Werner Böckenförde

The Present Situation in the Roman Catholic Church - Remarks from a Canon Law
(uncorrected translation draft)

I was surprised to receive an invitation to speak to you today. In an earlier discussion
with Mr.Weisner I expressed the fear that my presentation could result in difficulties
for him and the men and women of the national team. My presentation would not fit into
the genre of "rage and mourning perplexity" (V. Conzemius), to which we have become
acquainted, but would focus analytically from a Canon Law perspective on the last ten
years. I saw the risk of disillusionment, if not demoralization, if I would honestly
focus on hard, legal realities. I asked if it would not be more helpful for your
organization to invite one of the numerous theologians who consider themselves
progressives. The national team stood by its invitation. I hope, by doing so, it did not
"collect burning coals on its head". We agreed that there should be a large question
mark behind the theme for this national assembly: " Christian Freedom instead of Holy
Lordship". The motor for your movement and actions is the II Vatican Council. In this
council the pain over the Church, even felt by bishops, found an expression. Along with
all the willingness to compromise in the agreed-upon texts, a jolt went through the
Church: finally, a reaction to the ultra-Montanism of the last century, to the
anti-Modernism at the beginning of this century and to the similarly oppressive
narrowness of the fifties. The texts of the council and many of their commentaries
depicted a friendlier image of the church. One felt the reins were loosened. Laypeople
developed more self-confidence and stood straighter.

They did not want to be the listening Church any more, obliged to obey. Many of the
believers hoped for a fulfillment of the numerous promises which were substantiated with
council texts in proclamation and theology. They hoped for a brotherly and sisterly
Church where all believers, men as well as women, clergy as well as laypeople, could
recognize their stated equality in dignity. They expected corresponding competencies in
the forming of Church life. People hoped for an end of "holy power"of few clericals over
many faithful, for the entry of freedom into the Roman Catholic Church. But the longer
time passed by, the more the disappointment grew for many. Once again: You have asked a
Canon Lawyer for this presentation. It's title is: "Canon Law Remarks to the Present
Situation in the Roman Catholic Church". My remarks are two fold. First, I will deal
with the present situation; secondly, with possibilities to deal with this situation.

I. The Legal Situation in the Church

1. The Codex Iuris Canonici

Eighteen years after the council the present Pope has drawn legal consequences from the
II Vatican Council. The Codex Iuris Canonici made it clear, despite all estimable
changes, that no incisive consequences should come out of the Council. The ecclesial
legislator - and this is according to the churchs constitution lastly the Pope alone -
this legislator showed himself determined, not only to stop all questioning of the
hierarchical structure of the Church, but in addition to fortify this structure even
more. The image of the Church for this Pope can be seen in the books of law which he
published, binding for all Catholic men and women, and when concerning divine right,
binding for all human beings. I will limit myself to that part of the Codex Iuris
Canonici which pertains to us.

