Personal View ARTHUR WELLS
SIMPLY TO ASK: "How Catholic is the Roman Curia?" is to invite trouble. But perhaps tlast week's account of Pope John's experience in the Vatican by Meriol Trevor may confer validity on the question. at least. And before the present unprecedented surge of curial power, reform was urged by many great bishops.
To pre-empt misunderstanding, individual catholicity and good faith are not doubted. The problem rather is the institution, which can acquire a life and mindset of its own. Whether or not each member has that mindset is important, hut not so important as the ongoing outlook of the institution. Men die, but institutions can continue with undesirable accrued characteristics. Are Curia characteristics wholly Catholic?
Inevitably, a short article must be inadequate, but the latest flood of curial
instructions is deeply worrying, particularly those inhibiting discussion. Sixty-five years before Ad Tuendam Fidem ("For Defence of the Faith"), in 1933, aged ten, full of penny catechism. I joined the apostolate. Moving from convent prep. school to (secular) grammar school, my brief to defend the faith was clear; Fr Bloggs gave it to me from the Bishop who had it from the Pope, often by letter. At ten, life was simple; I was within the church. Others were not; their hope of salvation lay in baptism of blood or of desire. Everything from Rome was Holy Writ.
I now pay respectful. but not uncritical attention to Vatican documents. because our views about what is de fide, or even real, do not always coincide. However, Fides et Ratio seems newly hopeful: we cannot philosophise without thinking or discussing. I long remained uhramontane, first by convention, then on principle. By 1953. absorbed in Catholic Action and the study of scripture, the Knife Edge of Experience (Rosemary Haughton) offered another view of the Church. Come the Council, it was a relief to find oneself effectively mainstream, alongside 2,500 bishops. Was their one mistake the failure to institute mechanisms to implement their teachings? As a student of
the Council, I see much of it untaught, ignored or even frustrated and wonder how this can be.
I retain a firtn belief in the Petrine Ministry as essential to the Church, but worry about its exercise. When, in Ut Unum Sint, his Holiness asked other Church leaders how his ministry might be better exercised, it would have been thoughtful to ask his bishops also. In certain matters Newman suggested that the faithful be consulted; as we are in the ecclesial front line, that too would have been appropriate.
It is easy to over-simplify, but the Spirit of the Council clearly says that the Church is normally governed by the Bishops with the Pope at their head and never without him. Does the Curia get mentioned?
After thirty years, can neglect of the Council be Catholic? The Council stance was above all inclusive. Now Exclusion seems to be in fashion; this is not Pope John's "aggiomamento".
In conscience I cannot avoid holding certain (now apparently dissident) opinions, but turned 75, it seems absurd, impossible even, to be driven out of the Church. My defence would be the teachings of the Council, not least the "Declaration on Religious Freedom".
Chapter 1 of Vatican II's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church is headed "The Mystery of the Church". It begins: "Christ is the light of all nations." (Lumen Gentium — LG). The term "mystery" indicates that the Church as a divine reality inserted into history cannot be fully captured by human thought or language. Formulae of words are often the best we can do, but formulae can be dangerous; some openness is essential for the Spirit to breathe. Pope Paul VI noted (1963): "It lies, therefore, within the very nature of the Church to be always open to new and greater exploration."
Our Lord taught by parables and images and was condemnatory about little, excepting legalism and oppression. We need authority, but the gospel also promises freedom. The mind cannot be coerced when conscience is honestly and prayerfully formed. In almost every document, the Fathers of Vatican II pointed the way towards a resolution of this very human tension; we should study them. Is Vatican 1.1 not at least one essential benchmark of Catholicity?