Authority in action

Subsidiarity is a very dull word. Which is a pity, because it describes a very important idea. It is in fact the approach of authority or leadership most like the one which Christ taught us. In simple terms it means that a higher authority should perform only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at lower or more local levels. We have all experienced subsidiarity as parents or children.

Parenthood is an exercise in managed separation. At the beginning the parent has to make all the decisions but, gradually over time, the parent must stand back and allow the child to take more and more responsibility. The apogee is when the child, now well versed in personal responsibility, is able to enter the independent adult world. It is a parental task which requires endless courage and good judgment. Our immediate instinct is to keep our children safe, and it is easy to find reasons why our authority should prevail. But unless we take the risk of progressively passing on responsibility we will ensure that we send inadequate adults out into the world.

The same principle of subsidiarity applies to organisations. And the need has become greater as these become more and more complex. Increasing technology has pushed decisions further down the line. I have written before about how the efficiency of hospitals can be gauged by the degree and quality of communication between different levels, including the patients, and different departments – from the administrative to the medical. We communicate because we wish to share actively in our common objectives. And I would distinguish sharply between the organisation which only communicate what it is obliged to, and the organisation which only holds back communication when it has to.

But, as parenthood shows, it is not black and white. There may be restrictions. For some years I had the experience of directing a large investment company. Since we were in effect the trustees of public money we were bound by a number of rules emanating from statute. And rightly so. It made it all the more important that everyone, down to the most junior understood the position and took responsibility for their own accuracy.

Yet there is an inherent difficulty. It can be a matter of temperament. A number of people in management positions find it very hard to stand back and allow their juniors to take decisions. They feel secure when they are in charge, and nervous when they are not. They know that their juniors are likely to make mistakes, and that they may be held responsible. Most of us will have had the experience of being delegated to do a job, only to find the delegator standing behind our back at every point. It is not only temperament: many people in senior positions have succeeded to their posts in a culture where rules were rules. We should not be surprised at their discomfort when this no longer obtains to the same degree.

Since subsidiarity is emphasised by the Church we would expect it to operate in an exemplar way within the Church itself. As Pius XII said, it applies “to all levels of life in society as well as to the life of the Church, without prejudice to her hierarchical structure.” I wonder if, over the centuries, the Church would be easily recognised as a good example of subsidiarity.

There is no doubt that Vatican II was a potential turning point. We might think of the dramatic repudiation of the past in recognising the qualities and values of other denominations. The autonomic powers of the diocesan bishops were clarified. High level synods enabling the pope to consult with senior hierarchy were established. A reform of the Curia was proposed. A liturgy in the language of the congregation was introduced. The traditional sovereignty of conscience was reinforced. The watchword was collegiality.

Progress some 50 years later has not been encouraging. The recognition of other denominations led to schism. The selection of bishops remains under Vatican, rather than local, control. Until recently the papal consultation synods have been neutralised by oppressive management. The Curia remains a kitchen cabinet. The translation of the liturgy was removed at a late stage from the English-speaking bishops and replaced by the headquarters’ version. The disciplinary procedures of the Holy Office remain medieval. How many marks out of ten?

Christ taught us, as he washed the feet of his disciples, that authority is not a power of domination but a service which we hold as delegates from God. Subsidiarity exists not to control freedom but to increase it. He chose a risky path in giving us free will: the ultimate gift of subsidiarity. But like all good rulers he also gave us, through grace, the wherewithal to make the right, free, choices.

About Quentin

Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
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50 Responses to Authority in action

  1. Brian Hamill says:

    Excellent article, Quentin. If I might add a comment, to quote Jesus, and in the spirit of St Benedict and his warning to the Abbot, all authority comes from God and so, if someone holds authority in the Church, he or she will answer for the way they use that authority before the font of that authority, God. That can be a bit terrifying for some and I think there is an element of that fear in the way some priests and bishops etc are lothe to let their juniors rightfully take over some projects. Like the man who buries the talent, their image of God is not a loving father but ‘tight’ judge. Perhaps it is the inadequacy of the training of the authorities in the Church, which includes a deeper spiritual life as well as proper organisational skills, which prevents such people letting go, when right and fitting. As a father myself, I would much rather my children took the reasonable risk and failed, rather than be unduly afraid of risk and never grow to full maturity. As G.K. Chesterton put it so nicely, ‘The one who never makes a mistake never makes anything’.