a) The Legislation

Different than in the II. Vaticanum, the legislator designates only the Pope, not the
bishops, as "Vicar of Christ". He is the head of the "college of bishops", and "Pastor
of the universal Church". He enjoys the supreme and immediate power in the Church. He
possesses the primary of ordinary power over the diocesan bishops, which means, the
"predominance" in the Church. There are no legal avenues against his judgments and
decrees, not even for the bishops. The college of bishops is, together with the Pope,
never without him, also subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church, as
well. The diocesan bishop possesses his proper and immediate power in the diocese which
the Pope has entrusted to him. Excluded from this power is whatever is reserved to the
supreme authority in the Church, according to the Papal codification or to special
orders of the Pope. The bishops lead their dioceses with legislative, executive and
judicial power. The faithful - conscious of their own responsibility – are bound by
Christian obedience to follow what the sacred pastors declare as teachers of the faith
and determine as leaders of the Church ( c. 212 § 1 CIC ). To refuse obedience can be
punished after a warning. ( c. 1371 n. 2 CIC ). An example of the way in which the
bishops are concretely bound into the hierarchical communion with the Pope are the
criteria for the selection of candidates for the office of bishop and the oath of
fidelity, which each diocesan bishop has to deliver before "taking possession" of his
diocese. The present form of the oath has been used since July 1, 1987. I cite from the
criteria of eligibility the points on orthodoxy and discipline. You can find the full
text in the handouts. Under orthodoxy the expectations are: "Convinced and faithful
attachment to the Church's teaching and its teaching office. Especially, the candidate`s
positions on the documents of the Holy See about the priestly office, the ordination of
women, marriage and family, sexual ethics (especially procreation according to the
encyclical 'Humanae Vitae' and the Apostolic Letter `Familiaris Consortio` ) and social
justice. Faithfulness to the true ecclesial tradition and engagement for the genuine
renewal started by Vatican II and the following Papal instructions." Under "Discipline"
it says: "Faithfulness and obedience towards the Holy Father, the Apostolic See, the
hierarchy, respect for and acceptance of priestly celibacy, as described by the
ecclesial teaching office; observation and observance of the general and special norms
concerning the execution of the liturgy as well as the clerical clothing." The oath of
fidelity ( Oath of office of the diocesan bishops since July 1, 1987) says: I , N.N.,
raised to the Episcopal See N.N., will always be faithful to the Catholic Church and the
Roman Bishop, its supreme Pastor, the Vicar of Christ and the Successor of Apostle Peter
in the Primate as well as the head of the college of bishops. I will follow the free
exercise of the power of the Pope as the entire Church's primate, and I will take pains
to promote and defend his rights and authority. I will accept and serve the prerogatives
of the Pope`s ambassadors, who come as his representatives.
In hierarchical community with the college of bishops, its head and its members, I will
acknowledge with greatest care the apostolic power given to the bishops, namely to
teach, sanctify and lead the people of God. I will promote the unity of the entire
Church and therefore will diligently see that the deposit of faith which has been
transferred from the Apostles will be kept pure and complete and that the truths will be
observed and the customs will be followed, as they are presented by the teaching office
of the Church and are taught and explained to all. Those who err in their faith I will
correct in a fatherly spirit and I will make every attempt that they may return to the
fullness of Catholic truth. At the appointed times or if the possibility arises I will
give an account of my pastoral work to the Apostolic See and I will accept freely its
mandates and suggestions and execute them diligently." The old understanding of Church
as a societas inaequalis, dominates in the present Cannon Law, despite all
communio-theology or -ideology, presented with shiny eyes. Such told Pope Paul IV. , the
commission which he had founded towards the end (!) of the II. Vatican Council: Canon
Law was grounded in the jurisdictional power which Christ had given to the hierarchy.
Laypeople did not have the ability to lead. They were positioned under the hierarchy and
were obliged by their conscience to obey laws according to the word: "Those who hear
you, hear me, and those who deny you, deny me." ( Lk. 10, 16 ). The Codex of 1983 has
been worked out according to these Papal words. By the way, I do not know any rule which
contradicts the letter of a resolution or the spirit of this somewhat ambivalent
council. The structure of order and obedience applies also in the area of the
proclamation of the teachings of the faith. Everyone, including the bishops, has to
believe what is contained in the written or handed-down word of God and what is
presented as revealed by God, be it through the Pope or through a council, be it through
the ordinary and universal magisterium of the college of bishops. In these cases the
Pope as well as the college of bishops are infallible. Those who obstinately offend
against these teachings, receive the punishment of excommunication. A teaching of the
Pope or the college of bishops which has been declared binding but not definitely
obliging, has to be accepted by all faithfuls, including the bishops, with religious
obedience of the intellect and the will. The one who rejects those teachings and does
not revoke after a warning shall be punished according to the legislator's will. The
bishops are obliged to punish. What was already commanded morally before 1983, became a
legal obligation too, which is punishable when violated. These points about the pope,
the diocesan bishops and the laypeople demonstrate: Even after the council, the
hierarchical leadership of the Church is unbroken. The call for equality of the faithful
received an answer in c. 208 of the Codex: According to the matgisterium the "true"
equality is based on the dignity of baptism. This is an equality which includes legal
inequality, according to status or gender. In c. 208 it says: Among all faithful there
exists a true equality, whereby all, according to their status and office, cooperate in
the building of the Body of Christ." The desire for freedom and responsibility was met
by the demand for obedience, simly because of formal authority rather than insight. The
laypeople remain the "Listening Church"after all. So far the legal order with its demand
for obedience.

b) The Reality

To which degree are the legal requirements observed? How seriously is Canon Law taken
today? It can only be carried through effectively with those who are employed by the
Church, with those who are materially dependent. There is a gap between Rome's demands
and what happens practically in the pastoral setting. This gap can be experienced by
priests and laypeople, also between the diocesan bishop and his priests, partially
between the Pope and the bishops, as well. There is a saying: "Fulda is far, Cologne is
farther, Rome is even farther away." Many clericals and many laypeople feel obliged by
their consciences to refuse the execution of orders from Rome, and many diocesan bishops
tolerate this, as long as it is not written up in the newspaper or as long as there are
no complaints. What is demonstrated by this - especially in Western Europe and in the
United States, but not at all only there- is a clear dwindling of ecclesial authority.
Instead of executing unfounded orders faithfully, the believers remember that there had
been times when the following was held to be true: "The consecration which you have
received, viz. the spirit of Christ, remains in you, and you don't need to be lectured
by anybody; remain in him." ( according to 1 Joh 2,27). This dwindling of authority did
not remain hidden to the Pope and his co-workers. He asked himself the question: Change
or intensification of the law? A look at the last ten years demonstrates: The second
option was chosen with the wrath of a "Now even more! " and without regard to a
threatening marginalization of Catholicism.

