October 7-10, 1999

Organized by International Movement We are Church (IMWAC) 
and the European Network: Church on the Move (EN)


Cardinal George Basil Hume +  of Westminster:
Pope Should Seek Bishops´ Advice

The second Vatican Council (1962-65) did not cast the pope and the bishops in the roles of chief executive and branch managers, nor did it see the pope as simply the first among equals. It stressed papal primacy and  collegiality. The challenge today is for these two to live side by side.

What is at the heart of this relationship between pope and the college of bishops is the unity of the church. In his diocese the bishop is the vicar of Christ for his people, but he also confirms the pope´s universal jurisdiction. This relationship between the universal church and the particular church is expressed and mediated in various ways.  One of the structures to facilitate this relationship is the Roman curia.  For my part, I would like to acknowledge the help and support I have received from the curia in many situations. But it would be naive to presume that all relationships with the curia are ideal.

If  I now proceed to sound a note of criticism, it is out of fraternal charity and a love of the chuirch. For instance, some of us would have been surprised by the form and tone of some letters from curial offices. There are concerns about the manner of some episcopal appointments, and the length of time taken to make them. Not all appointments have been satisfactory. There is often unease about the way in which theologians and their writings have been investigated. There can be a sense of frustration at not having been consulted on issues that are important to us as local bishops. In an institution such as the church, where human beings are entrusted with varying tasks, there are bound to be misunderstandings and tensions and a certain clumsiness in dealing with things on a worldwide scale. All such difficulties can be resolved by good will and common sense, but always within the context of openness and a willingness to dialogue.

This leads me to wonder about another important relationship in the church, that between the Holy Father and his curia. When an organization is very big, officials exercise greater individual power. That is why I have long thought it would be good if the pope were to call together all the presidents of the (bishops´) conferences of the world every two years or so, so that he could hear directly their collective advice. The development during this century of the role of the bishops´ conferences is surely a good example of subsidiarity. (...)

I am constantly being urged to suppress this group or that, drive out of the church this lot or that. I do not believe this is right. I believe that as a bishop I have to try to lead people from where they are to where they never dreamt they might go.

(From an address to the U.S. bishops´ meeting, June 1999, videotaped shortly before he died)

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Posted 8 October 1999
Last revised 8 October 1999
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