be more likely that His Lordship is publicly 'centralising' a liturgical concern which is, in fact, held by a very small minority of people who feel that they exist or perhaps 'subsist' on the periphery of the mainstream of the Church - a mainstream moving boldly forward, inspired by Benedict XVI? Do these people feel 'marginalised' by the new translation?

Bishop Conry called for the centralised structure of the modern Church to be changed. “There is a need for the Roman Curia, the central administration, to be reviewed. That was not one of Pope Benedict’s strengths. “It needs reviewing because it is not working very well. There seems to be a degree of centralisation that is not really necessary which might indicate that there is a degree of inefficiency.” 

For a time, perhaps even for a long time, many Faithful Catholics have felt that there exists within the Catholic Church a degree of 'centralisation' within the Bishops Conference of England and Wales and that the voices of those Faithful to the Holy Tradition of the Church have felt unjustly dismissed by the same Bishops who now complain of 'centralisation' in Rome.

Bottom right: Dissent is recognised for what it is

It is disappointing that His Lordship does not delve deeper to ask the question as to why this 'centralisation', if it has taken place under Benedict XVI, has taken place. Initiatives with effects on the Church around the globe have indeed been released under the reign of Benedict XVI, but it is also true to say that the reigning Pontiff has left the hands of Bishops entirely free to decide whether to work trustfully and in union with the Seat of Peter, or whether to continue building what appears to be more and more 'centralisation' of a 'national' Catholic Church in the local country.

Indeed, several key statements by Pope Benedict XVI suggest that the retiring Pontiff was not entirely happy with the response of English Bishops to His Holiness's initiatives aimed at both evangelization and at a gradual restoration of the Church's liturgy to something sober, solemn, respectful and dignified.

His Holiness asked the Bishops of England and Wales to, "recognise dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate." Do the Bishops in England and Wales correct the error and even heresy of public Catholics making contributions, on a regular basis, in media organs both inside and outside of the Catholic Church's immediate influence? Sadly, it appears that, on the whole, they do not. For evidence, see one Tina Beattie and the Bishops' reluctance to step in and ask her to 'calm down, dear', or even, 'put a cork in it, dear'.

The Pope Asked for "Generosity" from Bishops

Beattie: Taking dissent to new levels
The new translation, more reverent and faithful to the original Latin is, in my opinion a vast improvement, but then, what does my opinion matter? It's really not my competence - Mass translations - so I'm happy that Benedict XVI and his team came up with something I could never put my hand to, and, from my experience, has made the Mass more reverent. I am not alone in believing the 'imposition' of the new translation is an improvement on the old 'imposition' applied by a previous Pope in the late 1960s. This 'imposition' also encourages a certain uniformity, catholicity and universality in liturgy which has been sadly lacking in the 'do your own thing' spirit which still actually predominates the Church's liturgy around the World.

It is true to say also that the Holy Father asked, politely, for 'generosity' on the part of Bishops in his liberation of the traditional Latin Mass, which has inspired hundreds, if not thousands of young Catholics and brought joy and a deepening of prayer to many senior Catholics around not just this country, but the whole World. His Holiness asked for the same 'generosity' in establishing an Ordinariate for Anglicans seeking full communion with the Catholic Church. Did the Bishops of England and Wales respond with 'generosity'? It would take some rewriting of contemporary history to suggest that this was the case.

Benedict XVI: Most of his loyal friends in this photo are on the Gradine
 Both of these initiatives came from a seat of great power - the Seat of Peter - yet Peter did not mandate Bishops to do anything other than to respond with generosity, exercising their own power to facilitate movements which would bring fruits to the Church's mission in terms of evangelization.

That the Bishops of England and Wales responded, on the whole, with a sorrowful absence of generosity to both of these initiatives tells us, surely, everything we need to know about where control, power and influence lays in the Catholic Church, if it is not with the Pope.

He said the consequences of centralisation, while not too serious, had been noticeable. “I don’t think it has impinged seriously here or anywhere but it just slows things down. It does not allow a degree of local autonomy which would make life easier. “A return to the traditional autonomy of local bishops, a characteristic of the early Church, was one of the calls from the Second Vatican Council. The aim was that Rome should work more collaboratively with the local bishops,” Bishop Conry said. “That has not really developed.”

If I may be so bold, it begins to sound here that His Lordship is not concerned with the power of Rome or the grassroots movements that have sprung up within the Church inspired, largely, by Benedict XVI's vision of the Church of the 21st century. It sounds rather more like His Lordship would rather that more power was concentrated in the hands of Bishops, rather than those in their care - that is - Priests and Laity - or those to whom they owe obedience - the Pope. If there is one thing we can say of Benedict XVI, especially in the manner of his humble resignation, it is that power - for him - is only useful in as much as it is exercised with humility and benefits the whole spiritual  mission and life of the Church.

De-centralisation and Grassroots Movements

Many Bishops must be UKIP supporters...
The fact of the matter is that it is lay people, now, who can approach parish priests - and even Bishops, I guess - to request a Mass in the Extraordinary Form to be celebrated on a regular basis. It is priests and laypeople, too, in the Anglican Church, who can form a group that can be welcomed into the arms of the One True Church in order to come into full communion with Peter. If ever you wanted to hold aloft a Pope who gave 'power to the people' it appears that Benedict XVI is your man.