2. A Decade of Roman Proclamations

a) Additions to Profession of Faith and Introduction of a New Oath of Fidelity

According to the Codex, certain persons, who have a special relationship to the
ecclesial teaching office in common (i.e. bishops, cardinals, professors of theology,
candidates to the priesthood before ordination to diaconate) have to profess a creed,
according to a formula approved by the Holy See, before they take office or before
ordination, respectively. Here they declare to stand in full communion with the Roman
Catholic Church. Despite the fact it is called a creed, it does not only deal with the
Credo. Other doctrines are also included through additions. Since 1990 there have been
appendices which are in themselves new. In the first and third appendix one is actually
obliged to confess what is already stated in the codex: faith regarding the revealed
doctrine, obedience regarding all non definitive teachings. In the second appendix they
went beyond the codex. Firm acceptation and keeping has to be promised. What is 
meant is the irrevocable consent to faith- and moral-doctrines which are not included 
in revelation. In the post conciliar theology it was debated if the doctrinal office has
the competence of definitive teaching in this area. The authorities of the universal
Church have never doubted this claim, and are making this position legal. The three
appendices were published in Latin. The bishops conferences were ordered to translate.
The German bishops conference has not published a translation yet. In Germany, the
promise has not been demanded in this form in most cases; the old formula of 1967 has
been used. The confession of faith has been supported by the introduction of an oath of
fidelity. Until then only the bishops were bound by their own oath of fidelity. Now,
there is also an oath of fidelity for the keepers of other functions, i.e. vicar
generals, candidates to the priesthood, professors of theology, - they all have their
own oath of fidelity. In this oath the one who swears commits him/herself in a religious
act to fulfill his/her duties of office, safeguarding the faith and moral doctrines as
well as the whole order of law. While c. 212 § 1 CIC mentions the "awareness of personal
responsibility" along with obedience towards the pastor's doctrines and orders, there is
no mentioning of this in the oath formula. This strengthens a canonistic interpretation
of the Canon, according to which obedience is the criterion for responsible action,
rather than personal responsibility the measure of the demanded obedience. C. 752 CIC
expresses the same spirit. The purpose of these measures is clear. At least at the
leadership level and at the level of the influential ones, the gap between norm and
observance was supposed to be closed. The oath lifts the duties which are to be taken ,
into the religious dimension. A pre-planned false oath belongs to the offenses against
religion and the unity of the church. ( c. 1368 CIC). The legislator realized that his
legal demands were not effective in the codex. He was not able to secure that they were
kept even with interventions in singular cases. Therefore he used, in analogy to the
infamous anti-modernist oath, the medium of universal prevention. He took the
influential people into his obedience. With them, the appendices to the creed and the
combination of creed and oath were supposed to be effective: they were supposed to
guarantee an extensive protection against deviations from authentic, hierarchical
proclamations either doctrinal or disciplinary. The journalist Guido Horst reports in
the ‚Deutsche Tagespost' that the Roman Curia presented a German translation in the
press room to secure the realization of its desire in the German Church as well.

b) Instruction " Donum Veritatis" of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in
regard to the Ecclesiastical Vocation of the Theologian, of May 24, 1990

There were additional tensions between the Church`s doctrinal office and theologians.
1990 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith directed an instruction to the
bishops as the ones who posesses executive power. Among other things, it deals with the
keeping of obedience regarding non definitive doctrines. Public disagreement with such
teachings and public display of conflicts with the doctrinal office are not permitted. "
In such cases the theologian will not use the mass media, but will apply to the
responsible authorities." (Nr. 30). A difficulty which cannot be resolved with the
Church authority, may flow into an obedient silence as an exception. " For a loyal
position, behind which stands the love to the Church, such a situation may prove to be a
difficult test. It can be a call to silent and prayerful suffering, knowing that, if
something really concerns the truth, the truth will triumph necessarily at the end. (Nr.
31). The pastors at the place are admonished to interfere with proper means.

c) Instruction "Il Concilio" of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith about
some Aspects of the Use of the Media for the Spread of the Doctrine of Faith, of March
20, 1992

