Response to a comment in NCR concerning Australian Bp. Morris’s removal
"Most bishops legally own their own dioceses and can establish a true Catholic Church at any time, free of Roman monarchical tyranny and corruption." "Magari" as one says in Italian, "--If only it were so!" The legacy of the First Vatican Council [1870's] comes back with a vengeance.
A bit of conciliar history helps us to understand what led up to Vatican I [1869-1870]. The last general council of the Western Catholic Church before the Reformation was the Council of Constance [1414-1418] that was attended by a representative number of bishops from the Western Church and—even—the Byzantine emperor and a number Eastern Church bishops. It accepted the abdication of one anti-pope and removed two others, electing a new pope. The Council of Trent [1545-1563] only included what was left of the papal church; those bishops who disagreed with the papal party were systematically excluded and—eventually—alienated from the papal church. It, as well as the two subsequent councils [Vatican I and Vatican II] cannot, therefore, be called a general council of the Western Church.
Two dogmatic conclusions of Vatican Council I, i.e., the ordinary universal jurisdiction of the pope, and the infallibility of the pope placed the papal church outside traditional Catholic teaching. The adoption of these two doctrines as dogmas for the papal church radically affected the possibility of restoring unity in the Western Church, and between the papal church and with the Eastern Church. The effect of universal jurisdiction for the papal church has been the reduction of the local bishop to being no more than the vicar of the pope; the effect of infallibility has been an increasingly expanding and unique final authority of the pope exercised in a way that is secretive and beyond appeal.
When we examine the removal of Bishop Morris of Toowoomba, Australia in this context, we discover the application of infallibility leading to the removal of the bishop. In 1975, Pope Paul VI had sent a letter to the then Archbishop of Canterbury arguing that women were not valid subjects for ordination and warning that it would make the attainment of unity more difficult if the Church of England went ahead with the ordination of women. The Pope instructed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to issue a statement that it did in 1976. The concluding paragraph of it reads as below:
October 15, 1976
Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
For these reasons, in execution of a mandate received from the Holy Father [Editor: Paul VI] and echoing the declaration which he himself made in his letter of 30 November 1975,6 the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith judges it necessary to recall that the Church, in fidelity to the example of the Lord, does not consider herself authorized to admit women to priestly ordination. The Sacred Congregation deems it opportune at the present juncture to explain this position of the Church.
There was nothing in the Pope’s letter or the Congregation’s Statement claiming that this is an infallible declaration. On 22 May 1994, Pope John Paul II issued an Apostolic Letter concerning the ordination of women containing the following conclusion:
Apostolic Letter ordinatio sacerdotalis of John Paul II to the Bishops
of the Catholic Church on Reserving Priestly Ordination to Men Alone
Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.
(Edtor’s note) Lk 22:32 is Jesus’s admonition to Peter to is to “strengthen” his brethren. Once again, no reference to papal infallibility.
Back to Bishop Morris: Pope Benedict accused Bishop Morris of disagreeing with an infallible statement of the pope when he said in a letter to his diocese in 1976 that the desperate shortage of priests could lead to discussion of the ordination of women. Benedict has raised these statements to the level of infallible statements by the pope and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The statements heretofore only declared that there was to be no further discussion of the subject. The pope, raising them to the level of infallible statements, has used his authority of ‘universal ordinary jurisdiction’ to remove Bishop Morris from jurisdiction over his diocese.
One sees here the fruit of Vatican I’s ‘dogmas’. We can easily understand the promulgation of the two ‘dogmas’ as a reaction to the pope’s loss of temporal power with the defeat of the Vatican’s military forces at the hands of the forces of the new Republic. The present application of these two ‘dogmas’ in prohibiting further discussion of the ordination of women [or the elimination of celibacy for Latin Rite priests] Benedict XVI has—once again—taken a position that is contrary to the spirit of Vatican II’s ecclesiology. The support for the ordination of women by most European and English-speaking Roman Catholics—as well as others—will eventually prevail not just as a response to the shortage of celibate male priests, but as a matter of justice.