Now that the election of a new Pope has been resolved we can perhaps focus on the future of the Roman Catholic Church. David Perlich reporting today for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. summarized the situation well when he stated “Pope Francis has accepted an enormous burden. He's the leader of a Roman Catholic Church beset with grave challenges. Amongst them: a dysfunctional curial government culture, a church whose reputation has been plagued by scandal and questions over its relevance in the modern world and the everyday lives of Catholics.” At this point Catholics should ask is it fair or reasonable that one man, the Pope, should be burdened with such a huge problem and be expected to bring about the necessary reform"?
It might surprise some to learn from Hans Küng and his scholarly work ‘Christianity – Essence, History and Future’ (2002) “the great ecumenical reform Council of Constance which met from 1414 to 1418 declared: the council is above the Pope. The gathering understood itself to be a general council [like Vatican II] legitimately assembled in the Holy Spirit, representing the whole church. Its authority was directly bestowed by Christ, and everyone, even the Pope, had to obey it: in matters of faith, the abolition of the schism and church reform. Anyone – even if this should be the Pope – who refused to obey the commands and resolutions of this council and any legitimate ecumenical council on the points mentioned was to be duly punished. This was a clear defeat for the Roman curial system, which had taken the Catholic Church of the West to the edge of the abyss. Authority in the church does not lie in a monarch but in the church itself, of which the Pope is the servant not the master.”
Küng tell us that the Council of Constance, while still normative, was amazingly soon replaced by the restoration of papal absolutism. One can easily see its implications on papal authority or power; which was only further advanced by endowing the power of infallibility on a Pope, as decreed by the First Vatican Council at Rome in 1869. Summarizing Küng’s views on this important fact:
- The papacy has increasingly become an institution of power
- The papacy developed more and more power structures by adopting highly developed Roman jurisprudence and imperial legal practise [note the current Catechism & canon law]
- The papacy has preserved the trappings of power and control
Accordingly, is it not reasonable now to suggest that the many challenges facing the Roman Catholic Church and Pope Francis I* be placed in the hands of the next ecumenical council? This would not only release Francis from having to deal with all these difficult issues by himself but put it in the hands of many perhaps even through the influence of the laity? Is it not in the interest of ALL Roman Catholics to have a spiritual leader, such as Jesus, who is a true shepherd instead of an enforcer of the law?
Again Küng asks " Should the church of the future no longer appear as the bulwark of reaction against democracy but in the spirit of its founder as a community in ‘freedom, equality and brotherhood’? In the light of the gospel should the future church not consist of a community of free men and women and at the same time be an advocate of freedom in the world and become a community of those who are fundamentally equal? The church a community of brothers and sisters instead of a system ruled in patriarchal fashion"?
Speculating on the future of Catholicism Küng asks “under a new pontificate might not and should not the question of infallibility be investigated again, with objectivity, scientific honesty, fairness and justice?” Addressing the question of ecumenism Küng suggests that "the pluralization of religion will give men and women new spiritual perspectives –deepening their own religious feelings through insights, symbols, ethnical demands and meditative practices of other religions and alternative movements".
Finally, the idea of a Third Ecumenical Council as envisioned by the Council of Constance more than 600 years ago, may be the only means through which the Vatican along with the People of God can break through the current crisis of the institution.
* on his second day as Pope Francis I was already and unfairly accused of failing to speak out against human rights abuses during military rule in his native Argentina. See details here.
Link: election of Pope John Paul I