Because in the time that followed, public opposition against the authorities did not
stop, the same congregation concluded that there were problems with the bishops
monitoring the media. They decided, therefore, to remind the authorities in different
parts of the Church of their duty to control ( and of the means to do so in the codex),
in an additional instruction, 1992. This document obliges the diocesan bishops and their
administrations to follow norms consistently and points to possibilities of intervention
by the universal Church, if needed.

d) The Apostolic Letter "Ordinatio Sacerdotalis" of Pope John Paul II. to the Bishops
about Ordination to the Priesthood Being Reserved to Men, of May 22, 1994

1994 the Apostolic Letter "Ordinatio Sacerdotalis" about the impossibility of priestly
ordination for women followed. Initially, there was dispute how binding this teaching
was. The Pope now declares it as definitive, which means that it is final and
irrevocable. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has classified it as
infallible teaching in the sense of the already mentioned second addition to the creed.
As such, the Pope has pleaded the infallibility of the regular and universal teaching
office of the bishops, who are scattered all over the globe. The infallibility of this
teaching is based, therefore, on the consensus of the college of bishops on this
teaching. Inasmuch, as the Pope declares this consensus and there is no opposition from
the bishops, the infallibility is recognized by the faithful, and the legally demanded
response can happen. Rome already punishes severely if this doctrine is not accepted
unequivocally. A further discussion of the priestly ordination for women could not be
hindered, however, where there was no dependency on the ecclesial authority.

e) The Encyclical "Evangelium Vitae" of Pope John Paul II. about the Deliberate Killing
of Human Life, of March 25, 1995

The justification of capital punishment, the moral and legal right to abortion and the
problems around euthanasia are discussed in the market place. The encyclical "
Evangelium Vitae" appeared 1995. In it, the Pope demonstrates his communion with the
bishops regarding the doctrine that the deliberate killing of an innocent human being is
always a serious moral sin, including abortion and euthanasia. These doctrines also fall
under the second addition to the creed and demand irrevocable and unconditional
agreement in regard to concrete moral norms. Again, the Pope refers to the college of
bishop's infallibility regarding doctrine and thus demonstrates the infallibility
through declaring a consensus. He called this form of infallible teaching the regular
and "everyday" one. With this encyclical, the Pope has claimed infallibility for
concrete moral norms for the first time.

f) Vademecum for Father Confessors in Questions of Morality of Matrimony

In February 1997, the Pontifical Council for the Family has published guidelines for
father confessors. They were put together due to "specifically expressed wishes of the
Holy Father". These guidelines say: "The Church has always taught that contraception,
which means every act, made infertile intentionally, is a sinful deed. This doctrine has
to be looked upon as definitive and unchangeable." That is the doctrine of "Humanae
Vitae". A speaker of the Vatican declared and wrote down after the publication of that
encyclical that it was not an infallible document. The Pontifical Council supplies the
doctrine with an addition of its inalterability and finality. This addition is an
assertion so far. Hopefully enough bishops who disagree with this addendum will make
themselves known. Otherwise, as already has happened, the Pope can act according to the
old legal rule, "The one who is silent seems to agree" (Qui tacet consentire videtur).
The bishop's silence would then be understood as an expression of silent consent.

g) The Instruction "De synodis dioecesanis agendi" of the Congregation of the Bishops
and the Congregation of Evangelization of the Peoples, of March 19, 1997

In March 1997 the bishops received a document, in form of an instruction, for the
correct conducting of diocesan synods and similar events. Before the meeting begins, the
members of the synod are supposed to speak the creed with the addenda. The instruction
underlines the position of the diocesan bishop. He has the obligation to dismiss members
of the synod who stray from the Church's doctrine or who oppose the bishop's authority.
In the course of this dismissal, a legal remedy is permitted. Due to the connection of
the diocese and its leader to the universal Church and the pope, the bishop is obliged
to exclude from the discussion the following: theses and opinions which stray from the
Church's doctrine or the pontifical magisterium, or rather those which deal with
disciplinary questions which are reserved for the highest authority. These are to be
excluded, even if they were presented, to be sent to the Holy See as suggestions only (
such in IV, 4 of the text ). In Germany para-synodical assemblies have taken place under
different names ( Foren, among others ), in order not to be bound to the rules of the
codex. The instruction expresses the desire that the diocesan bishop should publish
rules for such meetings which are similar to those in the instruction. (prefix, ch. 4).

h) Instruction to Some Questions Regarding the Cooperation of Lay People in the Work of
Priests, of August 15, 1997.

