By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio – articles – email ) | March 22, 2022
With the release of Evangelium Predicate (“Preach the Gospel”), I guess we can expect great things for the Church. At least that’s what Catholics may have thought in 1577 when Sixtus V structured the Curia, or in 1908, 1967 and 1988 when three different 20th century saints took the trouble to restructure it. At least we got more time between major overhauls this time around. Pope John Paul II made significant reforms only twenty-one years after Paul VI. Francis waited thirty-four years, an increase of 61%!
I don’t mean that restructuring is useless. Adjustments must be made to shifting priorities and shifting workloads over time, and since the Church has arguably been on a downward slope in terms of public influence and interior faithfulness to the gospel for at least the hundred years she has had good reason to try to make her mission more effective as “modern times” have increasingly ignored eternity. Be that as it may, the breakneck pace of change over the past century and a half – change that has generally undermined traditions of all kinds and fostered a topsy-turvy pattern of ideological accommodation – has certainly seemed to require ecclesiastical structures more diverse and more responsive. .
But the reality is that the Church, in its leaders and in its members, has never quite understood how to preach the gospel in a world so deeply characterized by “modernism”, i.e. a slavish dependence to all that is New— a world which, indeed, finds meaning almost exclusively in change. Perhaps it was easier to learn in more stable times that one cannot turn to the ways of the world to find happiness; but now, rapid change always seems to offer hope, no matter how often it disappoints. There is, if nothing else, a powerful distraction from our deepest issues in outright change.
In this atmosphere, the real “content” of the Catholic faith is often radically diminished in favor of a sort of lukewarm human sensibility. Therefore, whenever I consider Catholic governance, the first thing I ask myself is whether the guiding principles of the Faith drive the whole operation – whether, in fact, there is real fidelity to the gospel in the church’s response to its mission to preach the gospel. .
In his Catholic World News report on the promulgation of Evangelium Predicate, Phil Lawler notes that the “Dicastery” for the Doctrine of the Faith “will henceforth be responsible for collaborating with the other offices of the Vatican and with the local Churches on questions of doctrine”. It does not appear from the text itself that this collaboration is legally new in a significant way; the wording of previous constitutions should be checked. But it is underlined in article 72:
On the measures to be adopted for the protection of faith and morals, in order to preserve their integrity from errors revealed in any way whatsoever, the Doctrinal Section [of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith] works in close contact with the diocesan / eparchial Bishops, individually and gathered in Episcopal Conferences or in Particular Councils and in Eastern hierarchical Structures, in the exercise of their mission as authentic teachers and doctors of the faith, to which they are bound to safeguard and promote the integrity of the same faith.
I focus on this duty because (as I think goes without saying now) the particular Catholic crisis of our time is to run the Church as if there were no contents to the Catholic faith which must be advanced and defended against the contrary opinions of modern culture. In this sense, many bishops, priests, religious, deacons, parish leaders, politicians and ordinary lay people (at least throughout the secularized West) downplay the elements of Catholic teaching that categorically contradict mainstream cultural ideas while emphasizing primarily aspects of Catholic teaching. lives that find broad cultural favor. So we hear a lot about overcoming racism, caring for the environment and helping the poor – duties that are 99% honored in our dominant culture, even if sometimes only in violation – and we hear very little talk about sexual morality, fidelity in marriage and the primary obligation of Christians to form, support and educate strong, faithful, generous and cross-cultural Christian families.
In any case, the emphasis placed on the need for the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith to “work in close contact” with the bishops is a very good thing, unless it degenerates into another way of diffusing the responsibility . Bishops remain the main bearers of the prophetic mission in their territories, and they therefore bear the primary responsibility for the integrity of the Christian faith, as revealed by divine revelation, natural law and previous clarifications from the magisterium of Church. Nor is it some kind of fringe activity to be tolerated out of a vague sense of necessity. On the contrary, the proclamation of the faith in its fullness is the main responsibility – the determining and distinctive element – of the preaching of the Gospel, which is the very theme of this last Apostolic Constitution. After all, the last words of Our Lord to his disciples were these:
All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. [Mt 28:18-20]
An old expression is absolutely right: faith is much more than its specific doctrines, but it is never less. It is the “doctrine of the faith”, which must be particularly safeguarded by the Dicastery which bears this name, because its purpose is precisely to ensure the integrity of our understanding of Christ’s mission in the world.
In connection with this idea of ”collaboration”, I therefore note that the specific action of the Dicastery should never be the trigger for a reactivity in the protection of the deposit of the Faith. In other words, no bishop should be in a position to ignore false teachings among Catholic professors, ecclesiastical personnel and prominent figures in his diocese, acting only if and when the Dicastery steps in to resolve the most flagrant facts which are brought to his attention. watch out for the winds of advertising. No, this collaboration, this mandate to “work in close contact” with the bishops should mean that difficult cases are brought to the attention of the Dicastery in the normal course of the protection by the local bishop of the content of the Faith in all the situations he knows perfectly. And then, when difficult cases are clarified by the Dicastery, the bishop would appropriate the clarification to further protect the Faith in his own diocese.
Without this type of “close contact” work – assuming that the Dicastery is an important resource when and where it is needed – the deposit of faith will never be protected in each diocese. no more than it is now.
Evangelium Predicate: preach the gospel
The term “central government” in the context of the Church is inappropriate except in the most minimal sense. The Church is governed by the episcopal successors of the apostles with the successor of Saint Peter at their head. The curia fulfills two and only two essential functions. He assists the Pope in the exercise of his immense responsibilities as Vicar of Christ at the head of a great world Church. And it provides, under papal oversight, a collection of resources that bishops can draw on when they need Peter’s help in tackling issues in their own dioceses.
Evangelium Predicate could promote the true synodality demanded by this episcopal model, in which, by their very will to discharge their functions well, the bishops find an authentically Catholic “path together” (this is the meaning of the word “synod”). But if it merely reflects what we might call a “false synodality of endless discussion” that keeps the bishops in limbo while the Pope says and does (or doesn’t say and doesn’t do) what he wants, then it will mark a further spread of paralysis in the Church, just as the current synodal path seems to have done so far. Again, if the collaborative tone used in this latest Apostolic Constitution signals ingenuity rather than paralysis, then bishops will take greater responsibility for the faith in their own dioceses – and will be judged in Rome on the measures they take or do not take, so that a serious failure to preach the gospel can be corrected if necessary by a more worthy bishop next time.
The preaching of the Gospel requires a clear, specific, unified, vibrant and sacrificial Faith. The curia should be an important resource for bishops in the few cases where they lack the understanding, capacity or authority to solve particular problems. Curial inaction should never be an excuse for doing nothing or doing the wrong thing, nor should Curial action be an excuse for disclaiming responsibility. Each bishop must both defend and advance the Catholic faith as the very heart of his mission, and must recognize that curial structures make relatively little difference in exercising this responsibility.
As Saint Paul reminds us so forcefully, the full Gospel of Christ must be preached before it can be received and lived:
Because “whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”. But how will men invoke the one in whom they have not believed? And how to believe in the one we have never heard of? And how will they hear without a preacher? And how can men preach if they are not sent? …So faith comes by hearing, and hearing comes by the preaching of Christ. [Rom 10:13-17]
Bishops are first and foremost sent; they in turn send their priests to supplement the limitations of their own presence in space and time. On receiving an Apostolic Constitution entitled “Preach the Gospel”, it is appropriate to conclude by insisting on this essential point for every Catholic. Because no less than seven times in the Gospels, Our Lord says: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear”.
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