He’s Pope But Doesn’t Want To Say So
The reticence of Francis to highlight his powers as supreme head of the universal Church. The effects and the possible developments of this silence. The status of the question in an article from “La Civiltà Cattolica”
by Sandro Magister
ROME, March 25, 2013 – In the first days of his pontificate, Jorge Mario Bergoglio has used very sparingly the word “pope.”
He has never applied it to his living predecessor, Joseph Ratzinger, whom he met last Saturday at Castel Gandolfo. For him he has used always and only the title of “bishop.”
And also for himself he has preferred to associate the definition of “bishop of Rome.”
In his first blessing from the loggia of the basilica of St. Peter, on the evening of March 13, the newly elect specified, citing St. Ignatius of Antioch, that the Church of Rome “is that which presides in charity over all the Churches.” But in the following days he has neither revisited nor developed this character of primacy of the see of Peter, extended to the whole Christian ecumene.
At the same time, however, in his everyday activity, he fully and vigorously exercises the powers that belong to a pope, not subjected to any other authority except that of God. And he knows that the decisions he makes, even the smallest, do not remain circumscribed to the diocese of Rome but have an effect on the Church all over the world.
Francis is a pope of unpredictable remarks. And sooner or later it is expected that he will speak out, making explicit the vision that he has of his role.
But in the meantime it is happening that those inside and outside of the Church who are hoping for the reduction, if not the demolition, of papal primacy see in him the man to meet their expectations. Expectations that they often base upon a presumed “spirit” of the council.
In reality, Vatican II did not weaken in any way the power of the pope over the whole Church. The novelty consisted in integrating the pope’s power of primacy with the power of the college of bishops of which he is a part.
In chapter III of “Lumen Gentium,” the dogmatic constitution on the Church of Vatican Council II, it states:
“In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power. The order of bishops, which succeeds to the college of apostles and gives this apostolic body continued existence, is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church, provided we understand this body together with its head the Roman Pontiff and never without this head.”
So if innovations can be expected from Pope Francis, these cannot in any way diminish the powers of primacy that belong to him as successor of Peter, authoritatively affirmed by Vatican Council II, with completeness and precision.
The innovations could concern, on the other hand, the forms in which the pope will exercise his powers in conjunction with the whole body of the bishops, as happens in councils, or in synods, or in other unprecedented forms of collegial governance of the Church, both intermittent and permanent, expanded or restricted, in any case always convened, presided over, and confirmed by him, as prescribed by Vatican Council II and by other documents of the magisterium.
In the latest issue of “La Civiltà Cattolica,” distributed on March 21, the Jesuit canonist Gianfranco Ghirlanda, former rector of the Pontifical Gregorian University, presented in an extensively documented essay of 14 pages, entitled “The Petrine ministry,” in what consist the pope’s powers of primacy, as affirmed by the magisterium of the Church from Vatican Council I until today.
But at the same time, Fr. Ghirlanda took a look at the possible developments of the concrete exercise of papal power, enriched with the contribution of the bishops.
And in projecting for the pontifical ministry “a future that every believer would like to see realized” – and that could take shape with Francis himself – he made reference, at the conclusion of his article, to the “document of Ravenna” signed in 2007 by Catholics and Orthodox: an important step in the ecumenical journey between Rome and the East.
In this regard, the pontificate of Francis has begun under an auspicious star. At his inaugural Mass was present, for the first time in history, the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I.
And it is likely that next year the one and the other, Francis and Bartholomew, will find themselves together again in Jerusalem, at the fiftieth anniversary of the historic embrace between Paul VI and Athenagoras.
The following is the final portion of the article by Fr. Ghirlanda in issue 3906, dated March 23, 2013, of “La Civiltà Cattolica,” the magazine of the Rome Jesuits printed after inspection by the Vatican authorities.
In the previous issue of “La Civiltà Cattolica,” dated March 2, 2013, Ghirlanda had published an equally scholarly article, clearly contrary to the concept of “pope emeritus” being applied to someone who renounces the pontificate.
EXERCISE OF PRIMACY AND “NEW SITUATIONS”
by Gianfranco Ghirlanda, S.J.
The office of the Roman Pontiff must always be considered within the Church and the episcopal college, and therefore always in strict relation with the Church and the bishops, taken as a whole as a college and as individual pastors of the Churches entrusted to them.