In August 1997, the Instruction regarding the cooperation of lay people in the work of
priests, was published. This Instruction was written by several congregations. Many
polemicized the content of the Instruction, possibly because constraining rules
regarding laypeople are collected in it. Those who know Canon Law were familiar with
these norms, which had been valid for years. From my viewpoint, the remark that the
employment of lay people " leads to a dwindling of candidates for the priesthood", is
bothersome (2), also the rule in art. 4 § 2, "that the completion of the 75th year of a
priest`s life does not present a binding reason to a diocesan bishop to accept his

i) Apostolic Letter Motu proprio datae "Ad tuendam fidem", through which Certain Norms
were Introduced into the Codex Iuris Canonici and into the Codex of the Eastern
Churches, of May 18, 1998

The Pope altered the Codex through Motu Proprio "Ad tuendam fidem", which was published
in June 1998. The second addendum to the creed was to be confessed by the already
mentioned circle of multiplicators. By adding to the codex, it became a legal obligation
for all faithful. C. 750 now contains a § 2. The offense against it is to be punished
with a just punishment. The penal regulation of c. 1371 n. 2 CIC received a similar
addition. Those who advocate for the priestly ordination of women can be admonished to
recall and punished, if needed, by their diocesan bishop, since this letter became
official on October l, 1998. Or they can be held responsible directly by Rome.

j) Apostolical Letter Motu Proprio datae "Apostolos suos" regarding the Theological and
Legal Nature of Bishops Conferences, of May 21, 1998

In July 1998 Cardinal Ratzinger introduced an Apostolic Letter regarding the theological
and legal nature of bishops conferences. It goes back to a suggestion of the bishops
synod of 1985. There existed a working paper already 1988 which had been composed by
several congregations. To state it in a simplified way, it rested on this thesis: only
the office of the Pope and the diocesan bishop are founded on divine law. Whatever is in
between, like the bishops conference is founded on ecclesial law and consequently can be
abolished. Bishops conferences are chiefly there for the personal exchange among
bishops, mostly about pastoral questions, and for the voting which is not binding for a
specific diocesan bishop. The conferences must not become a hierarchical intermediate
instance; they should not block the personal responsibility of the diocesan bishop in
the leadership of his diocese. Despite objections to that working paper, its basic
premises were included in the Apostolic Letter. It again clarifies what has been said in
c. 455 § 4 CIC: Resolutions of the bishops conference are only a recommendation in most
cases. By the way, the Apostolic Letter contains a legal addition regarding the teaching
competence of the bishops conference according to c. 753 CIC. The bishops conference
does not bear its own teaching competence. It is above all "translator" of the universal
Church's doctrine. Its teachings are only binding when they are held unanimously. Then
it is less a question of the teaching competence of the bishops conference as such, than
a unanimously bundled doctrine of the single bishops. If there is only a two-thirds
majority for a doctrine, Roman confirmation is necessary to make it binding.

3. Summary

Hierarchy is translated as "holy origin" and "holy power". What was lifted up so far
from the standpoint of Canon Law, demonstrates according to the ecclesial constitution
and according to the use of power clearly "holy power". What about "Christian freedom"?
What is demanded of the faithful in the church today, is to understand and accept "holy
power" as the true form of Christian freedom. Freedom in contradiction to the hierarchy
and the teaching office of the church cannot legitimately exist according to their
understanding. "Conscience" is not an autonomous and exclusive higher authority to
decide what is good and what is bad, repeats the encyclical "Veritatis Splendor"; rather
deeply embedded in it lies the principle of obedience towards the objective norm, which
creates its congruence with the laws and rules, which underlie the human behavior." (
Nr.60). And further: "Christians have a great help for the formation of their conscience
in the church and its teaching office." ( Nr 64). In summary, the formula says:
Christian freedom finds its fulfillment in obedience. You see how appropriate my desire
was, to put a question mark behind the theme of your meeting.

II. How Can the Faithful Deal with this Eccelesial Reality?

The diagnosis so far can shock.. It is understandable if you ask: What can we do in the
face of such a closed system? What remains for the faithful who do not want to resign or
flee into constant opposition, but want to bring movement into the Church?

1. Church Dreams and Church Reality

The basic step is to clearly face the present situation, to recognize the legally
defined church as such, and to perceive the legislator`s understanding of the Church in
the Church`s legal shape. The clear realization of this liberates us, it frees us from
illusions, from euphemistic delusions or deceptions, going along with illusionary
misperceptions over a situation which is in reality much less positive. Nothing against
" Church dreams", but everything against a mix-up with reality of the Church. Nothing
against "Church dreams"as motivating visions, but everything against their realization
according to our own wishes, which do not touch on the really existing Church at all.
Therefore first of all: a godd eye for the structures. Without this clear vision there
is no right sense of proportion. Without sense of proportion there are no effective
strategies for actions.