  2. Nektarios says:

    Subsidiarity, in God, is the infinite measure of His humility.

    Yes, there are jobs of service for all members in the Church, but the clergy have more or less hived all that off to themselves. This is not the approach of one with faith, but one full of fear.

    We are not children of the Church, though the authorities in what ever denomination one is in, wants one to think like that, they forget that the true believer, saved, born again believers, call it what you will, are Children of God.
    He is their Lord and God.

    There are issues in Salvation that only God can do, none other. God in His infinite subsidiarity, gives each child of His gifts to use the service of God. and serving the Church which are the Children of God and the world at large.

    In behaviour, taking stock of God’s subsidiarity, it leads to a community that works by love, without duality. Even the Apostle Paul would not assert the kind of worldly power in the Churches that we see exercised today, for that is what the present exercise of ecclesiatic power has descended into – a mere worldly power and the means and methods such worldly powers employ.

  3. Hock says:

    This is a topic we have discussed before.Subsidiarity as some kind of principle does not exist in the Catholic Church and most probably never will at the level of parish life. There is no mechanism to compulsorily bring it about. Individual Churches may have varying ways of introducing it but even that depends on the current pp and those who are appointed after him. I would estimate that in most cases another pp would soon unravel what he saw as a challenge to his authority and there is nothing in place to stop him. Similarly no one is in a position to challenge the authority of the Bishop and, ironically, it is a perverse situation of subsidiarity that gives the Bishops there unrivalled powers !

  4. John Nolan says:

    I would take issue with some of the assumptions in Quentin’s post (he has made them before, and I have questioned them before, but never mind).

    1. Lumen Gentium was not ‘a dramatic repudiation of the past’. Like all the Vatican II documents (not all of which carry equal weight, and none of which signalled any doctrinal shift) it can only be read in the context of tradition. The extent to which the Church ‘recognizes’ other denominations is often wildly exaggerated, and has certainly not led to schism.

    2. The idea of collegiality needed to be re-affirmed in the face of the excessive ultramontanism of the previous century. However, episcopal autonomy is undermined nowadays not by ‘the Vatican’ but by the usurpation of diocesan bishops’ responsibilities by national Conferences, a post Vatican II development which smacks of bureaucratic centralism, not subsidiarity.

    3. The most extreme example of papal absolutism occurred after the Council, and ironically invoked the Council to excuse it. I refer, of course, to the imposition of an entirely new liturgy on the Latin church, fabricated in indecent haste and intended to replace the Roman Rite which had developed over twenty centuries. That its modus celebrandi varies widely from place to place, often dependent on the personality and whim of the celebrant, may be hailed as a triumph of subsidiarity, although some might prefer to see it as liturgical ‘disintegration’, as Cardinal Ratzinger did.

    4. The main player in the appointment of bishops in this country has been the CBCEW, not the Vatican, and for a time it came dangerously close to becoming a self-perpetuating oligarchy, the so-called ‘Magic Circle’.

    5. The most blatant attempt to manage a Synod occurred two years ago – it backfired spectacularly but for a time Pope Francis and his hand-picked advisers (Baldisseri, Forte, et al.) appeared in the guise of Renaissance intriguers. I relished the spectacle but many were (rightly) scandalized.

    6. Referring to the Curia as a ‘kitchen cabinet’ is plain silly. If the Pope has a ‘kitchen cabinet’ it would consist of a handful of cronies who do not hold official positions – that is the definition of a ‘kitchen cabinet’.

    7. Paul VI thoroughly overhauled and internationalized the Curia. He was well within his authority in doing this (unlike his imposed liturgical changes which were almost certainly ultra vires). The CDF in form and function is markedly different from Pius XII’s Holy Office, let alone the medieval Inquisition. Didn’t we discuss this earlier in the year?

    8. The current translation of the Mass was produced by ICEL which represents the bishops of Anglophone countries and was approved by them. While it is true that another committee, Vox Clara, made a number of minor changes, not all of which were improvements, it quite misleading to say that the approved translation was ‘replaced’.

