Saturday, February 13, 2016


There is great concern that Pope Francis in his desire for what is called "healthy decentralization" of the Church will cause the Liturgy of the Church to devolve even more than it has and all based upon National Conferences of Bishops taking control of the Vernacular translation of the Latin language and style of the Liturgy.

Yet the model of decentralization that Pope Francis seems to desire is based upon the model of the Eastern Orthodox Churches where despite the decentralization there remains orthodoxy of doctrine, liturgy and life.  How does this happen and why can't it happen in a more decentralized Roman Catholic Church?

It must be pointed out that Pope St. John Paul II was viewed as a poor administrator and often exhibited poor judgement in the choice of bishops. It is also true that he was an absentee Bishop of Rome globetrotting here there and everywhere and very frequently.

Because of this the various dicasteries of the Curia began to take on an authority which they did not have and issued documents galore as though these were coming from the Pope. This accelerated in the last years of the pope when His Holiness became incompacitated. Much of the dysfunction in the Curia today with its power plays and authoritarian approach to dioceses can be traced to Pope St. John Paul's mismanagement of the curia.

I always found it interesting that when Cardinal Ratzinger issued documents from the CDF, he always had the approbation of Pope John Paul II, that the pope had reviewed and approved the document. This was especially true of the document stating that the Holy Roman Pontiff had no authority whatsoever to allow women to enter the Sacrament of Holy Orders. 

I don't think Pope Francis wants Conferences of Bishops to usurp the rightful role of each Bishop in his diocese just as he doesn't want low level curial offices at the Vatican to do so. In the past in the USA under Pope Paul VI, often Bishop's Conferences interfered with the rightful place of local bishops and the local bishop's authority over the liturgy and life of his diocese.

There were many dreadful documents coming from the Bishop's Conference that were pushed as though these where infallible teachings required for belief by every Catholic and that every bishop had to teach it.

Apart from moral teachings beyond the competence of bishops on specifics of war and the economy as well as the environment, there were documents issued by committees of the bishop's conference that were shoved down the throat of dioceses and parishes as though these were infallible papal teachings or encyclicals.

The two most offending documents from subcommittees of the Bishop's Conferences were documents turned into booklet on Church architecture and Environment as well as on Music in the Mass. Horrible documents both and both led to the iconoclasm that we see in older churches that were remodeled and newer ones that were constructed. And the music guidelines were equally as iconoclastic and horrible.

It seems to me that a decentralized Church means that the local bishop implements in his diocese what the Church teaches, not what Conferences of Bishops would like for the Church to teach.

When it comes to the vernacular translations of the Mass, conferences of bishops can work together but following the directives of Rome on how to translate. As much as some people disagree with the new and glorious English translation of the Mass, the guidelines were followed, the bishops proposed a translation, Rome reviewed it, tweaked it and gave its approval.

But more importantly, what does it mean for the Catholic Church to be synodal and to base its operations on the principles of subsidiarity?

All we have to do is to look to the Eastern Orthodox Churches as Pope Francis seems to be doing.

They are decentralized but have maintained orthodoxy and orthopraxis (right belief and right practice) in a scrupulous way with dogmas and doctrines as they have taught these since the Great Schism as well as with the form and format of their Divine Liturgies.  In their liturgies there is some diversity but a great deal of uniformity and no real silliness in vernacular translations or inculturation.

There is more uniformity in the Orthodox world from nation to nation when it comes to the Liturgy than there is in the Latin Rite from parish to parish.

The problem with the dysfunction in Catholic liturgy even in our currently highly centralized system of governance is not with Rome or National Conferences of Bishops, but with local bishops who are not "orthodox" when it come to the Liturgy and allow the liturgy to be a source of disunity in dioceses rather than unity and allow the liturgy to sink to the lowest common denominator and not the highest it can be simply by celebrating the current Ordinary Form Missal by the book and without excesses. 


Anonymous said...