2. Vigilance against "Playing down" and Minimization

The reason that our diagnosis can be experienced as so hard shows that it has to be won
against deceptions. Therefore, a second step for the faithful would be to be vigilant
against the different forms of minimization and "playing down" of things which we find
in the church today. If they are intended to or not ; they appease and they block
change. In what follows I will demonstrate forms of making harmless or minimizing.

a) Personalizing of Structural Deficits

A subtle but widely spread form of playing down is found in personalizing structural
problems. They are "minimized" into problems of and with specific people. Special
targets in the Vatican are Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger; in Germany there
are Cardinal Meissner and Archbishop Dyba; in Lichtenstein Archbishop Haas; in Austria
Archbishop Eder and the bishops Krenn and Kung. As justified as some of the critique is,
we nevertheless have to ask, if it is not too shortsighted, if we are not criticizing
upon persons what structures allow to happen. In addition, others can shine as "figures
of light" in contrast to such hierarchical authorities, woh aure booed, others who are
basically not that interested in a change of the structures. The believers must not lose
the structures out of their sight. They should look at the hierarchically declared
doctrine and the hierarchically legitimized decisions of leadership.

b) Minimization of Legal Questions

Minimization which stabilizes the system happens when legal questions are judged as
secondary, or are defamed as "navel gazing", "insider fixation" or " narcissistic self
mirroring". The engagement of Catholic men and women should be with the really important
questions: the conditions in the Third World, or the question about God, which should be
raised against the "evaporation of faith". Here we are dealing with especially
bothersome quasi alternatives, because moral disqualifications are woven into them. As
if Catholic women and men who are sensitive to structural questions have forgotten about
the misery of the Third World! I believe it is questionable to use this misery as a
churchpolitical deflecting maneuver, as if the "Question of God " was independent from
the experiences of Church. And experiences of Church are also formed be the Church's
legal shape. At this point allow me a word about Canon Law. Let me assume that many of
you do not love it. I can understand this: you do not need to love it but you should
know Canon Law. Why? So you will be able to deal with the conflicts which you are
experiencing in an orderly way. Spiritualization of the law, guided by special
interests, perhaps by using the word "communion", leads to the spiritual relativization
of the few legal boundaries which still protect us against arbitrary actions of the
hierarchies. We don't need fewer ecclesial norms but different ones, which deserve the
name law. Let us get back to this: Those who minimize structural problems should be
asked if they are not possibly benefiting from the status quo.

c) Harmonization in Announcment and Theology

A method of harmonization which is difficult to penetrate consists in surrounding hard
ecclesial structures with soft pictures and images. The faithful should be on guard when
the status quo is described in such a way that change does not seem necessary. Those who
talk about "community" are not necessarily the ones who envision a Church of brothers
and sisters in the sense many of us do. Those who state that Church is already
"community" should be asked - perhaps with additional questions- to be more concrete.
Only if they add the attribute "hierarchical" does their statement become correct. Those
who speak of freedom in the Church must demonstrate it; or they have to admit that they
also mean obedience, because Christian freedom is not the same as secular freedom.
Church, depicted as "concentric circles", can possibly replace pyramidal super- and
subordination, by adding central and fringe positions. A pyramid, "talked flat", doesn't
automatically lose inner dependency structures. Intention and/or effect of such
descriptions is to present to the faithful the unchanged structures in such a way, that
they are more comfortable in them. Those who are comfortable do not rebel. The clear
view of reality is threatened with loss. Here also the question: Who profits by this?

d) Calming by Presumptive Relativizing

Another widely spread form of calming are the hints, not to take everything that comes
from Rome too seriously. This represents in itself a distinct loss of authority of the
head quarters. But it is at the same time a dangerous attitude which is detrimental for
the faithful. What only was a working paper of Roman bureaucrats in the year 1988 became
a law 1998. Doctrines which cannot be contradicted decisively today can belong to the
binding tradition of the Church tomorrow. They can prove the infallibility of doctrines
tomorrow with the lack of opposition against certain defining certain doctrines as final

e) Soothing through Putting off

Finally, don't forget the well known reference that in the Church the clocks run at a
different pace. What we don't have today is not excluded for all time. At least
according to my impression, they are asking for an understanding of time which even
Catholic men and women have outgrown. Suspicious is above all the complete uncertainty
regarding the length of time recommended for this patient waiting and endurance.

