Reformation of the Papacy under Pope Francis ?

Pope Francis ‘is plotting a path to unity’ and could invite Orthodox to help run the Church, says new aide Enzo Bianchi
01 August 2014 13:10 by Hannah Roberts in Rome

Pope Francis wants to reform the papacy to allow greater unity between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, a newly appointed senior adviser has claimed.

Enzo Bianchi, appointed on 22 July as consultor of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, said the Pope could allow a council of bishops including Orthodox bishops to assist in governing the Church.

Reform of the Synod of Bishops and the growth of synodality within the Catholic Church would greatly enhance the opportunity for union between Rome and the Orthodox Churches, by making the papacy less “monarchical” and the Catholic Church less centralised.

Bianchi, Prior of the Bose monastery in north-east Italy, said: “I believe that the Pope wants to achieve unity by reforming the papacy.” Pope Francis feels that union with the Orthodox Churches in particular is “an urgent goal”, he emphasised. “I believe that the Pope has one particular concern, that unity should not be achieved in the spirituality of unity but rather it is a command by Christ which we must carry out,” he told the Italian daily La Stampa.

Reform would involve a new balance between collegiality and primacy, Bianchi explained. “The Orthodox have synodality, but not primacy. We Catholics have primacy but a lack of synodality.”

“It is conceivable that we could have an episcopal body that helps the Pope in governing the Church without calling into question his primacy,” Bianchi said. “This would help to create a new style of papal primacy and the government of bishops.”

Pope Paul VI’s Nota Praevia, attached to the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, ensured that none of the document’s teaching on collegiality or the Synod of Bishops should impact on the rights and privileges of the Pope. The Synod of Bishops therefore remains a solely consultative body and relies on papal endorsement.

Last year Pope Francis suggested strengthening the Synod saying it was a “half-baked” development of the Second Vatican Council.

Above: The central focus of Pope Francis’ trip to the Holy Land in May was a prayer service with the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholemew at Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Photo: CNS/EPA

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There can be little doubt, from the moves made so far by Pope Francis, in his desire to reform the Vatican, that he has in mind far more that just the amendment of protocols of papal tradition. In his desire to demystify the monarchic splendour of the role of Pope – by choosing to live in a much more modest way than any of his predecessors were able to, because of pressure from the papal court – Pope Francis seems determined to open up the papacy to a more collegial form of government of the Church than has previously been possible, given the power of the Roman Curia to control  the protocols that have preserved the papal mystique.

This article, in this week’s ‘Tablet’ in the U.K., by Hannah Roberts in Rome, reporting on the message of newly-appointed Vatican aide, Enzo Bianchi (Prior of Bose Monastery) had this to say:

“Reform would involve a new balance between collegiality and primacy, Bianchi explained. “The Orthodox have synodality, but not primacy. We Catholics have primacy but a lack of synodality.”

“It is conceivable that we could have an episcopal body that helps the Pope in governing the Church without calling into question his primacy,” Bianchi said. “This would help to create a new style of papal primacy and the government of bishops.”

However, quite apart from Pope Francis wanting to share more equably the task of governance with other leaders in the Roman Catholic Church; is has become obvious – at least to Fr.Bianchi – that the Pontiff is keen on seeking a new climate of convergence with the leadership of the historic Orthodox Churches. How this might work out in the present situation of the doctrine of papal infallibility, would obviously need to be carefully considered – if the Vatican Curia, which is stacked with Italian cardinals keen to preserve the primacy of the Pope, is allowed to have a controlling voice in any amendment of the status quo. One cannot but admire the desire of Pope Francis to bring about the possibility of organic union in the Churches of Christendom.

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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