Ok. Why don't we just throw whats left of the 2000 year Tradition of the Catholic Church and just all become Orthodox. We are wrong and they are right. They don't have to change anything but we have to abamdon everything. This is insanity. The end must be near because the great apostasy is no doubt taking place. Insanity.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Pope Francis has repeatedly called for upholding the Catholic Deposit of Faith. The Orthodox are being asked to accept the role of the pope in the Church and there has to be some adjustment on their side. They have to change their attitudes about Catholics as it concerns the sacraments and inter communion. Currently a Catholic may receive Holy Communion at a Divine Liturgy in the Orthodox Church but the Orthodox don't want us to do that and we must respect their law in this and they won't allow their members to receive Holy Communion in a Catholic Church. I'm not sure if they even acknowledge any of our sacrament as valid although it appears that Patriarch Kirill sees that he has a common baptism with the pope.

They will have to deal with papal infallibility and the infallible teachings of the pope in Ordinary and Extraordinary magisterium to include purgatory, Immaculate Conception and Assumption.

Gene said...

The Catholic Church is already de-centralized in practice, with Priests saying Mass any old way they like, changing the words, brining in ridiculous "acts" and stupid performances. There is no consistency in Bishops' responses to issues or behaviors, Church architecture is a collage of inconsistent and aberrant design, the music, in many places, sounds like a campfire Top 40,
a large percentage of Priests do not believe at all, but are merely going through the motions because Wal Mart isn't hiring or have sold out to unbelief but do not dare be honest about it, again, because Wal Mart isn't hiring. The active laity are a hodge podge of socialists, cafeteria Catholics, feminists, schizophrenic nuns, and closet homosexuals. If they de-centralize it officially, it will be like a huge religious Cirque de Soleil.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

I am still waiting for an honest, intellectual and non troll-like response to what decentralization means in Eastern Orthodoxy and how this model, which Pope Francis seems to want to push, would be beneficial and overcome some of the dysfunction in the Catholic Church which isn't decentralization but heterodoxy.

Gene said...

Just why do you suppose Pope Francis wants to push decentralization? This is not a rhetorical question.

Anonymous said...

Inferring that people who express their opinions are nothing but trolls is about as clericalism at it's best. We can't speak bluntly and honestly about the truth but you get to decide who is a troll and who isn't. Are you sure you aren't Fr. Rosica just using a false name?

Fr. Mrichael J. Kavanaugh said...

The differences between what happened in de-centralized Orthodoxy and what might happen in a de-centralized Catholicism could well be legion.

First, I don't think any of us Westerners are in a position to describe accurately the current situation in Orthodoxy regarding "...orthodoxy of doctrine, liturgy and life," or to say that they "...have maintained orthodoxy and orthopraxis (right belief and right practice) in a scrupulous way with dogmas and doctrines..." Does this orthodoxy actually exist? Is the doctrine, liturgy, and life of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church the same as that of the Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia? I don't know. (Fr. Ron Roberson, CSP, who is the USCCB's expert - and I mean EXPERT - on Orthodoxy and Eastern Christians, Catholic and otherwise, would know!)

Second, the cultural milieu in which the various Orthodox branches have developed is vastly different from that in which a de-centralized Catholicism might develop. Individual Orthodox communities generally evolved within homogenous cultural-political-linguistic circumstances.

Third, a de-centralized Orthodoxy came about in a time when there was little questioning of authority structures, be they political or religious. They came about in a time when, if the local bishop made a decision, everyone, for the most part, fell in line. (If they didn't like the decision, such as the election of a new leader, well, "Autocephaly!")

We Westerners haven't lived in such a time for almost 300 years. We question authority, whether it is international or local.

The liturgies of the Orthodox are very much products of the culture in which they were born. They are prime example of "inculturation." From language to vestment fabrics to styles of chant to iconography, Orthodox worship is nothing but a culturally influenced phenomenon, through and through. This is as it should be. (Just look at the headgear worn by Moscow Patriarch. "The white Muscovite koukoulion has three golden embroidered seraphim on front and flaps, and a cross on the top." This differs from the Greek version: "The Georgian koukoulion has two Seraphims on the flaps, and a cross not on the top, but on the front side of the headgear.") Yet, in these culturally shaped and differing styles, God's revealed Truth is expressed and taught.

