The White Lily Blog

Take Me to Your Leader: You Know Who He Is–Don’t You?

They’re teaching your kid Centering Prayer instead of the rosary at your parish, and you don’t like it.  The Catholic university you went to, at major cost, is still hosting ‘The Vagina Monologues’ at the annual reunion. The Catholic politician you voted for has just endorsed gay marriage, and your pastor sits during communion while other folks distribute the hosts. You thought the Holy Father was going to do something about all these things, eventually, but he seems pretty content to be a good example and let it go at that.  His promising beginning has just about petered out (heh). You ask an SSPX friend what he thinks. He says, “Collegiality,” and you hand him a tissue. “God bless you,” you say. “Good one,” he says, and then he gives you a website. 

Collegiality was one of the innovations of Vatican II that began as a heresy in the Renaissance in the 14th century.  The Church had been, during all the preceding ages, a successful monarchy. Only the pope exercised Peter’s infallibility. Then ambitious bishops tried to change the Church to an oligarchy ruled by the bishops, with the pope as their mouthpiece. Three councils intended to end the Great Schism were only in part orthodox and pushed always to curtail Peter’s power in favor of the bishops and to place the authority of a general council above the pope.  In the struggles against the heresy, known by various names in different nations, supporters of tradition and the centralized authority of Rome became known as ‘Ultramontanists” and their fightback as “Ultramontanism” as they faithfully resisted the ideas that papal decisions were not infallible without the consent of the bishops, councils are superior to the pope, or that the pope has no authority to intervene in temporal affairs. They understood always that to weaken the pope was not what Christ wanted when he gave Peter the keys.

The struggle went on for some centuries. In one notable form, Joseph II in France, during the decade 1780-1790, demanded the right to form his own national church with complete control over  liturgy, religious orders, the consecration of bishops, and even the length and content of sermons. This extreme form (called Ceasaro-papism) found its theoretical base in the push over the preceding centuries for what came to be known as collegiality. 

Modern times brought no respite.  Pius IX’s struggle against liberalism was much hampered by resistance in the ‘national churches,’ but Vatican I, called at his behest, emphatically rejected collegiality, stating that “if anyone should say that the Roman Pontiff has only the office of inspecting or directing, and not the full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the whole Church . . . .let him be anathema.” (De Ecclesia Christi, can. 3) This doctrinal council stated unequivocally that the pope, when speaking ex cathedra, speaks infallibly through power received from the divine Redeemer, not by consent of the Church. (De Romani Pontificis infallibili magisterio, cap. 4, can. 4.)  Vatican I identified those schools of thought comprising collegiality as heresy. It reemerged in Modernism and we are fighting it still. 

After Vatican I, the Church embarked on a remarkable run of success, under the guidance of a series of popes, from Pius IX to Pius XII. There was an attack from Modernism around the turn of the century, but it was routed and driven underground by the resolute action of St. Pius X. There it remained until the day when a fateful opportunity and a monstrous conspiracy would deliver the whole structure of the Church into Modernist hands during Vatican II.

Father Ralph Wiltgen, the author of The Rhine Flows into the Tiber, called the fight over collegiality the most important and dramatic battle at Vatican II. The political strength of liberalism at Vatican II in the struggle for collegiality set the stage for the victory of liberalism in other areas like ecumenism and religious liberty. Father Wiltgen discusses three movements in the battle. The first was called the ultra- montane and was the traditional Catholic view: that the pope alone has supreme authority, but may share it temporarily with a general council, as an extraordinary measure. Wiltgen says that this position was probably that of the silent majority of the bishops, as far as they took any position.

The liberal movement maintained that the only supreme authority in the Church was the collect of bishops in union with the pope. The pope exercised his authority only when representing the college. He was bound in duty to consult the bishops before any important decision. The bishops exercised supreme authority by divine right, in virtue of their consecration. General councils were an ordinary, not an extraordinary, exercise of this authority, and should be of frequent and regular occurrence. This view is simply the heresy fought over the previous ages and specifically rejected by Vatican I.

The third position was an extremely vague compromise, a confusing mixture of all positions. The pope had divine authority and was always free to use it. The college of bishops also had divine authority but was not always free to use it. The college had authority only when allowed to do so by the pope. It was this position that was finally adopted by the Council, with an important preface, after heated political machinations. Those protesting the moderate movement, as did Archbishop Staffa of the Curia, predicted a breakdown of ecclesiastical discipline in the power vacuum caused by shared authority, but Paul VI sided with the liberals until a secret memo by one of the most extreme radicals was made public. The memo discussed the most ambiguous passages in the current resolution (which was about to be passed) and celebrated how the liberal bishops intended to interpret them in the future, thanks to the loopholes the deliberately vague language allowed. This blew the liberal cover, and Paul VI acted, and a preface was attached to chapter 3 of Lumen Gentium asserting that the traditional policy, in which the pope may temporarily grant power to the bishops at extraordinary general councils, was the teaching intended.

