MY FAVORITE POPE? JOHN XXIII
Many years ago visiting Scotland, I saw a few churches disfigured by black tar graffiti, telling the Pope to do something to himself that was quite gross. Beneath that line was written, “But not John XXIII”. Two different views of the papacy were shaped by writers with different religious affiliations and personality types. But can we, Catholics sharing the one faith, adopt different preferences for different popes? Part of being Catholic is acceptance of the pope as the Head of the Church. But with that acceptance, we can, as with friends and associates, have different degrees of friendship to a pope. Nothing, of course, gross like the first graffiti. It is fine that Catholics embrace the Pope as the chief of the Church. I am puzzled at how some of the faithful enthusiastically embrace equally two different popes with quite different and even conflicting mentalities. This paper looks into such different papal mentalities. Popes come in various sizes and shapes. Ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and personal qualities shape each papal personality. As a New York Catholic priest, I look to Benedict XVI as the successor of Peter and the head of my Church. Back in the 60s, I regarded John XXIII in much the same fashion. But there was a profound difference. Governance philosophy! John XXIII believed in seeking facts and forming policies through many sources, witness Vatican Council II, in which, in the mid 1960s, he brought together bishops from all over the world. The Council documents gave new identity and meaning to the individual faithful and gave bishops a recognizable role in policy development. Belief in an organization by its participants can be secured only if they feel they are being invested in the institution, being made to have a stake in it, as well as being asked to support it. John XXIII tried to do that. He looked to the wide world to fashion a new vision for the Church as it relates to the modern world. John Paul II and Benedict XVI looked within themselves and tradition for their vision of Church, which they have continued to impose as they centralize the authority of the papacy that is their own. The faithful accept the Pope, whoever he may be, as the head of their Church; but they can choose to prefer a pope with a more participatory policy of governance.
The following examples illustrate the centralization of the Church’s governance and authority under John Paul and Benedict with a corresponding diminution of the authority of the bishops. 1. The International Commission for English in the Liturgy, made up of appointees by bishops from English-speaking countries, presented in 1998 a new translation of the Mass to the Vatican for approval. It was rejected. John Paul had decided on a different manner of translation. In 2001, ICEL was disbanded and new bishops, appointed by the pope, took up the work. In 2010 John Paul's new Missal was presented to the USCCB for approval. I have it on good authority, although anonymous, that the presenter said, in effect, that this need not take a lot of discussion, but could be simply approved, as indeed it was. Its use became mandatory in the US in Advent 2011, despite petitions from priests and people asking that the translation first be tried before final acceptance.
2. Caritas International, a ederation of 165 Catholic welfare agencies providing humanitarian aid to refugees and those distressed by natural disasters or warfare, was governed by its General Assembly, its members appointed by bishops in seven regions of the world. In 2004, it was reorganized under John Paul II, oversight given to Cor Unum, a papal agency. In 2011, Benedict, in his wish to have the aid agency be more linked to evangelization, interfered in the election of the General Secretary, putting his man in that position.
3. At some point in the papacy of John Paul II, national associations of bishops like the USCCB received a Vatican directive that certain matters decided by a national conference by a majority vote, would henceforth be referred to Rome unless it had received a unanimous vote.
4. Further Vatican efforts to curb new voices for change, this time from Presbyteral Councils, appeared in the 1983 revision of the Code of Canon Law, where, unlike the previous model, the bishop now chairs the Council and prepares its agenda. The bishop's presence is undoubtedly a chilling factor as to open and candid discussion. His agenda control establishes his priorities among topics. It can also serve him as a blocking instrument.
5. John Paul, made the Synods of Bishops, expressions, not of their voice and vision, but those that were his own.
Observers may well wonder at the continuing appetite, some might say, voracious, for centrality and power on the part of Rome and its acceptance by local bishops. Did any object? This trend is clearly in opposition to what Vatican II had engendered in the way of subsidiarity and collegiality. For example, the Vatican’s dismissal of the ICEL bishop-appointed members after two decades of work, their replacement by creatures of John Paul II, and then the imposition of the new translation in Advent of 2011? It was confidentially reported to me that when the new translation of the Missal was presented to the USCCB for acceptance, the presenter declared that there was no need for discussion; a quick approval would be fine. And the USCCB gave its quick approval. Undoubtedly unanimous! No division in this house! When Benedict took over Caritas International, did our bishops offer any opposition? That John Paul used the extraordinary personality that was his to use the Synods of Bishops to negate the voice of the bishops in favor of his own is shown in many of his “Exhortations”, which, under a different name, were intended to express the views of the bishops. Many examples are available. Here is one. At the conclusion of the Synod of Asia in 1998, a numbered Proposition of the bishops asked that the papal diplomatic corps and nuntiatures be more internationalized. John Paul’s response, connected by a footnote to the Proposition, stated, “The fathers of the Synod praised the papal diplomatic corps for its helpfulness”.
This paper intended to illustrate two styles of papal governance and raises questions as to how the lack of continuity in papal rule has affected the legacy of Vatican II and the participation of bishops, priests, and the faithful in forming policies for church administration.