Blaming "Environment and Art" is a little off-base. It came out in 1978, long after what you describe as "iconoclasm" was well under way. I don't know to which music document you are referring, but I suspect the same would be true.

Anonymous said... did I mention no. Half of the bishops conferences in the Church, at least in the western world could not be trusted to uphold Catholic orthodoxy if they had a gun pointed to their head. You would get where the Catholic Church of Nigeria was completely different from the Church in Belgium, actually I guess this already exists so why not just go ahead and de-centralize?

The Orthodox might look like they aren't together, but you have to hand it to them, they can be trusted to uphold their faith better without the centralization that Catholicism has.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

The liturgies of the Orthodox are inculturation but not with fads but organically and carefully over the ages and never contrived. The same was true of our liturgy and could be classified in the very same way you attribute to the Orthodox, with our own adaptations here and there, such as in Milan or the religious orders, the various rites within the Latin Rite.

This organic and very careful, conservative development came to an abrupt and untimely halt with the revision of the Missal into a contrived new order and the allowance by Pope Paul VI for experimentation that let in fads, low quality secular music set to religious words (although secular words were encouraged for a time). This all ended in a disastrous way for the poorly contrived new order and worse yet the experimentation imposed upon it with what was called inculturation but was in fact fads.

The 1978 book on environment came from the very same lame liturgical theologians who had gotten various pastors through national workshops to impose upon their church buildings the ugliest form of iconoclasm and reorientation of these building, not based upon a single document from any Roman dicastery but simply their academic acumen and willingness to act as an alternative magisterium.

The same can be said of music documents from our bishops, pure hogwash not based upon anything from Rome but rather what liturgical musicians experimented with and wanted in writing to continue to promote it. If we had followed Roman documents we'd still be singing chant not secular music set to religious words or bar room piano sounds or worse yet sounds from Broadway.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

You're self-trolling now, Allan. Although you say you want to have an "honest, intellectual and non troll-like response..." when you get one, you turn it into a self-congratulatory and self-righteous rant.

"Contrived," "low quality," "disastrous," "poorly contrived," "academic acumen," "alternative magisterium," "hogwash," "piano room sounds," don't exactly represent an honest, intellectual discussion.

When you can't discuss, you just rant. It covers up a LOT of deficits.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

As any good teacher does, I challenged you, hit a nerve and perhaps will help you to be a bit more cogent in your arguments and to be a bit more aware of the organic development in our own Latin Rite hijacked by those who had no authority to do it. You have absolutely no lived experienced with the EF Mass, none whatsoever, yet you pontificate on organic development as though you know first hand about it.

Unknown said...

First, I don't think any of us Westerners are in a position to describe accurately the current situation in Orthodoxy regarding

Speak for yourself. Some of us are Orthodox, and, as a result, are in a position 'to describe accurately the current situation in Orthodoxy'.

Is the doctrine, liturgy, and life of the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church the same as that of the Church of the Czech Lands and Slovakia?

I don't know what 'life' means, but both use the Byzantine Liturgy. Since both are recognised Orthodox communities, doctrinally, they believe the same thing.

That's what unity means for us--that we believe the same fundamental dogmas.

If they didn't like the decision, such as the election of a new leader, well, "Autocephaly!"

That's not autocephaly works. It must be granted by the 'mother' church. Moscow, for instance, granted autocephaly to its parishes in America, which became the OCA. Constantinople granted autocephaly to the Bulgarian parishes in the 9th century. A single parish can't become autocephalous, nor can a single diocese, especially of their own accord. That's called schism.

TJM said...

No need to contribute to Peter's Pence then. Thanks Francis for making my choice so easy

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Allan - You're incapable of an intellectual conversation on this or, I suspect, most points. I should have known from the get-go that you'd resort to self-trolling. Enjoy arguing with yourself while patting yourself on the back for being a "good teacher."

