January 2019 Print

The Problem with Collegiality

Interview with Fr. Dominique Bourmaud, SSPX

What does the SSPX have to object to the decrees of Vatican II?

Among the most important objections we have with the documents of Vatican II, we must mention what Fr. Schmidberger described as Three Time Bombs. In a nutshell, these issues were: religious liberty, ecumenism and collegiality.

As we are specifically working on the episcopal element in the Church, we want to focus on the last of the time bombs, set at Vatican II, which exploded afterwards. Would you mind giving us a rough definition of what this term collegiality entails?

Collegiality broadly speaking is the power exercised by a college as opposed to an individual. In modern government, we would call it an aristocratic vs. a monarchical power. Applied to the Catholic Church, this means that the Apostolic College governed along with Peter the pope, and that this exercise passed on to their successor, the College of bishops.

In The Inside Story of Vatican II—formerly called The Rhine flows into the Tiber—Fr. Wiltgen explain that the modernist elements at the Council felt this was a decisive battle. Would you elaborate on this?

Modernists like Rahner, Congar and Ratzinger indeed put their own twist on collegiality. For them, not only was there a communion in the Magisterium, or Church teaching, there had to be a Magisterium of communion. Said otherwise, the pope was not the only supreme teacher. He had to share his office with the College of bishops. The Church was not a circle orbiting around one center; it described an ellipse around two centers.

Could you please explain the position of the two main parties on the role of the bishops’ College in the Church?

In the traditional interpretation, the bishops’ College exercised supreme authority merely by human right. Hence, the pope alone enjoyed supreme power by divine right and there was no dual power.

Even if he acted along with the episcopal college united in Council, he simply extended his power to the College. The result was that there was properly a single subject, whether exercised with or without the episcopal college.

By contrast, the most liberal interpretation considered that the subject of the supreme power was the College of bishops together with its head, the pope. The latter was simply primus inter pares—first among equals—, bound in conscience to follow the decisions of the college as their head and representative. The pope’s action was limited to playing the policeman and keeping order among the other members. Hence, the Church enjoyed a synarchic, not longer a monarchic, power according to a thesis condemned by the Church.

So, who finally won the battle at the Council?

You might be right in calling the end result a draw. But this did not happen without fierce struggle. All the way to the end, the modernist elements had the upper hand in writing the various drafts. Although he had been forewarned, the pope had given them free rein until the day when one of the modernist experts put into writing the interpretation which they planned to draw after the Council was over. This paper fell into the hands of the conservatives, who carried it to the pope. Pope Paul, finally understanding that he had been fooled, was greatly moved and wept.

If I am correct, by that time, the text had been fully endorsed by the Council Fathers? Could the pope go ahead and promulgate a text so ambiguous that it laid waste to the divine constitution of the Church?

No, he could not allow this. And so, at the 11th hour, the pope ordered a foreword to be added, the Nota explicativa praevia which excluded the heretical interpretation. This note explained that the College “only occasionally…engages in strictly collegiate activity, and that only with the consent of its head.” The Catholic doctrine had been saved, in extremis, at least as regards the constitution of the Church. Nonetheless, the existence of such a note remains an eloquent testimony to the ambiguity of some conciliar texts.

You mention the foreword. What about the pertinent paragraph in the main text of the decree Lumen Gentium #22?

It reads thus: “In virtue of his office, that is, as Vicar of Christ and Pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power. The order of bishops…is also the subject [subjectum quoque] of supreme and full power over the universal Church, provided we understand this body together with its head the Roman Pontiff and never without this head.”

I understand this does not have quite the same tone as Vatican I explained, in stressing mostly the papal power.

Certainly not. Here is the text of Vatican I asserting Peter’s supreme and universal power: “…to Peter alone, before the other apostles, whether individually or all together, was confided the true and proper primacy of jurisdiction by Christ.”

When we compare the doctrine on Church power in Vatican II with Vatican I, are we not simply talking about a clarification and extension of the Church’s exercise of authority?

Although the text of Lumen Gentium appears rather innocuous, its ambiguity was officially recognized by Monsignor Parente, the Council relator whose role was to clarify its sense.

