Is Pope Francis trying to fundamentally change the papacy?
September 27, 2018 (Rorate Caeli) – The impressive rapidity with which events are unfolding one after the other in the Church makes one think that this is due not only to the dynamics of historical acceleration, but a deliberate choice by the agents of chaos to increase disorientation and paralyze the forces that are seeking to resist the rush of the tide.
On September 22, The Holy See and the People's Republic of China, in a joint statement, disclosed they had signed a "provisional" agreement on the procedure for appointing Chinese Catholic bishops. The text however has not been released and the content is unknown. The emeritus Bishop of Hong Kong, Cardinal Joseph Zen, provided Asia News with the following statement:
"The long-awaited press release from the Holy See is a masterpiece of creativity in saying nothing in many words. It says that the agreement is provisional, without saying how long it will be valid; it says that it provides periodic reviews without saying when the first deadline will be. After all, any agreement can be considered provisional since one of the two parties can always ask for a change or even the cancellation of the agreement. But the important thing is that if nobody asks to change or cancel the agreement, this, even if provisional, remains in place. The word "provisional" says nothing. "The agreement is about the appointment of bishops". The Holy See has said that many times for a long time. So, what is the result of all this work? What is the answer to our long wait? Nothing is said! Is it secret? The whole statement boils down to "There was the signing of an agreement between the Holy See and the People's Republic of China on the appointment of Bishops". All the rest are meaningless words. So, what is the message the Holy See intends to send to the faithful in China with this statement? "Have faith in us, accept what we have decided"(?) And what will the government say to Catholics in China? "Obey us, the Holy See already agrees with us"(?) Are we to accept and obey without knowing what must be accepted, to what one must obey?"
The substance of the agreement should be this: the candidates for the episcopate are chosen by the official Chinese Church, which is controlled by the Patriotic Association, a direct emanation of the Communist Party. The Chinese offices will propose to the Holy See a candidate agreeable to the Communist Party. But what will happen if the Pope is perhaps not in agreement? In Asia News of September 24th, Father Bernardo Cervellera, comments on this hypothesis with the following: "Until now there was talk of the Pope's power of provisional veto, that is, he had to give the reasons for his refusal within three months, but if the government judged the papal reasons inconsistent, he would have continued with the appointment and ordination of his candidate. Not having the text of the agreement, we don't know whether this clause has been kept, whether indeed the Pope will have the last word on the appointments and the ordinations, or whether his authority will be recognized solely in a formal way."
In the event that the veto was provisional and the Chinese government had the last say, we would fall into grave error, condemned by the Church. Pius VII, for instance, repudiated the Concordat of Fontainebleau stipulated with Napoleon on January 25th 1813, precisely because it foresaw, that, if within six months the papal ratification hadn't been reached, the French Empire's candidate would have been confirmed by the Episcopal authority. But even in the event that the veto was permanent, the role of the Pope was, anyway, reduced to that of a mere notary. He would be restricted to ratifying the appointment and if he wanted to avoid the iron-fist of the political authorities with whom he had spasmodically sought an agreement, the "veto" would represent an exception, certainly not the rule. In any case, we find ourselves faced with a repetition of Paul VI's Ostpolitik, which caused a great deal of harm to Catholics of Eastern European countries.
There is unfortunately a close consistency between the ruinous agreement with China and the Apostolic Constitution, Episcopalis communio, on the structure of the Synod of Bishops, signed by Pope Francis on September 15th and published on the 18th. With this document, explains Stefania Falasca in Avvenire on September 18, "the practice of 'synodality' is rendered normatively stable as a form of the Church's journey and with it, the principle that regulates the phases of this process: listening, the People of God, the College of Bishops, the Bishop of Rome: each listening to the other and all of them listening to the Holy Spirit."
In which way is this process of charismatic listening concluded? Articles 17 and 18 of the Apostolic Constitution explain it. The conclusions of the Assembly are gathered into a final Document, which, after being approved by a special commission, "is offered to the Roman Pontiff, who decides on its publication. If expressly approved by the Roman Pontiff, the final Document participates in the ordinary Magisterium of the Successor of Peter (art 18, § 2). If then the Roman Pontiff grants deliberative power to the Synod Assembly, according to the norms of Canon Law 343, the final Document participates in the ordinary Magisterium of the Successor of Peter once he has ratified and promulgated it. In this case the final Document is published with the Roman Pontiff's signature along with those of the Members (18, § 3)".
The synodal Document, in any case, "participates in the ordinary Magisterium of the Successor of Peter". The magisterial significance of the documents like Amoris laetitia and the conclusions of the upcoming youth and Pan-Amazon synods, are confirmed. But what is the role of Peter in the elaboration of synod documents? It is, as in the case of the appointment of Chinese bishops, as a mere notary, whose signature is necessary for the implementing of the act, without him as author of the contents of this act.
The Church is preparing to become a Republic, not a presidential, one but a parliamentary one, wherein the Head of State has a mere role as guarantor of the political parties and the representative of national unity, renouncing the mission of absolute monarch and supreme legislator as the Roman Pontiff. To accomplish this "democratic" project, the Successor of Peter uses, however, dictatorial power, which has nothing whatsoever to do with the tradition of governing the Church.
During a press conference for the presentation of the papal document, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, affirmed that: "Pope Francis's Apostolic Constitution Episcopalis communio marks a true and proper 're-foundation' of the synodal organism" and that "in a synodal Church, even the exercise of the Petrine Primacy will be able to receive greater light. The Pope is not, alone, above the Church; but is a Baptized among the Baptized within Her; and within the College of Bishops as Bishop among the Bishops – at the same time – Successor of the Apostle Peter – leading the Church of Rome which presides with love over all the other Churches". (Vatican Insider, September 18, 2018).
May orthodox theologians evaluate the gravity of these statements that claim 'to re-found' and 'reform' the munus Petrinum. Never as at this present moment has the Roman Primacy been so denied and disfigured, particularly at a time when a wave of filth seems to be submerging the Bride of Christ. Those who truly love the Papacy would have the duty to shout this from the roof-tops. Yet it seems the silent treatment doesn't only pertain to Pope Francis. Even the bishops and cardinals who lead the Church, confronted with the scandals and errors that are battering Her, seem to be repeating: "I will not say a single word about this."
Translated by Rorate contributor Francesca Romana. Published with permission from Rorate Caeli.