    • Quentin says:

      John, thank you for your comments. You speak of my ‘assumptions’. I try to avoid assumptions; instead I rely on my research of those who can claim a specialist knowledge of the different aspects of the Church. Here I would recommend for starters Archbishop Quinn’s The Reform of the Papacy, Charles E Curran’s The Catholic Moral Tradition Today, Mary McAleese’s Quo Vadis and, more humbly, my own Autonomy and Obedience in the Catholic Church. There are several others.

      In the matter of the liturgy I note that the comprehensive Liturgiam Authenticam was issued after years of work by the ICEL which followed the norms for translation set out by the Holy See. The resulting translation is, let us say, controversial. In the matter of the Curia you may enjoy Cardinal König’s remark three decades after the Council “In fact…the Curial authorities in conjunction with the Pope have appropriated the tasks of the Episcopal College. It is they who carry out almost all of them.” The problem now is how long it will take for Pope Francis to reform the Curia, and a real danger that he will not succeed.

      You approve of the earlier pontifical councils. These are the ones in which the very word “subsidiarity” was a no-no. Far too threatening to those in power.

      A quick count tells me that I have posted between 400 and 500 times on this Blog since 2009. So I am not surprised that we return from time to time to former topics.

  5. Nektarios says:

    Oh, God help us and deliver us from such intellectual nonsense and the products of such thoughts.

    Where, tell me is there Scriptural warrant for what JN states above? Where is the Holy Spirit in all those past deliberations and what has manifested itself today?
    I must confess to seeing neither Scriptural warrant or the operation of the Holy Spirit in any of this.

    Further, I cannot see any Apostolic teaching of what a Church is and how it is to operate as laid down by Christ and the Holy Apostles.

    Worst of all perhaps, is the words Apostolic, and that of Christianity are actually being trampled underfoot to accommodate poor spiritual understanding and spiritual power.
    It is meant to appear a Church, it is meant to be the manifestation of Christianty, it is meant to be Apostolic in its teaching, it is meant to be neither subsiduary or collegiate referring to the few and excluding the majority of the Church, where it should actually be one with all the gifts of the Holy Spirit manifest with all that that would mean in the life and heart of the whole body of Christ.

    But it is not one, just a grotesque religious hybrid, powerless and frightened clerics hiding behind the masks of invented offices. I have dealt with some of them.
    Yes, Oh God. help and deliver us from all such.

  6. John Nolan says:


    I don’t think concepts such as subsidiarity can simply be dismissed as ‘intellectual nonsense’. Your writings often convey the impression that you inhabit a metaphysical bubble of your own construction which elevates ‘sublime mysticism and nonsense’ over rational calculation.

    You should , however, be aware that the primitive Church valued Apostolic Tradition over Scripture (hardly surprising, since the canon of the New Testament had not yet been established) and both the unity of the Church and the exclusion of heresy depended on the authority of the clergy, particularly that of the bishops. In the first century St Clement, bishop of Rome, compared the clergy to the officers of the Roman army and said that those who rejected their authority sinned gravely. Writing in AD 107, St Ignatius of Antioch stressed the authority of the bishop as the sole criterion of a legitimate Christian Church.

    In the absence of a higher authority, bishops exercised collegiality and fostered unity by issuing doctrinal letters and on occasion admonishing their brother bishops, as St Cyprian of Carthage notably did in the third century.

    The question is how should authority be exercised and unity preserved in a Church which has over a billion and a quarter adherents worldwide and over five thousand bishops. My concern is that the debate be not skewed in advance by erroneous and prejudiced assumptions and the building of straw men.

    • Nektarios says:

      John Nolan

      John, you said, ‘I don’t think concepts such as subsidiarity can simply be dismissed as ‘intellectual nonsense’. Your writings often convey the impression that you inhabit a metaphysical bubble of your own construction which elevates ‘sublime mysticism and nonsense’ over rational calculation.’

      Christianity is mystical in its life, walk and union with God.- So is every Child of God one with another. This has to be understood and worked out practically in each generation.

