"We have become accustomed to speak of the 'Supreme Pontiff', of a 'monarchical-style' papacy, of Roman ‘hands-on’ intervention world-wide. But it was not always so and need not be so". So writes Jesuit theologian Gerry O'Hanlon in an article on the papacy published in the Irish Times on Tuesday, 19 February. The article examines what the role of the Pope should involve and was written after Pope Benedict XV1's historic resignation announcement that took the whole world by surprise.
Noting the observations of former Irish President Mary McAleese on the "constitutionally incoherent nature of the Catholic Church’s organizational structure, with its unresolved tensions between papal primacy and Episcopal collegiality", he says it is not surprising that many people feel disconnected or alienated from the institutional Church. The fall out from this unsatisfactory impasse is considerable, leaving us with many important and unanswered questions, he contends.
"Where are the structures and institutions to embody the notion of Church as communion, the collegial thrust which the Second Vatican Council proposed? Is there not an anachronistic reliance on a monarchical form of governance, with the Pope and Roma Curia at its apex? Has this not led to the stern rejection of alternative voices, a culture of silence and fear, in which the attempt is made to silence the views of Fr Tony Flannery in Ireland, Bishop Bill Morris in Australia, Dr Tina Beattie in the UK, Sr Elizabeth Johnson in the USA and many, many others, in ways that fall well short procedurally of what modern norms of justice demand?"
He sees hope in the fact that the situation was not always thus and advocates that we begin immediately to work for a re-imagined vision of church with 'communio' at its heart. "The Swiss Benedictine Abbot Martin Werlen tried to help us re-imagine this operative world-view recently when he suggested that the Pope might make a number of lay cardinals, women and men, of different ages and from all parts of the world, to help him govern the Church. "
He acknowledges that it is not the job of a Conclave to reform the Church but suggests it may be their job to identify the candidate best suited to bring about Church renewal and that candidate might even be from outside the conclave.
"Cardinal Sean Brady and his fellow electors would do us all a great service if they took seriously ecclesial and papal reform as the major criterion in their choice of candidate for the Petrine ministry, that great gift of God’s Holy Spirit to Catholics and, if reformed, to all Christians," he concludes. You can read the full article here.