3. The faithfuls should direct their attention to the Diocesan Bishops.

How can our vision be directed forward, what can be done? I believe the faithful should
pay more attention to the diocesan bishops. I look at direct demands to Rome as
"donquichoteries". To ask Rome for more freedoms for the bishops, remains a futile game
as long as it is not clear if the bishops would turn into diocesan popes. It is also
futile as long as we don't know if the bishops are striving for greater participation
with the Pope because of their concern for greater participation of the faithful.

a) The Situation of the Diocesan Bishops

The diocesan bishops are the immediate representatives of the hierarchical system. They
are men with differing insights, introspective abilities and variable visions. They have
differing positions in terms of church politics and are often plagued by fears. The
question could arise with them: What effect will my remark have on the neighboring
bishops, on the bishops conference, on the Vatican? There may be bishops who dared to
push ahead in a certain area and who, for the time being, don't want to risk a new
conflict. Other bishops may simply lack the freedom to act for the greater participation
of the people of God. The bishops are in their positions, because they once offered Rome
loyalty through the selection criteria and the oath of faithfulness. The discrepancy
between the theologically declared dignity of the bishop's office and their real legal
power position is not understood by them or is being obeyed by them.

b) Questions regarding this Legal Position.

Why should the bishops be spared to accept this discrepancy or disengage from it, and do
so in front of the faithful? Why should they be spared to show whether they consider the
faithful to be only men and women who are hearers and subordinates or whether they
consider them to be serious partners in the dialogue and brothers and sisters in the
Lord? This should not contain any aggression. We are rather dealing with a strengthening
of the understanding for the necessity and possibility of more participation. This is
not done subversively, bypassing the bishops, but in a questioning and inclusive way, so
the bishops can diminish their fears of contact with the believers. Such "fears", but
also some signs of their reduction, were experienced, for example, in some of the
"diocesan fora".

c) Questions Regarding the Participation of the Faithful

There is a simple way available which is to ask the diocesan bishops again and again,
patiently, about their positions regarding the different requests of the faithful. This
does not hurt loyalty. It has to happen in an appropriate way. Only then the "trick" can
be avoided, not to deal with the issues by focusing on the style of the critique. It is
important to demonstrate that those who raise the issues are not groups of church
enemies, but are concerned believers, who are interested in the transmission of the
Church`s faith and its continuing life. Why should a diocesan bishop be spared to
explain why he does not use measures for greater participation of the believers, why he
does not use the possibility of legal self-binding at all or not to a larger extent? The
presbyteral council can, for example, suggest to the diocesan bishop that he include to
the statutes of the presbyteral council which are to be approved by him the right to
consent on concrete subject matters. The regulation that the bishop explains why he
opposes a suggestion and asks for a discussion, is possible for diocesan pastroal
councils. Decisions of a parish council which evolved against the voice of the pastor,
can - as it happens in the Diocese of Limburg - initially remain in limbo, until the
parish council petitions the bishop to decide but only after unsuccessful mediation. If
a bishop declines such regulations, he should be asked for his reasons. If he thinks he
is not obliged to give his reasons, this supplies important information about his
understanding of office.

d) Actions of the Bishops of the Upper Rhine Regarding the Reception of Communion of
Remarried Divorced People

Why did the bishops of the Upper Rhine church province (Bishop Karl Lehmann, Bishop
Walter Kasper and Archbishop Oskar Saier) undertake a push in the question of permission
to the Eucharist and backed something which is already practiced in pastoral settings to
a large degree? Didn' t this happen, because they felt obliged in their pastoral
consciences in the face of the pain of those who were affected? Why do they throw
responsibility back to the local pastors after the reprimand from Rome? What changed,
was it the decision of their conscience or their evaluation of the pain? Then they
should name their reasons. Or do they believe, they are not allowed to carry through
decisions of their conscience against Rome or that they are not able to do so? We are
allowed to ask them.

e) Pre-discussion of the Apostolic Letter "Ordinatio Sacerdotalis "

Before the  Apostolic Letter about the impossibility of priestly ordination of women was
published, a circle of selected bishops, presumably the head of the German Bishops
Conference, too, was confronted with a draft in Rome. An American newspaper reported
that because of the American Bishop's urging the word "infallible" was replaced with
"definitive tenendam" which, however, includes the infallibility. The participating
bishops can be asked about these events. What were the criteria for the choice of the
selected bishops? In which framework and in which form were they allowed to give their
opinion? What was their position on the binding obligation of this doctrine? Did they
express their opinions? If they did not believe this was an irreversible doctrine, why
did they not protest before or after the publication of the Letter? Why did the
participating bishops not immediately shared with their brothers-bishops, priests and
deacons and with the entire people of God what they had heard in Rome, but rather kept
the procedure a secret? Does not the dignity of the faithful demand information about
such an important step?