      From the early Christian Church to the Orthodox Church, to the Roman Catholic Church, to the Protestant Churches, at each of their inception and for about 300years approx, each did well, then they (the clergy) hardened up, sought power and prestige, money and influence and dominated the people of God. Incidentally, the Pharisees Saducees and Doctors of the Law did exactly the same, and within the same time scale. So when our Lord came, it was clear their understanding was completely wrong and they did not recognise Him.
      I suspect the same is happening now, and would be true of many within the Churches today?
      You then said, ‘The question is how should authority be exercised and unity preserved in a Church which has over a billion and a quarter adherents worldwide and over five thousand bishops. My concern is that the debate be not skewed in advance by erroneous and prejudiced assumptions and the building of straw men.’

      Lastly, you said, ‘The question is how should authority be exercised and unity preserved in a Church which has over a billion and a quarter adherents worldwide and over five thousand bishops. My concern is that the debate be not skewed in advance by erroneous and prejudiced assumptions and the building of straw men.’

      Well John, you pack a lot into one small paragraph. but lets look at what you say.

      Authority and unity within the Church is not as you assume ecclesiastic in origin. It is spiritual. All the Churches claim authority but look a bit deeper and one finds those who have real authority of God, are shut up and excluded or worse by ecclesiastics most who have no real authority of God at all, but obtain it by their fellow ecclesiastics.
      It is true that Bishops and deacons have some sort of authority given of God, but let them beware because the exercise of real authority of God among the flock they serve is so much higher, deeper, holy than any ecclesiatic body can give it. I don’t know if I am making myself clear here. I know the general way things are perceived and done, and they all far short of Apostolic teaching.
      To be a leader of the children of God, one has to be the servant of all, not served.
      Elections of Bishops to their position is not Apostolic, nor does it include the people they serve. Naturally, this raises all sort of questions.
      There is confusion in the Churches regarding authority. Generally most just accept, they were brought up and conditioned that way. Ecclesiastic power is a presentation of earthy power only and has in essense no real spiritual power. That is given unto babes by God.

      You then write John, ‘The question is how should authority be exercised and unity preserved in a Church which has over a billion and a quarter adherents worldwide and over five thousand bishops.

      The truth of the matter is it is not being preserved, it is being ignored.

      ‘ a Church which has over a billion and a quarter adherents worldwide and over five thousand bishops.’
      This may be true from baptismal records, but it would be more truthful to say, as is known,
      that only around 20% in the RCC are practising the faith.
      This 20% figure seems to be duplicated in other mainstream denominations also – tragic isn’t it?
      I cannot speak on Bishops, but we can see how they operate on the media in different countries – all every earthy. Perhaps out of your 5000 bishops only a handful were sent of God, the rest just ecclesiastic appointments who are not sent of or by God.

      Finally John, If I seem to differ in view from you, don’t presume that what I say is prejudiced. I am not grinding a demominational axe.

      • John Nolan says:

        Nektarios, the thrust of my argument was in the middle two paragraphs of my comment, which you didn’t address. I’m not suggesting that you are prejudiced (except that you find it hard to relinquish your protestant reliance on Scripture and don’t acknowledge Tradition).

        All the same, I find it hard to understand exactly where you are coming from.

      • Nektarios says:

        John Nolan

        OK Lets look at your central paragraph.

        You wrote: ‘You should , however, be aware that the primitive Church valued Apostolic Tradition over Scripture (hardly surprising, since the canon of the New Testament had not yet been established) and both the unity of the Church and the exclusion of heresy depended on the authority of the clergy, particularly that of the bishops. In the first century St Clement, bishop of Rome, compared the clergy to the officers of the Roman army and said that those who rejected their authority sinned gravely. Writing in AD 107, St Ignatius of Antioch stressed the authority of the bishop as the sole criterion of a legitimate Christian Church.’

        I do not divide the Holy Tradition and Holy Scriptures. They are not separate actually.Scripture is the Authority we have and the Holy Tradition is the outworking of what is revealed through Scriptures.
        It is true in the early Chrisitan Churches, the full canon of the New Testament had not been established in its entirety – but with the Apostles founding the Churches they received the whole teaching and over a short period of time they had the letters or Epistles to the various Churches in their hands. Having received the teaching from the Apostles they knew and understood them, perhaps better and in a more pure spiritual understanding than many do today. Their lives were short and often on the line on account of their faith in Christ.

