Thursday, May 16, 2024

Do Bishops Have Rights vis-à-vis the Pope? Does the Pope Have Duties vis-à-vis the Bishops?

We have all certainly heard about the rights of the pope, who enjoys supreme jurisdiction in the Church; and we have certainly heard about the duties of bishops toward the Chair of Peter. But what about the pope’s duties to the bishops (and, indeed, to the Church as a whole, and to Christ its eternal Head?) And what of the bishops’ rights over against papal overreach? Os Justi Press has just released a new book that will be of interest to many readers of this blog: Unresolved Tensions in Papal-Episcopal Relations: Essays Occasioned by the Deposition of Bishop Joseph Strickland. This book brings together essays and articles by 14 authors who wrestle with ecclesiological and canonical questions prompted by acts of Pope Francis, using this as a springboard for a broader consideration of the rights and duties of a bishop according to traditional theological sources. The liturgy, naturally, comes up repeatedly as an arena in which bishops are not only entitled but obliged to defend perennial tradition against arbitrary impositions of novelty, even as the pope is obliged to defend liturgical integrity against centrifugal tendencies of disorder. The centerpiece of the book is the respectful but intense debate between José Ureta and John Lamont concerning whether a bishop unjustly deposed should accept his deposition as a valid act of papal jurisdictional primacy (even if it be an illicit or sinful one), or should rather refuse to acknowledge it and remain in his see. Ureta argues for the former position, calling it “traditional”; Lamont for the latter, showing that it is the only one in harmony with divine and natural law. Each marshals quotes from classic authors on behalf of his side. It’s one of the best high-level debates I’ve seen in years. (While I agree with Lamont’s position, I do recognize that Ureta’s counterpoints deserve the serious consideration of any Catholic thinker who seeks the truth in these difficult and subtle topics.) Stepping back to look at the anthology as a whole, I will simply say, as one who reads widely and voraciously, that there is nothing like this book in print. I’m not even sure there’s ever been anything like it in modern times. The spirit of ultramontanism, dominant for over 150 years, has blocked earnest inquiry into the inherent and (to a degree) independent authority of bishops by crying “conciliarism!” or “Gallicanism!” the moment someone dares to suggest that the papacy may not be an absolute monarchy from which all ecclesial power flows. Some progressives around the time of Vatican II were keen to cut the liberal bishops loose from Rome, but their motivations were evil and their arguments puerile. This book is different, as it delves into Church history, theology, and canon law to understand the mutual relations, rights, and responsibilities of the pope and the bishops toward each other and toward the Mystical Body of Christ, which is prior to and determinative of their offices. In particular, serious attention is given to the Bishop Strickland case; theologians and canonists demonstrate the injustice and irregularity of his removal. “What good is that?,” you may be tempted to think, “it will make no difference, since the ones in power call all the shots.” But surely, a Catholic thinks first and foremost about the truth? If the truth sets us free, then the truth needs to be told, known, and internalized. That is reason enough to argue about justice and injustice, truth and error.
Unresolved Tensions features an incisive Foreword by Dr. Joseph Shaw, which appears for the first time in the book; a preface; 17 chapters; an epilogue; 4 appendices; a bibliography; and an index. It is available in paperback, hardcover, or ebook.

Here is the Table of Contents: 

To peek inside, and to order, go to Os Justi Press, or to Amazon (the paperback and hardcover listings aren't yet linked). Of course, the book can be found on any Amazon site across the world. It is high time these questions are debated with the care and depth they require, for much is at stake in knowing, and following, the truth of the matter.

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