May 29, 2001
volume 12, no. 132

An Urgent Plea: Do Not Change the Papacy

Part Six: Collegiality in the powers of the Pope Catholic Doctrine on the powers of the Pope


Atila Sinke Guimar„es, Michael J. Matt, Dr. Marian Horvat and John Vennari

    Footnotes in Blue
Dear Holy Father,

    Based on the above disturbing facts, the possibility of a revolution in the Papacy is a most serious matter that demands urgent measures to avoid a great damage to Holy Mother Church. Consequently, we feel compelled to bring to the attention of Your Holiness, as Universal Doctor of the Church, the traditional doctrine of the Magisterium on the powers of the Petrine Primacy. We do this knowing full well your awareness of all that will now be presented. With deepest respect and humility we ask: how can such a revolution in the Papacy be possible in light of the clear, consistent, and traditional Magisterial doctrine regarding the Primacy of Peter?

A - Catholic Doctrine on the powers of the Pope

    The Pope has three powers: the power to sanctify, the power to teach and the power to govern. Each of these powers has special characteristics.

    The power to sanctify, or the power of Orders, is the power to say the Holy Mass and to administer the Sacraments. It is, therefore, the power to confer the Sacrament of Holy Orders (to consecrate Bishops and ordain priests), and to administer the other six Sacraments - Confirmation, Confession, Holy Communion, Extreme Unction, Matrimony, and Baptism.

    This power was conferred by Our Lord equally on all the Apostles and on their successors, the Bishops. For this reason, the Pope has essentially the same power to sanctify as the other Bishops. The Bishop also has the power to teach his flock and the power to govern his Diocese, but in these two last powers, he relies on the papal supreme powers to teach and govern. Therefore, he must obey the Pope, not so much because of the Pope's power to sanctify, but in view of his powers to teach and to govern. In fact, by the papal power to govern, the Bishops are chosen and established in their Dioceses. Their obedience is required in order to maintain the needed unity in the teaching and discipline of the Church. There is no reason to apply collegiality to the power to sanctify, because as such the Pope and Bishops have essentially the same power.

    The power to teach was also conferred upon the twelve Apostles. However, it was conferred upon Peter over and above the others. For this reason, when the Pope speaks ex cathedra as the Universal Pastor and Doctor of the Church, he is infallible. According to the doctrine of Papal Infallibility, the certainty of the teaching of the Bishops relies directly on the Pope's power to teach, whether the Bishops are spread all over the world or whether they are joined together in council. The Pope's power to teach is not an absolute power; it is limited by the dogmas of Faith and by the ordinary and universal teaching of the Church throughout the preceding centuries. Thus, if a Pope teaches something different from traditional dogma and the perennial Magisterium, he should not be obeyed. To these doctrines general assent cannot be given and strict obedience must be denied. The Bishops and even the faithful have the right and the duty to resist the erroneous teachings of that Pope. (32)

    (32) "For example, we respectfully decline to believe that the death penalty must be outlawed and that criminals may never be put to death, as the Pope recently declared in L'Osservatore Romano. For example, we respectfully decline to believe that altar girls are a good thing for the Church, as the Pope declared in his Letter to Women. For example, we respectfully decline to believe that the New Mass is 'a great renewal' and that it is not inferior to the Old Mass, as the Pope declared in his address on the 25th anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concilium. For example, we respectfully decline to believe, as the Pope taught in Ut unum sint, that the ministers of Protestant sects which preach abortion are 'disciples of Christ' - a novel teaching His Holiness has confirmed again and again by conducting joint liturgical services with pro-abortion laymen pretending to be bishops. And, for example, we respectfully decline to believe that Islam is a religion deserving of divine protection, as the Pope taught when he declared 'May St. John Baptist protect Islam and all the people of Jordan . . .' at Wadi Al-Kharrar, on March 21, 2000." Editorial, Michael J. Matt, The Remnant, August 31, 2000.
    Certainly the Bishops have the power to teach, because they, as heirs of the Apostles, received the divine mandate to preach the Gospel and they are Doctors of the Faith. But their teaching is not supreme, i.e., it must be judged by the Pope. If the Bishops' power to teach would have the same authority as that of the Pope, in a short time the unity of teaching and, after that, the unity of the Catholic Faith, would be broken. The Protestant and Schismatic sects are incapable of having unity in doctrine, because they preach the equality of the power to teach. Those who want to apply collegiality to the power of papal teaching - that is, to consider the Bishops' power to teach as equal to that of the Pope - in reality want to transform the Catholic Church into something similar to these sects.