        Did St Clement write that? I suspect this is a PR job for the clergy within the RCC. You see, John, these divides that came in much later and did not exist as such. There was Bishops and deacons appointed. There was also teachers and preachers and evangelists and helps in the Church as their gifts were made manifest.
        The Bishop was a position of honour chosen by the members of the Church as were the deacons, and those who had gifts of the Spirit were also used.
        Bishops were known to their local churches, not dumped on congregations and unknown as they are today. Same with the same issue of your Cardinals and the Pope or in the Orthodox Church Patriarchs down the ecclesiastical ladder.

        My position is first a Christian. Secondly, theologically, I would call myself a conservative evangelical. I worship within the Orthodox Church, though I don’t agree with all that is said and done.

      • Quentin says:

        Nektarios, this contributions exceeds the word limit of 600. I have not culled it, on this occasion only, because the conversation has continued. But please do not do this again. The extra task I have to check and re-check before I take action is not a welcome chore.

  7. galerimo says:

    Thanks Quentin – my concern with Authority in the Church is the hope that Pope Francis will be able in his time to re – form the curia into an advisory body that connects with the international family of believers.

    Authority and power are not the same thing.

    I think as Catholics we sometimes invest our church authority with more power than it actually has or God even intends for it to have.

    I really don’t need much attention from authority with regard to my personal, immediate, all embracing, deep relationship with God.

    Authority is a function of service in our practice of faith and what is served up to us at times by the church’s authority loses its power if it genuinely fails in service to the community.

    I am very sympathetic towards Hock’s post here. Though for me it can be a gloomy position at times. But don’t you think Subsidiarity does have the appearance of one of those Extinct Glorious Ideas?

    I hope not.

    I love your idea that “Parenthood is an exercise in managed separation” – what a great insight. I have thought about that a lot since reading it.

    Could this be the reason why my house often resembles a Departure Lounge with all the coming and going and general confusion at times!!!!

  8. John Nolan says:

    Quentin, what are the earlier ‘pontifical councils’ of which you say I approve? Pope Paul VI admitted that V2 was a ‘pastoral’ Council, and Benedict XVI decried those who regarded it as a mega-Council and a game-changer. Admittedly you were an adult at the time of the Council whereas I was merely a schoolboy, but have you ever modified your views over the last half-century, particularly in the light of what has happened to the Church in the aftermath of he Council?

    Pope Francis (who on his own admission is a poor administrator) appears to have no real agenda for Curial reform, and even if he has one and lives long enough to push it through, why do you assume it will improve matters?

    I am aware that this is not primarily a liturgical blog (I do contribute to others which are) but if any translation should be controversial it is surely the original ICEL version – cf. last Sunday’s OF Collect; the current version is faithful to the original, the previous version is not even recognizable as the same prayer. I’m not going to quote it; those interested can look it up. The 1998 Sacramentary, regarding which the laity were told virtually nothing, may have been long in preparation but was refused the recognitio of the Holy See and if you read the report you can easily see why. The idea of ‘dynamic equivalence’ set out in ‘Comme le prévoit’ (1969) – a document which was not official, having no Latin version and never having been published in the Acta Apostolicae Sedis – was always controversial and Liturgiam Authenticam was not only overdue but is undoubtedly authoritative.

    I would like to see a genuine enquiry into subsidiarity looked at without prejudice and with an eye to the practicalities of the situation. Excessive centralization produces its own problems; traditionalists who applauded Benedict XVI for his leadership were nonplussed when Francis dealt in a high-handed way with the Franciscans of the Immaculate. Subsidiarity led to episcopal cover-up of clerical sexual abuse and it was left to Ratzinger and the CDF to sort out the mess.

    In dealing with an institution which is two millennia old we need an historical perspective. At the end of the first millennium there was plenty of subsidiarity, and plenty of abuses. A succession of reforming popes changed the situation. Leo IX is an example; in a short papacy (1049-1054) he travelled to Germany, France and northern Italy, holding a succession of great reforming synods which attacked the evils of simony, lay investiture and clerical marriage, and deposed recalcitrant bishops. Yet ultramontanism in the modern sense did not exist in medieval times and subsidiarity seems to have worked for most of the time. What lessons can we learn?