Where exactly does the ambiguity lie?

The main problem concerns the subject of the Primacy. Even if the Nota Explicativa implies the essential harmony which must exist between the pope acting with the episcopal College, yet he is giving his placet to the acting College, and behaves as a chairman simply consenting to the college decisions? This, besides the pope acting alone, constitutes properly and formally a second subject of the primacy.

How extensive is this episcopal power?

In the light of Vatican II (LG #22), the episcopal College enjoys universal and jurisdiction over the church by divine right. This doctrine is repeated in the new Code of Canon Law of 1983,

Canon 336: “The college of bishops, whose head is the Supreme Pontiff and whose members are bishops by virtue of sacramental consecration and hierarchical communion with the head and members of the college and in which the apostolic body continues, together with its head and never without it, is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church.”

What is wrong with this conception?

What is wrong here is indicated by Cardinal Larraona : “The Church, from monarchical, becomes episcopalian and collegial, and this by divine right and in virtue of the episcopal consecration... If the doctrine proposed in the schema was correct, the Church would have lived for centuries in direct opposition with the divine right.”

Can you spell out the Cardinal’s issues with this text?

His first issue is that the Apostolic College, if it ever existed, did not enjoy an existence by divine right. Speaking of collegial act of the Apostles, Cardinal Ottaviani was fond of saying that the first one was, during the Passion, when they all fled.

The other problem is the amalgamation of the power of the Apostles with that of Peter. Although the Apostles and their successors, the bishops, received also the powers of the keys (Mt. 18) given firstly to Peter (Mt. 16), these should not be confused. Only St. Peter received this power supremely and universally, whereas the apostles enjoyed a subordinate and restricted power, and more so their successors, the local bishops. Even all of them put together do not equate the universal and supreme power of the pope.

Finally, there is the ambiguity of the origin of this collegial power, said to be “in virtue of the episcopal consecration.”

What is wrong with a bishop having power in virtue of his episcopal consecration?

This is an error in that, even prior to being summoned by the pope to rule a diocese, a bishop would already be enjoying jurisdiction. In traditional teaching, these powers are distinct and do not share the same extension. Likewise, in civil court, the fact of having passed the bar examination does not entitle a lawyer to act as judge over a given district. But to confuse the power of jurisdiction with that of Order leans towards conciliarism.

What repercussions did these texts and legislation bring about to the Church at large?

After the Council, the Church practice has brought about the synod of bishops which used to meet every two years to shoulder, if not over-shadow, the pope’s function. It has acted as a ram to promote new Church teaching while seemingly removing the blame and burden from the pope’s shoulders.

If collegiality tends to diminish the Papal authority, does this not give more power to the bishops?

In theory, yes. The problem is that between the local bishop and the pope, there is now powerful national episcopal conferences. So, at the end of the game, not only is the divine right of the pope reduced by collegial activity, but the local bishops also, who enjoy also an authority by divine right, are virtually paralyzed from above. In his Iota Unum, Romano Amerio mentions the remarks of some bishops which explain the de facto sclerosis of the hierarchy. “As an individual bishop I am absolutely powerless. Matters have been so arranged in the Church today, that an appeal by a bishop would be ridiculed as well as going unheard.” (#234)

Did not Archbishop Lefebvre have to set up episcopal conferences?

Indeed he did this. Yet, he gave fair warning about their respective role, being safe the bishop’s personal authority. In Madagascar, where the bishops were already in the habit of meeting, Archbishop Lefebvre said that he encountered some difficulties with the very active Jesuits. “I reminded them that the bishop was to remain master in his own diocese, and was free to accept or reject their suggestions.”

Any solution to get out of the tunnel?

It seems clear that it is impossible to govern the Church except the way Christ set it up. Unless the authority of the pope and, under his, that of the local bishop, be fully restored, things no solution is on the horizon. As long as we have a shadow governor ruled by an anonymous and amorphous irresponsible group, the Church is not going to come out of the de facto sclerosis. It is only a personal authority with individual responsibility which can lead things properly. The shepherd, in Christ’s mind, needs to render account of his office and of his feeding the sheep entrusted to him, before God and before men.