Thursday, October 14, 2010

Eastern Catholics

Pretty big news on the Eastern Catholic front. The Synod of the Middle East, which includes several different Eastern Catholic Churches (Armenian, Chaldean, Coptic, Maronite, Melkite, and Syrian Catholics), and agreed to make certain demands of Rome:

(1) Eastern Churches in Europe, North America, and elsewhere should be allowed to ordain married priests, not just in the “historical” territories of those churches;
(2) Patriarchs and other heads of Eastern Churches should have authority over their communities all around the world, not just those back home;
(3) Eastern Patriarchs should automatically have the right to cast votes in papal elections, and should take precedence over cardinals;
(4) The process of papal approval of the election of bishops by the synods of Eastern Churches should be simplified and sped up.

And, frankly, if you can get the Melkites and the Maronites to agree on something, it's big and important for all Catholics everywhere.

I confess, I was somewhat shocked that (1) and (2) aren't already in place and need to be demanded at all. I knew about (2), but I had always thought that it was a matter of convenience, rather than a real structural limitation. One can see the value of not doubling up epsicopal jurisdictions where populations are pretty small, for instance. That the Patriarchs don't have default jurisdiction, where the churches in question are founded in a canonically legitimate way, is a serious travesty. I didn't know about (1) at all, although it does actually make sense when I think about Eastern Catholics.

(3) and (4) have been a big issue for me for a long time. Being a Cardinal is not the highest position a bishop can attain in the Catholic Church; all it means is that you are part of the College of Cardinals, which is purely an instrument for assisting the work of the Pope. The most important position in the Catholic hierarchy is Patriarch -- even the Pope's moral and legal authority is due entirely to the fact that he is Patriarch of Rome. I've never understood why Patriarchs don't have the automatic right to vote, in person or by legate, in papal elections, whether or not they have receives the (for them purely honorary) distinction of the red hat. And the precedence issue is even more serious: The Council of Florence makes very, very clear that the ancient rights and privileges of Patriarchs are inviolable, and treating Cardinals as having a precedence over Patriarchs who have not been admitted to the College of Cardinals is a clear violation of the ancient rights and privileges of Patriarchs.

And (4) has just been an obvious problem for a long time. Rome is not efficient enough for the approval procedures it is using. It needs to establish defaults, at least for Eastern Catholics. Really, papal approval for Eastern bishops should be like Royal Assent in some constitutional monarchies: assumed given as long as it is constitutionally legal, or at least, as long as it is both legal and not vetoed within a reasonable time.

All four of these things are things that simply make sense; there is just no reason whatsoever why they don't have them even now. With regard to (2) there should be recognized a way that Patriarchs can delegate to bishops outside their jurisdiction (with the approval of the relevant Patriarch) to care for small populations of the faithful of a Church where a distinct bishop is impractical, and that it has often been impractical in the past is the only excuse for the status quo; and with regard to papal election in (3) there's wiggle room for debate. But there's really no excuse for the rest.

This is the Catholic Church: 23 distinct Churches, officially equal as Churches. But in practice the Latin Church has tended to leverage the importance of its Patriarch so as to usurp the privileges of the other Churches. In order for Eastern Catholics to be Catholic, they recognize the Patriarch of Rome as universal pastor. There is no requirement to recognize Roman Catholics in general as their superiors. They are officially Catholics in their own right. But in practice they are treated like second-class Catholics. The Eastern Patriarchs are officially Patriarchs, just as the Pope is; but in practice they are treated like ordinary bishops with special administrative duties. It's time that the injustice was ended: it's time for Rome to put its actions where its doctrine is. The Without Prejudices clause of the Council of Florence should be put into full effect.

And, again, the thing of it is that these are all very reasonable and mild demands, common-sensical and more appropriate to actual Catholic ecclesiological principles than what is in place now.

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