    • Quentin says:

      John, I may have mistaken your meaning. My reference was to:

      ‘A similar spirit is shown in the Synod of Bishops which is held from time to time. Clearly this is a major opportunity for the Magisterium to reflect on aspects of the Church based on their insights and experience and to demonstrate its collegial nature – as the Council expected it to do. Yet under the headquarter’s rules the agenda is set by the Pope, written submissions must be made several weeks beforehand, there is very limited opportunity for debate. The Pope does not issue the recommendations of the synod until after the bishops have gone home. All documents and deliberations are kept confidential. It is a delicious irony that the Secretary of the Asian Synod (1998) – Cardinal Schotte – required the Asian bishops to avoid the word ‛subsidiarity’ in their propositions, and the concept received unfavourable comment in the Synod of 2001. A report on this Synod described the underlying current as reflecting “an overwhelming desire of bishops for change within the Church, so that they might have a greater say in its day-to-day running.” (from my book Autonomy and Obedience in the Catholic Church.)’

      • St.Joseph says:

        I worshipped quite happily years ago in a new parish since 1966, with my husband an family, and a full Church, until a new priest took over from an Order back to the Diocese.
        He changed everything in a matter of months starting off with the Altar Rails the first night.!
        There was no consultation, just mere bullying. Even the Holy Souls Box , then ending with the Tabernacle.
        Is that Autonomy and Obedience?

      • Quentin says:

        St Joseph, that’s a good example. I have no doubt that Canon Law gives the pp ultimate authority in such matters. But a pp who understands subsidiarity would discuss this with his parishioners, explain the reason for his proposals, and take into account their views. He might perhaps end up with the same decision, but we know that, even when an unpopular decision is made, people have found it easier to accept it when they have had their say.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Yes, thank you.

  9. Nektarios says:

    Apologies for going over the 600 word limit and any extra work it may have caused you.

  10. John Nolan says:

    St Joseph’s example, where radical change is imposed on congregations nem. con. is familiar to all of us who were around in the 1960s. Discussion did not come into it – what we had was a revolution imposed from above, very similar to what had happened in the years 1549 to 1552, and within an uncannily similar timescale.

    I get the impression that those who push for subsidiarity (the German bishops for example) start from the proposition that they want to derogate from Church doctrine and argue from there. Hysteron proteron?

    Since this is an important topic, we can start by giving a concrete example of a bishop in England and Wales who wanted to exercise his authority in his own diocese when it was in his power to do so but was thwarted by higher authority. Any takers?

    • St.Joseph says:

      I am not too sure if I am understanding what you are saying here. however I will make an example of what I think you are saying.
      When I watch Holy Mass on EWTN I notice when some people receive Holy Communion they either receive kneeling and some standing or on the tongue.
      When the change came in it was somehow considered that the norm was to receive in the hand and standing.
      At the time one was frowned on if they did not follow the crowd,
      It was not compulsory to stand’ although difficult to knee’ or to receive in ones hand .
      A person was considered to be ‘traditional’ or being awkward for not following the ‘rules’
      This is neither an obligation or a sin. I do what I consider to be right for me!
      We must not be confused with free-will and sin..

      • St.Joseph says:

        I suppose the priest will find it easier if people receive Our Lord standing as he does not have to walk up and down.
        However Jesus did not find it easy Crucified on the Cross!

    • Quentin says:

      Unfortunately, John, such incidents are not publicised, so we have to rely on general statements from those more familiar with the whole picture (see Cardinal König, above). or take Cardinal Kasper “For all these reasons. the relationship between the universal and the local church has become unbalanced. This is not just my experience but the experience and complaint of many bishops around the world.” Cardinal Hume would have agreed when the CDF published a document referring to the invalidity of Anglican Orders, without mentioning it to him first. He had to clear up the mess.

      Hysteron proton? You must be joking having a sense of humour.

      • John Nolan says:

        Quentin, the last thing I would rely on would be general statements by the likes of Cardinal Kasper. His views on the question of Communion for the divorced and remarried were not endorsed by the majority of bishops at the recent synod.

        I do recall, two-and-a-half years ago, Bishop Egan of Portsmouth being taken to task by a lay spokesman of the CBCEW (one Greg Pope, who has a track record of dissent from Church teaching) for merely stating the Church’s position on ‘gay marriage’.

