Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Delahunty & Ratelle on Giving the Laity a (Nonbinding) Role in Appointments of Diocesan Bishops

Here is an interesting and provocative proposal by Professor Robert Delahunty and Mr. Andrew Ratelle in response to the ongoing crisis of the Church concerning widespread, decades-long sexual abuse of children by bishops and other clerical leaders.

The crux of the proposal concerns lay involvement in appointment and removal of bishops. A bit from the post:

Revolutionary as it may yet seem, lay involvement in Church governance is by far the norm throughout Christian history. The clergy was one of two pillars that upheld the universal Church. The second was historically the nobility—the knights, landowners, and men of property—whose practical means and expertise propped up, and occasionally held in check, the more spiritual mission of the priests and bishops. Historically, the nobles were in turn supported by the peasantry, commoners who lived by the work of their hands in exchange for the protection offered by their feudal employer.

As the middle ages developed, an increasing number of social gradations between these two lay classes appeared until the dawn of the modern age, when the nobility and the commoners effectively joined into once distinct class. The knight and the peasant are essentially one, with the modern laity taking a share of the responsibilities of both. It is their duty not just to provide for, but to defend, the universal church, exercising their role in a range of natural competencies best suited to their state in life. Lest we forget it was the advocacy of two extraordinary members of the laity, in the persons of St. Francis of Assisi and Catherine of Siena, who helped correct the errors of the papacy in their own time. Chivalric orders like the fiercely independent Knights Templar held both the clergy and royalty in check for generations because of their roles not just on the battlefield, but in the financial sector. It was the Christian laity that held the line against apostate bishops and Emperors during the time of the Arian heresy, and it was laymen like Dante Alighieri, who put their professions on the line in condemnation of corruption in the Vatican.

The failure to recognize this normative function of the laity creates the conditions in which abuses like the current McCarrick scandal emerge. No single blog post can hope to cover the full scope of what the laity’s response should be.  We aim here only to start a conversation by making five suggestions ....

More ambitiously, we recommend that local parishes, priests and lay people be involved directly and substantially in the appointment and removal of the bishops of their dioceses.

In the early centuries of the Church, the popular vote of the faithful decided the nomination and election of bishops. St. Cyprian believed that these procedures prevented unworthy persons from becoming bishops. The great St. Ambrose of Milan, who converted the still greater St. Augustine of Hippo, was popularly elected bishop as a compromise candidate even while he was still an unbaptized layman!

In the fifth century, Popes Celestine I and Leo I condemned any attempt to impose a bishop without popular consent. The practice began changing in both the Eastern and Western Roman Empire in the early middle ages. In the West, popular elections remained, but Kings (themselves laymen) began to control nominations to vacant sees. Later still, episcopal elections were limited to cathedral canons – the clerical administrative staff of the bishops. In 1485, Pope Innocent VIII removed any reference to elections in the rite of consecration for a bishop. In 1917, the Code of Canon Law confirmed the papal right to appoint all bishops.

We are not recommending a revival of the early elective practice in pure form. Rather, we envisage a voluntary, non-binding commitment on the part of the Pope that he will only appoint as bishops those candidates who have been nominated by the parishes—i.e. priests and laypeople—of the dioceses that those bishops will lead. If the Pope so desired, the practice could vary from one country to another.

Because these arrangements would be non-binding, they would not alter canon law. Moreover, the Pope could stipulate that the agreement held only for the duration of his Papacy, and did not in any way commit his successor. Finally, the Pope could reserve to himself the power to breach or retract the agreement on any occasion.

More ambitiously, we recommend that local parishes, priests and lay people be involved directly and substantially in the appointment and removal of the bishops of their dioceses.

In the early centuries of the Church, the popular vote of the faithful decided the nomination and election of bishops. St. Cyprian believed that these procedures prevented unworthy persons from becoming bishops. The great St. Ambrose of Milan, who converted the still greater St. Augustine of Hippo, was popularly elected bishop as a compromise candidate even while he was still an unbaptized layman!

In the fifth century, Popes Celestine I and Leo I condemned any attempt to impose a bishop without popular consent. The practice began changing in both the Eastern and Western Roman Empire in the early middle ages. In the West, popular elections remained, but Kings (themselves laymen) began to control nominations to vacant sees. Later still, episcopal elections were limited to cathedral canons – the clerical administrative staff of the bishops. In 1485, Pope Innocent VIII removed any reference to elections in the rite of consecration for a bishop. In 1917, the Code of Canon Law confirmed the papal right to appoint all bishops.

We are not recommending a revival of the early elective practice in pure form. Rather, we envisage a voluntary, non-binding commitment on the part of the Pope that he will only appoint as bishops those candidates who have been nominated by the parishes—i.e. priests and laypeople—of the dioceses that those bishops will lead. If the Pope so desired, the practice could vary from one country to another.

Because these arrangements would be non-binding, they would not alter canon law. Moreover, the Pope could stipulate that the agreement held only for the duration of his Papacy, and did not in any way commit his successor. Finally, the Pope could reserve to himself the power to breach or retract the agreement on any occasion.

I mostly wanted simply to note the argument here and the post. There is much to think about and discuss in it, and I hope my colleagues will weigh in. Lay involvement in selection/appointment implicates all sorts of complicated questions. One of these is about just what the Church would get if it went in this direction. What it will get will depend upon the formation and knowledge of the laity in Catholicism. But perhaps we are, at this point, not entitled to wish for another Ambrose or Augustine, and instead should simply insist as an initial matter on an end to the present disasters.

https://mirrorofjustice.blogs.com/mirrorofjustice/2018/08/delahunty-ratelle-on-giving-the-laity-a-nonbinding-role-in-appointments-of-diocesan-bishops.html

DeGirolami, Marc | Permalink