Instead, more and more power had been gathered in at the centre, in Rome. “Liturgically is where it has impacted most obviously on the lives of Mass-going Catholics,” he said. “We have a new translation of the Mass texts which was really imposed by Rome. There are bits of the translation that people are simply not happy with, words such as ‘consubstantial’ in the Creed. Before that it was ‘of one being’. “Had we been able to make local decisions we would have stuck with the original. It has not had a massive impact, but at the same time it has had an impact that is felt.” 

With respect, this may be how one, or even ten or even twenty Bishops feel and it may be how a small percentage of lay people feel, but there are others, among those who don't really care at all about the new translation - even Bishops - who felt that the original imposition from Rome was insufficiently faithful to the true translation of the Latin in the first place. Indeed, the imposition of this Mass had serious consequences on the faith of Catholics around the whole World upon the first day it was 'imposed'. One begins to wonder where does our Bishops stand on Europe? Some of them must really hate this country being governed by Brussels.

And executive orders from him came very, very few...
A Crisis in Rome or a Crisis of Bishops?

Are today's Bishops really concerned about power being centralised in Rome, or are they more concerned that power is ebbing from Bishops' Conference to Priests and Laity as holy Priests strive to renew the liturgy of the Catholic Church and preach the Gospel with renewed vigour, simplicity and boldness for the salvation of souls?

Are today's Bishops really concerned that decision making is being made in Rome affecting the worldwide Church or that they cannot bring themselves to make decisions freely in union with the continuous living tradition of the Church or the continuous living Successor to St Peter? If I may be so bold, one begins to wonder whether some of today's Bishops would rather that either they were Popes, or there was no Pope to shepherd the flock of Christ towards the Lord. Whatever he has done, Benedict XVI has put the Lord at the centre of it all - not the prejudices or decades-held certainties of national Bishops Conferences. Perhaps this is one reason why the Pope will leave the Office of the Papacy with more enemies in the Catholic Church than true friends and loyal sons and daughters.

It is really very sad that Pope Benedict XVI is loved and deeply admired by vast numbers of Catholics in the United Kingdom and the World, his initiatives for the Church having brought great joy to so many, but that these very projects are now being subject to public criticism by a Bishop at a time when so many Catholics are wishing the Holy Father well for the future while praying for him and his Successor. All of this talk about 'centralisation' of power and decision making seems entirely misplaced and ill-timed, given that not only has the Pope just lamented the 'disunity' in the Church but has made it known that the power of the keys will be relinquished by the one holding them on 28th of February 2013. Pray for the Bishops, pray for the Holy Father and do keep praying for his Successor.

Comments

Left-footer said…
Needed saying and you have said it perfectly. God bless!
BJC said…
The centralisation someone like +Conry complains about isn't centralisatiion at all. Its Rome appealing over the heads of Bishops who won't do their jobs as you point out. What we could really do with is not so much the Pope resigning but a whole bunch of our very worse Bishops resigning en masse for the good of the Church and younger more orthodox men being appointed in their place. We need to skip a generation to sort the mess out. Many of our Bishops are like members of Poilitburo in the 70's; their day is past but they won't go quietly.

As regards the liberals endless complaints about Rome being on a power trip its all denial and projection. The egotism of many liberal writings is on another level. Kung in particular stands out.
Lynda said…
Bishop Conry's statement is disgraceful - an attempt to use the anti-Catholic Media to undermine the authority and true nature of the Church. This Bishop is intentionally misrepresenting the Church, cooperating with its enemies.
Mater mari said…
Well said Bones. I can't understand how any bishop can remain in office feeling as Bishop Conry does - assuming, of course, that he hasn't been misrepresented. And if he has, he should issue an immediate statement to that effect.

In our parish of 400 souls, covering a wide geographical area, there has been no obvious dissent to the revised translation of the Mass, which was introduced skilfully and positively by our parish priest.

God bless you and all at St Mary Mags.
Genty said…
Having read a number of his idiot statments over the years, it is clear to me that here is a man who is seriously intellectually challenged.
He complained about the usage of Latin at the Pope's Westminster Cathedral Mass, he admits he goes around in mufti so he isn't asked questions about the faith, he believes that Confession is a dead duck, plus there's no point talking to the young about salvation. So my immediate reaction to whatever comes out of his mouth is "so what?"
I'm just glad I'm not a priest in his diocese. To keep going as they do is nothing short of heroic.
Physiocrat said…
I can understand that the Bishop of Arundel and Brighton might not like the new translation of the Mass. But if it grates on his sensitive ears, why does he not celebrate it in the official language of the church? He is perfectly entitled to do that.
umblepie said…
Good post,thanks.
Joseph Shaw said…
Bishop Conry has instituted reforms to the parish structure in his diocese which have the effect of centralising power. Presumably he thinks centralisation is good in some cases and not in others. I'd be interested to know the criterion he uses to decide.