    The Pope's power to govern, or the power of jurisdiction, is the most decisive. It includes the supreme power to act, legislate, judge, and punish. Traditionally, the Pope delegates most of the exercise of these powers to innumerable intermediary bodies of the Church - the Roman Congregations and the other Vatican Dicasteries: Tribunals, Pontifical Councils, Administrative Bodies, Special Committees, etc. (33)

    (33) Even here the delegation of powers made by the Sovereign Pontiff is limited. Thus it is wrong to say, as is sometimes alleged today, that if a Vatican Prelate performs (or claims to perform) any function in the name of the Pope - if a Prelate speaks, it is "the Pope speaking."
He also habitually delegates powers to Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops, Nuncios, and Apostolic Delegates outside the Vatican. He reserves to himself the power to make final decisions or judge extraordinary cases. Thus while the Bishops have certain powers to govern, these are dependent on the supreme power of the Pope. Here again, we see that those who want to apply collegiality to the power of papal government - that is, to consider the Bishops' power to govern as equal to that of the Pope - in reality want to transform the Catholic Church into something similar to the Protestant and Schismatic sects.

    The Church's regime of government emanates from an extremely rich reality. The Pope is elected by a vote of the College of Cardinals. The papal monarchy, therefore, issues from an aristocratic body, which democratically elects the successor to the Pontifical Throne. We have, therefore, the three regimes - monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy - proportionally represented in the Church. In the coronation ceremony, the Pope receives from Our Lord the "power of the Vicar" [potestas vicaria], that is, he comes to be the representative on earth par excellence of Jesus Christ, the one who acts in the place of Our Lord. This is the significance of the titles "Vicar of Christ" and "Sovereign Pontiff." Our Lord sanctions the new Pope during the ceremony of enthronement and bestows a divine stamp on the choice of the Cardinals. Therefore, over and above the human character of the election of a Pope, two divine characters are added - the representation of Christ and the special assistance of the Holy Ghost. In this specific sense, the governing regime in the Church is a monarchy of divine right, and its nature properly is defined as human-divine.

    The human choice of the Pope, however, proceeds also from a vaster organic natural reality, which antedates the formation of the College of Cardinals. It is the reality of the Church herself, which was shaped through the centuries under the form of a feudal monarchy. Like every living reality, like a large family, the Church was gradually formed in function of her vitality and needs. Each Diocese has its own history, its special relations with the Holy See, its rights, and its privileges. For each country the Holy See has a special solicitude and provides assistance according to its apostolic needs. The Pope habitually respects the relative autonomy of the government of the Bishops, just as in a feudal monarchy the King respected the autonomy of his nobles. The Pope normally acts in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity - the superior power should act only when the inferior power shows itself incapable of fulfilling its mission. However, according to the Pope's discretion, he has the full right to intervene directly for any of the faithful of a Diocese independent of the concurrence of the Bishop, or even in opposition to him. Constantly orienting the individual Dioceses, the ecclesiastical Provinces and the countries' Episcopates that directed themselves to her, the Holy Church elaborated a system as perfect as possible to hear and be heard. This permits her to fulfill her mission faithfully and to make the exercise of government as just as possible.

    This wise system of government caused the Catholic Church to become the human institution most cognizant of, and responsive to, every aspect of human reality. This is the opposite of a supposed exaggerated centralization that many theologians are criticizing today in order to advocate a reform. The system of government established in the Church is feudal - in the best sense of the word. That is, it is the wisely constituted government of the head over the body. This centralism has nothing of evil in itself. It is the normal centralism of the head in relation to the rest of the body that permits the head to direct all of the members well. To want to "reform" the present system in the Church in order to make the head equal to the body would be like trying to transform the Church with her divine-human likeness of the body and soul of Our Lord Jesus Christ into a resemblance of a jellyfish or other type of mollusk, where the head and body are indistinguishable.

    It seems to us, Holy Father, that any proposal of reform of the Papacy that does not clearly distinguish the three principal papal powers runs the serious risk of being confusing and detrimental. Often collegiality is requested on the basis of the fundamental equality of the Bishops in the power of Orders, but then it is followed by an attempt to apply it to the powers of teaching and of government. Without these clear distinctions of powers, many sophistic and false arguments for reforming the Papacy can appear convincing.

Tomorrow: Part Seven: Collegiality and the heresy of conciliarism in its full or mitigated form


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May 29, 2001
volume 12, no. 132
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