American archbishop advocates new power-sharing structures in the Catholic Church

Archbishop John R. Quinn, emeritus archbishop of San Francisco

John R. Quinn advocates the expansion of the patriarchal structure in the Catholic Church and the attribution of decision making power to the synod of bishops, to remedy excessive centralization and strengthen communion…

After serving as archbishop of San Francisco for 18 years (1977-95) and before that as archbishop of Oklahoma, John Raphael Quinn, who was ordained bishop at the age of 38, decided that the time had come for him to resign in 1995.

Since then he has devoted himself to a life of study, teaching at several universities, giving retreats and spiritual direction, writing and delivering occasional lectures.

A former president of the US Bishops Conference (1977-80), Archbishop Quinn gave a highly praised seminal lecture on The Exercise of the Papacy at Campion Hall, Oxford University, on 29 June 1996.

He later developed that lecture into an important book – The Reform of the Papacy: the costly call to Christian unity (Herder &Herder, New York, 1999), which has been translated into several languages, including Chinese.

Last week, he published a new book as a follow up to that major work, entitled – Ever Ancient, Ever New: Structures of Communion in the Church (Paulist Press, USA).

In this highly readable, stimulating 57 page-book he reviews the structures of communion that developed in the Church over the centuries, and concludes by proposing that, in line with the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on collegiality, new patriarchal structures be created in other parts of the world, and that the synod of bishops be given decision-making power.

He believes these proposals, if implemented, would remedy the excessive centralization and strengthen communion in the Catholic Church today.

We talked with him about all that in this exclusive interview….

What prompted you to write this book, and at this time?

My interest in this topic came from the encyclical of Pope John Paul II  Ut unum sint in which he cites the first millennium, and specifically the structures of communion in the Church of the first millennium, as offering a starting point for discussing a new way to exercise the primacy. I started working on the book in 2005 and it was completed and sent to the publisher in July 2011.

I see your new book as an important follow-up, or addendum to your earlier book – The Reform of the Papacy: the costly call to Christian Unity, and your Oxford lecture.  Is that a correct reading?

You are right! In actual fact my work on this whole subject began with that Oxford lecture in June 1996. The text of that lecture was given directly to Pope John Paul II at the same time as I delivered it in Oxford. I chose to speak on the reform of the exercise of papal authority because the Pope himself had invited bishops to dialog with him on the subject. He issued this invitation in his landmark encyclical Ut unum sint on Christian unity (May 1995). So, in actual fact it was not I but the Pope himself who had raised the topic of how the exercise of the primacy could be changed. My book, published three years after that Oxford lecture, went into greater detail and gave more background than was possible in the space of an hour’s lecture. I myself went to Rome and presented a copy of that book personally to Pope John Paul II in a private audience, and also – that same day – to Cardinal Ratzinger, then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The cardinal kindly referred to the book in his own publication God and the World and later made a positive reference to it when the Californian bishops visited the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2004.

Your new book takes the whole discussion a step further by proposing the creation of new patriarchal structures in parts of the world where they do not yet exist, and by advocating that deliberative or decision-making power be granted to the synod of bishops to enable it to function more effectively. Could you explain this?
To begin with, patriarchal structures are not a novelty in the Church. They began almost 1500 years before the modem democracies arose. The Council of Nicaea in 325 called the patriarchal structure ancient. In the Western Latin Church, the Roman synods held in the later part of the first millennium and during the first half of the second millennium were deliberative, decision-making synods. Consequently, these structures are not new, nor are they mechanisms to weaken papal authority since the Popes themselves used them, and the patriarchal structures, certainly as they exist in the Catholic Church, are all in communion with Rome. It should be noted as well that the theologian, Joseph Ratzinger, raised the idea of new patriarchates being created in Asia and Africa.

The new patriarchal structures that you propose in your new book would involve considerable decentralization in the present system of governance of the Catholic Church; it would mean a moving away from the centralized Roman Curia system that prevails to day. Is this so?
Patriarchal structures would involve some administrative decentralization. I emphasize, however, that this would always be in communion of faith and unity. Underlying everything is the truth that “There is one faith, one Lord, one baptism.” At the same time there has been longstanding dissatisfaction with what the earlier Joseph Ratzinger called “excessive Roman
centralization.”  In fact, St. Bernard using the strongest possible language warned against the increasing movement of administrative centralization of his time. So my book does propose the creation of new patriarchal structures in the Latin Church and these would mean some decentralization.

If these new patriarchal structures were created in the Latin Church then the bishops who would belong to those structures, say for example, the bishops of the United States or the bishops of Japan, would then have to take on new responsibilities. Could you mention some of the new responsibilities they would have?
Two major responsibilities which would fall within the competence of new patriarchal structures would be the appointment of bishops and the creation of dioceses. There would be other things as well such as
the determination of liturgical texts.

Clearly such far reaching responsibilities could not be assumed by regional structures without some preparation. I would think it very useful if this were to be done, that the planning might begin with taking a look at how the Religious Orders went about renewal after the Council. It would be wise to adopt some such process if these new structures were to be used in the Latin Church.

In your new book you also advocate that the synod of bishops should be given deliberative or decision-making power. Why do you propose this? And what difference do you think this would make in the life of the Church?
A deliberative or decision-making synod would have several advantages. First, its members would be the presidents of Episcopal conferences and the patriarchs and major archbishops of the Eastern Churches. In the case of the Episcopal conferences, the presidents are elected by the bishops of the conference, except for the Italian Bishops Conference. The patriarchs are elected by the patriarchal synod. These members would be bishops actually involved in the pastoral care and government of a diocese in various parts of the world. A second advantage is that they could meet for a relatively brief period to deliberate and make decisions with the Pope on matters of grave and urgent importance to the whole Church. In a world of rapid change and instant communication the ability to call on wide input such as this would be a very great advantage.

You have been a bishop for many years, and were also president of the US Bishops Conference.  How do you think these two proposals – the establishment of patriarchates and the giving of decision-making power to the synod of bishops –might effect the life of the US Church in the future?
I think that these structures would have the effect of strengthening communion with Rome.

One reason for this is that there would be an experience of the Churches in the United States as true churches, working with and experiencing practical communion with Rome.

These structures would increase respect for Rome too, because Rome would not be making important decisions without the participation of the regional Churches. In the modem world of electronic communication and the twenty-four hour news cycle I would think that new patriarchal structures would mean increased communication among the various regional churches and with Rome.

In regard to communication with Rome, this could enable the regional churches to have a better understanding of the concerns of Rome and vice versa. It would also help the regional churches to sharpen their universal view and increase their sensitivity to other parts of the Church.


About The Voice Of Bombay's Catholic Laity

Bombay Laity Ezekiel’s Chapter 3 Task as Watchman 17 “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. 18 When I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for[b] their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. 19 But if you do warn the wicked person and they do not turn from their wickedness or from their evil ways, they will die for their sin; but you will have saved yourself.
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