Friday, July 18, 2008


by Bishop Geoffrey Robinson

In Chapter 12 Bishop Robinson outlines his proposals for changing the Church governance.

He proposes that instead of the current governing structure, "A church must always seek to work by consensus" because the Church is a voluntary society, unlike the nationalistic societies consisting of people who are citizens primarily by birth. However he does admit that matters of belief cannot be established by popular vote:

It is quite impossible to resolve matters of belief by means of a popular vote. It would be nonsense for a church to say that God existed last week because 51% said so, doesn't exist this week because the vote has gone down to 49%, but might exist again next week if the vote returns to its earlier level. All belief must be based on a search for God's truth, and in practice belief requires a high level of consensus. (p. 266)

He appears to me to be contradicting himself with that statement. Does he believe in the consensus he claims is the right way to run a Church or doesn't he?

For a first level of government, Robinson proposes a Peter figure. He would like an overhaul of the Curia making it a body of neither bishops nor cardinals:

...I suggest that the members of the Roman Curia not be bishops or cardinals. I do not make this suggestion out of any desire to downgrade their importance, but solely because it would clarify roles....

...the powers of governance granted directly to the members of the Roman Curia were considerable. Because of the special powers given them by the pope, they were more powerful than other bishops and held a special place. Since the Second Vatican Council it has been understood that this is no longer true and that a bishop's powers of governance come from ordination.

What we have now is an unsatisfactory alliance of the old and the new, and the older ideas of a superior power of governance for the members of the Curia have not gone away. Unquestionably, the bishops of the Curia are a powerful force within the worldwide church. The fact that they are often seen as 'superior' bishops is a cause of confusion, for there are no superior members of the college of bishops. If they were not bishops, they would be clearly seen as what they are, the 'civil service' at this level of church government, and they would be esteemed for the service they gave.
(p. 270)

Maybe, but who would they be? Would they be well-educated in the teachings of the Church as a bishop is well-educated? How would this secular curia be trained?

At the second level Robinson proposed a greater power for the Synods of Bishops, however, he wants the synod to be "a true embodiment of collegiality" by incorporating a number of changes that will change the character of the Synod, including limiting their power to matters of "practical matters and pastoral strategies, and that another forum be provided for the resolution of matters of faith and morals." (p. 272)

For dealing with matters of faith and morals he proposes a council which will meet more often than has been the case in the past. This council would consist of bishops and other people who would also have a vote, including "a significant body of laypersons." (p. 273)

He proposes a structure similar to the Eastern Churches with Patriarchs appointed for geographical areas, but wants them to be called "patriarch-president" because of the negative connotation that the word patriarchal has assumed in liberal circles. He also proposes national churches organized under these patriarch-presidents. (p. 276)

Cardinals would be limited to the single role of electing the new pope, though the role of cardinal and patriarch-president might be combined. (p. 279)

He proposes that the local church should have a voice in the choice in their bishop, and describes a possible process in a way that sounds similar to national political elections. (p. 281)

The Council would serve as the third level, "the mind of the whole Church". He also proposes a legislative council:

Law is a particularly sensitive subject within the Catholic Church, for there is the perception that there are far too many 'rules', and yet a large society cannot exist without some structure and practical rules.

A solution to this dilemma would be to have a Legislative Council of the church, with all new legislation from any source purporting to bind the whole church requiring the approval of this body. Its major role would be that of being the voice of the whole church.
(p. 284)

For selection of a parish priest:

The major innovation I would like to see is a dialogue between the members of the parish and the priest or priests being considered for the parish.

He concludes this chapter with the following:

There may well be much argument about the particular forms of government I have put forward in this chapter. But if these forms are rejected, I suggest that others must be found, for a genuinely participatory government is a safer and richer basis for the life of the church as it enters the third millennium. (pp. 285-286)

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