Flav - Yes, the "us" was directed to those with little knowledge or experience of Orthodoxy. Fr. McDonald, who sees pretty pictures of icons and brocade vestments, concludes that he has a firm grasp of Orthodoxy. I don't and I'm open to learning.

The creed recited in Catholic Churches is the same, but that doesn't always mean that those reciting believe the same thing. I suspect that, as in Catholic Churches, there may be some variation in belief among the many, many Orthodox communities.

Yes, I simplified the process of the formation of autocephalous Churches. I believe there is more than enough history to indicate that, at times, the formation of autocephalous communities was based on controversy and an inability to find consensus. And those controversies extend to the "top," as when the formation the OCA became a sore point between the Moscow Patriarch and the Ecumenical Patriarch. Disagreements between Moscow and Constantinople continue to cause difficulty within and without the Orthodox Church(es).

Now, I'm not using these contentions to cast aspersions on Orthodoxy, really. We Catholics have puh-lenty of our own!

Unknown said...

The creed recited in Catholic Churches is the same, but that doesn't always mean that those reciting believe the same thing. I suspect that, as in Catholic Churches, there may be some variation in belief among the many, many Orthodox communities.

I'm not naive, but whether those that recite the creed believe what they're reciting is not the point. Institutionally these churches profess the same dogmas. That I profess Miaphysitism in no way, shape, or form has any effect on what the Church professes.

Anonymous said...

"[The Orthodox] will have to deal with papal infallibility and the infallible teachings of the pope in Ordinary and Extraordinary magisterium to include purgatory, Immaculate Conception and Assumption."

Au contraire, I think we will have to deal with these things. The notion of papal infallibility is a huge oecumenical stumbling block, and was imposed on the church by a pope who, seeing his temporal power slipping away, tried to replace it with an expanded spiritual power. As Catholics, we have to be willing to recognise that neither Vatican I nor Vatican II were truly oecumenical councils and that they may (and probably do) contain flaws.

I do agree with the concerns that have been expressed that the bishops can't be counted on to uphold orthodoxy. They pretty much go whichever way the wind is blowing, as far as I can see.

TJM said...

Kavanaugh, I see you are engaging in the libs favorite past-time: projection, accusing others of the very conduct you are a master at! You are the perfect disciple of the old Alinsky School. Thanks for the many, many laughs.

George said...

Centralization has its place and serves its good purpose. It is of course dependent, contingent and determinative in its effects on the governing philosophy of the person or persons who serve in the administrative capacity. I can't see that at this juncture, this point in time, one can extrapolate much that is pertinent from the Eastern experience and apply it to the West. We can only speculate what the Church would have looked like had it developed similarly to the Orthodox. De-centralization of the Catholic church would, to me, do more harm than good. Part of the universality of the Church comes out of its centralization.The universality which is in the Church's very name speaks to a centralization of government with the authority to make decisions on theological,liturgical matters, and disciplines, which are applicable to the Church universal and binding on all faithful believers . Of course there is problem of bishops who do not serve the Church well.
That centralization of authority is embodied in the function and office of the Papacy and this Petrine office constitutes a large part of the unique identity of the Church which sets it apart from other denominations. It is true that not all Popes have been prudent in the exercise of their ministry or or in their administration of the Church, but there is great significance in Peter being likened to a rock.

The Barque of Peter, being piloted by a mere human, encounters fog and storm at times, but being under the protection and guidance
of God, it will maintain its bearing.

Fr. Michael J. Kavanaugh said...

Flav - Well, I'd emphasize the non-institutional side. That you are a non-Chalcedonian certainly doesn't have any effect on what the Church professes, but I don't think that's the issue.

A Latin who says that he/she accepts all the Church teaches and believes, and then goes around using racial slurs against African-Americans, rejecting the authority of Popes and Bishops to teach, and encourages others to ignore the Church's teaching on the immorality of killing non-combatants in war may have no effect on the teaching, but may do great harm otherwise.