In fact, just as the primacy of the Roman Pontiff is of divine institution, so also are the episcopal college and the headship of the bishops in the particular Churches.
The office of the Roman Pontiff is a ministry because, being the instrument through which Christ by the action of the Spirit keeps together and undivided the college of bishops, it guarantees the unity of the whole people of God in the one apostolic faith and in the sacraments, the efficacious means of salvation.
John Paul II, in the encyclical “Ut Unum Sint,” after recalling that what concerns the unity of all the Christian Communities falls within the domain of the concerns of primacy, stated that he felt called upon to “find a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation,” and then, reusing the words addressed to Ecumenical Patriarch Demetrius I on December 6, 1987, invoked: “I insistently pray the Holy Spirit to shine his light upon us, enlightening all the Pastors and theologians of our Churches, that we may seek—together, of course—the forms in which this ministry may accomplish a service of love recognized by all concerned” (no. 95).
The problem of the relationship between the essential and the historical forms that every ecclesial institution takes on involves the problem of the relationship between the essence of the Church, as mystical revealed reality, and its historical form, as a contingent reality, expressed precisely in the canonical configuration of the institutions.
With this problem is connected that of the relationship between revealed divine law and positive ecclesiastical law, aimed at the regulation of the concrete relationships among subjects.
The essence of the Church is always realized in an historical form, by reason of which the essence can never be separated from the institutional form and vice versa. In spite of all that is relative in this latter, it must never be considered irrelevant with regard to the mystery of the Church, if one does not wish to risk falling into the vision of an unreal Church.
Nonetheless, essence and form cannot be identified with each other, and one must make a distinction between them, otherwise one could not have any criterion of judgment on the historical forms that the Church assumes.
Moreover, one must keep in mind the fact that there is no historical form that would reflect perfectly and exhaustively the essence of the Church, in that the contingent can never express the mystery in a perfect manner.
When we speak of the essence of the Petrine ministry and of the historical forms that it assumes, we are referring to the necessary positive juridical configuration of the relationships that spring from the exercise of this ministry.
We must however keep in mind the difficulty of tracing a clear border between that which is of revealed divine law, and therefore essential in this ministry, and that which is of human law, the fruit of historical contingencies, and to what extent that which is of human law may express divine law in a more or less immediate manner.
Thus it is not easy to determine what may be the historical forms in which must be actualized the exercise of the Petrine ministry, which otherwise would be emptied of content.
In fact, the Church cannot arbitrarily dispose of the determination of the exercise of the Petrine ministry, because this is to be considered “regulated by an objectivity of its own,” which is given “in reference, on the one hand, to the will of Jesus Christ, and on the other, to the historical conjuncture” (cf. G. Colombo, “Tesi per la revisione dell’esercizio del ministero petrino,” in “Teologia” 21, 1996, p. 325).
The datum of faith is antecedent to every discussion on the form of exercise of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff, and therefore it is the premise that must guide the discussion itself, and on the Catholic side predetermines it, even if it must be said that the solution to the problem is not necessarily univocal, in that “if the faith must be one, theology is instead pluralistic, that is with the faculty of proposing various solutions to the problems posed by faith” (ivi, p. 322).?
The ecumenical preoccupation of John Paul II was revisited in the apostolic letter “Novo Millennio Ineunte” of January 6, 2001, distinguishing the journey to be made with the Church of the East, on the one hand, and with the Anglican Communion and the ecclesial Communities born from the Reformation on the other (no. 48), because in these latter is required a more complex journey that would lead to a preliminary communion in the faith and in the sacraments.
The 10th plenary session of the mixed international commission for theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church (Ravenna, October 8-15, 2007), in the undersigned document entitled “Ecclesiological and canonical consequences of the sacramental nature of the Church. Ecclesial communion, conciliarity and authority,” presents the reciprocal interdependence between primacy and conciliarity on the local, regional, and universal level, according to which “primacy must always be considered in the context of conciliarity, and conciliarity likewise in the context of primacy” (no. 43).
This vision of the “document of Ravenna” gives a dynamism to the manner of conceiving the pontifical ministry in a projection toward a future that every believer would like to see realized.
The complete text of the article by Fr. Ghirlanda:
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.