The liberal wing, by now incredibly strong and active, was infuriated by the preface, which negated their position. As they were to do with the liturgy, they simply acted as if the liberal position had passed, and set up administrative initiatives as if it had. They subsequently created a permanent Synod of Bishops in each nation, with real, not just advisory powers,  in effect establishing national churches to which individual bishops, previously the sole authorities in their own dioceses, were to be subjected.  The seat of practical authority was shifted away from both Rome and from individual bishops in their own dioceses, to the newly empowered episcopal conferences. These simple administrative changes contradicted in practice the preface to Lumen Gentium. It was all done as if the liberal language of collegiality had won; even the term collegiality, with all it communicated, continued to be used without censure, as it does today.

So who’s in charge? As with the constitution on the liturgy in Vatican II, the actual text, the actual teaching of the Church, did not change (with one exception: please see the end of the post for an update). Yet the vague wording, the use of terms carrying other meanings, and then the subsequent administrative actions following the Council in which power was taken from the Curia and distributed, changed the Church. And not for the better! Strange and bitter fruit born! 

Now the Holy Father wishes to take some of it back, as in disciplinary power in punishing sexual behaviors among the clergy, so badly dealt with by the episcopal conferences that it has brought the Church to her knees.  Too late–and what about all those other areas in which Catholic identity has been so altered as to make the Church unrecognizable and incoherent?

So the next time you wish to complain about this or that entity calling itself Catholic without being so, or about the on-going, unreformed liturgical abuses, rather than general complaining, call attention to the real problem: pray for an end to collegiality.  Then write the Holy Father and ask him to exercise his authority in whatever issue is at stake.  Remind him that he has the power and that we want him to use it. Ask him to re-state the traditional definition with both words and actions, to work to centralize authority administratively, on all the important issues, not just the sex abuse issues.  Ask him to cooperate with SSPX in clarifying this question. Collegiality is on the table, in the doctrinal discussions between the Vatican and SSPX, and is less a sleeper issue than you might have previously imagined. We never needed a stronger papacy than now.

Update: It’s 2012, and SSPX has an excellent addition to the topic of collegiality. Read it here.

4 Comments so far
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I thought that the 14th century idea was “Conciliarity”- the idea being that a General Council was the supreme authority trumping even the Pope. There are, I daresay, areas of overlap but “collegiality” seems a somewhat different idea. In short I have tended to understand it as meaning the bishops together with the Pope. Perhaps I have missed something here?

Comment by Patricius

Hello, Patricius, nice to hear from you. I got my historical details from the link given early in the post. But I believe you are right. The Preface that Paul VI hastily appended to the schema the Council was to later endorse, and was poised at the time to endorse, gave the traditional (and thus, for Catholics, the only) wording: the pope always has authority, the bishops when the pope permits as an extraordinary act. (The leaked memo referred to, that revealed that the ambiguity of the schema was deliberate, and that liberals were planning to interpret it as they wished after the Council, was written by the Belgiun Edward Schillebeeckx who just died last year.) Liberals were advancing a proposal in which a general council was the supreme authority, and in which the pope was as the head of the council the spokesperson for the democratic vote of the entire council. This proposal lost. However, as noted in the post, the implementation following the Council proceded just as if the liberal demand had won the day, and to this day most people believe the bishops in their national colleges have the authority for their nation–as a whole. (Apparently the Holy Father thinks so too, from his lack of exercise of authority.)This structure trumps the authority of an individual bishop even though it did not win the day at the Council. This is very similar, as the linked article points out, to what happened with the liturgy. Latin was kept by the Council–etc. etc., a litany we know all too well. But the implementation of the Council went on as if the liberal position had won, thanks to some loopholes.

Comment by thewhitelilyblog

Hello Lily,

I wouldn’t say that the Pope’s supremacy is in discussion anymore as in my perception the times of the Dutch schism and the Winnipeg declaration are – thankfully – gone. What I woul dsay, though, is that Benedict is still one of those who believe that forceful action is not what is expected of a Pope and a gentle steering a more appropriate conduct.

I personally prefer the steamrollers a’ la St. Pius X but hey, *he* is the Pope…. 😉


Comment by mundabor

Yes, I believe you’re right. And the source I was using said the same thing–I’ve forgotten if I put it. Yes, the helplessness is self-imposed, thank heavens. But do you believe that the confusion came from Vatican II? Less is written about collegiality. What have you read?

Thanks for visiting!

Comment by thewhitelilyblog

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