f) Position Regarding the Diaconate for Women

Diocesan bishops can be asked what their position is on the ordination of women to the
diaconate if they oppose it in principal and why and what is their definition: Do they
look upon it as a women-specific office which stands outside of the three-step order
reserved for men? Or do they consider the diaconate the first step of this order which
according to "Ordinatio Sacerdotalis", however, remains the last one for women? This
would all be important information not only for women. Should a bishop speak in favor of
the diaconate for women, we can ask further what he is doing to realize his conviction
in the church.

g) Resolutions of the Bishops Conference

Why do deliberations and resolutions of the bishops conference have to remain
confidential in most cases? Only in a few instances the conference can make binding
decisions. In the other cases the competence of each diocesan bishop remains
undiminished; these resolutions are only recommendations; neither the conference nor the
chairmen can act in the name of the bishops, if there is not an unanimous consent.
Surely, there are issues which - for example in personal questions - demand confidential
treatment. Why, however, cannot positions a bishop has taken in the other cases become
public? Why should a bishop not be asked about his vote?

h) Diocesan bishops and the "sensus fidelium"

When the bishops report to the Vatican - in written form and verbally - it is a crucial
point what they have to say about the "sensus fidelium" in their dioceses, "sensus
fidelium" meaning that which the men and women in their dioceses actually believe.
Cardinal Ratzinger answered the question whether the Vatican planned to ask the people
of God regarding faith issues, in the book "Salz der Erde", 1996. He states that his
premise is that the bishops are well informed about what men and women really believe
and that they will share this information (p.96f.). Bishops can be asked how they
collect information about the "sensus fidelium" of the faithful, entrusted into their
care, and, how and if they inform Rome about this.

i) Regarding the Response to Questions

These and other questions, the believers can ask the bishops in advisory committees,
personally. Other faithful ought to direct them to the bishops in form of letters. They
should seek counsel how to formulate the questions in order to express what they really
mean. Why react with "Statements" immediately? If a bishop does not answer himself, if
he answers without understandable reasoning, if he reacts only diplomatically or if he
does not answer at all, the question should be repeated with a reference to the dignity
of the people of God. If this remains without results, then it can be legitimate to
announce these facts to other faithful. It could be that then the "liberal mask" will be
pulled off a bishops face. In addition, in order to be honest, attention should be
directed to the bishop's acts in ecumenical work situations.

j) Diocesan Bishops - Vicars General of the Pope?

Whatever Rome prescribes and teaches is also binding for the diocesan bishops. In that
they are order takers. They often function like vicars general of the Pope ( the vicar
general must execute his office in harmony with the diocesan bishop, and is never
allowed to act against his opinion and will).
They are lead by the nose by some bureaucrats of the Roman Curia. As diocesan bishops
and successors of the Apostles, they can, within the legal framework, state and
substantiate their positions firmly, even vis-a-vis the Pope and the Vatican. They can
warn where this is warranted. A bishop who believes that the course of the Pope and the
curia is harmful for the Church or who cannot follow an infallible Roman doctrine, can,
following his conscience, ask for dismissal from his office, or even better: He
continues to lead his diocese and declares his reasons for doing so to the Pope. It
remains then up to the Pope to remove the diocesan bishop from his office, if need be.
It is possible for the Pope to do this at any time based on his primate of jurisdiction.


Ladies and gentlemen! You came here to hear remarks about the Catholic Church's present
situation from a Canon Law perspective and prefaced by the question: "Christian Freedom
instead of Holy Lordship?". In its legal form, and this means in its most real form for
the experience of Church, the Church presents itself as a place of sacred lordship where
Christian freedom turns into obedience. I did not try to repeat sufficiently known
demands, which can be posited from a legal standpoint to such a system and for which we
have concrete canonical suggestions for a long time. I am thinking about guaranteed
rights and their effective protection, about the commitment of the decision makers to
the law, about participation of all faithful in personal- and concrete decisions. I have
tried, despite the sobering diagnosis, to point to different possibilities. They are
rooted in the hope that repeated new confrontation with the requests of the believers
will bring the apostle in the bishop to an awakening. They are rooted in the wish that
vicars general of the Pope may recognize themselves as such and then have to accept the
fact of being regarded by the faithful as such.

(Translated from the German: Regina Nicolosi, 4/11/1999)

Return to FORUM home page

Webpage Editor: Ingrid H. Shafer, Ph.D.
  e-mail address: facshaferi@mercur.usao.edu or ihs@ionet.net
Posted 16 September1999
Last revised 16 September 1999
Copyright © 1998 Ingrid H. Shafer