        I also remember Patrick O’Donoghue, bishop emeritus of Lancaster, criticizing the state of Catholic education and getting little support from his brother bishops, who were content to leave it all to the apparatchiks of Eccleston Square.

        If bishops are not given more autonomy in their dioceses then talk of collegiality and subsidiarity is so much hot air. It’s hardly surprising that so many of them are committee-men of mediocre ability.

        Cardinal Hume was perfectly aware of the official position on Anglican orders, and moreover was Archbishop of Westminster when the CofE started ordaining women, which effectively made any general recognition impossible (although validity can be argued on a case-by-case basis). So what precisely was the mess he had to clear up?

  11. G.D. says:

    At the risk of me being even more boringly nonintellectual than i usually am … re-posting this from ‘On the Contrary’ as i think it speaks of authority, power, and the uses of ……

    “The Devil is in the details ad infinite um. As we all know man can justify any particular preference within ‘argument & debate’……. And accepted ‘truth’ changes accordingly.

    What’s the fundamental ethos at stake …. … The church has a mandate to witness to the Word of God. Which necessitates living & witnessing to moral/spiritual truths, and presenting it to the world. As Jesus the Christ did. …….
    Does it/and or it’s members then consider that truth should be turned into a ‘law’ and imposed by hook or crook? It seems so. (Whichever preference is preferred). ….”
    by those with varying degrees of authority lay and cleric alike. This is the way i consider it should be ‘believed’ ‘practised’ so others must comply. And that implies that they can’t know or seek God any other way!

    ” …… What’s the difference between education/imposition, guidance/indoctrination, inculcation/enlightenment? (Real differences! Interestingly some dictionaries treat them as synonyms).

    Is the Church of Christ called to witness to the Truth and allow people to accept or refuse (rejoice when they do and suffer when they don’t)? Or to impose by any worldly means at it’s disposal? …..

    (Thank you Nektarios for answering the above adequately).

  12. Nektarios says:

    Thank you G.D. for your kind words.

    For me, Authority lies in the Head of the Church, The Lord Jesus Christ, whom the Father has given all power into His hands.

    When I look at all the long Church history, not only in the RCC but in all the Churches each with their own views which they have fought and murdered for to impose the will of a few ecclesiastics
    down through the centuries.
    Where tell me, where is their subsidiarity or congeality, that excludes the vast majority of the Church? It does not exist in reality here today, does it?
    More importantly where in all these religious organisation(s) is the Kingdom Of God? Where is the gifts and manifestations of Him that brings men and women out of darkness into His light?

    All this all too earthy religious organisation(s) is just that and nothing else. The objectives have nothing to do with the Kingdom of God or that spiritual life. That is why they resort to type and what they know – the earthy
    building of images of power, which in reality are nothing.

    What so many are building without really realising it, is an earthy kingdom when God is calling us to a heavenly Kingdom wherein righteousness dwells. We cannot say this for all the pretences employed to make it appear holy and righteous.Please note, all the over-the top holy titles these ecclesiastics they give themselves – worse, they believe their own PR and convince others they are actually in possesion of the same spiritual qualities and life. – Utter madness!

  13. Nektarios says:

    Perhaps some may think that what I posted above is too harsh?
    I am well aware among there are the holy ones, seek them out from among you and they will tell you what your soul needs now.

    What use are so many words of ours when it is words from God we need to listen too, hear and act upon.
    It is God who calls forth the Children of God – His Church, His people. There is so much we think we can do, but it is so little.
    God calls on us to hear Him – in the desert, that is in our soul. In the the multiplicity of voices without and within, we cannot hear God but in that desert place, our soul, alone.
    I know, some know a great deal by human standards, but all that is passing, fading and will have to leave it all behind, our ideas our position, our view of ourselves with all the mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly. What matters is our attentiveness and sensitivity to God.
    He calls us, are we hearing Him or listening to voices within and without?
    Let us go to Him, hear Him and spiritually grow, which is quite different than accumulations of knowledge.
    I will stop there.

  14. G.D. says:

    Just a couple of thoughts …. 1. The Institutional church is being ‘run’ (in most cases) as a ‘business’ (world rules & governance) whereas it’s not primarily about that. Yes, use those means but don’t let them be the guiding principals.
    Should it not be an ‘organic’ family of the Spirit, that is given to all it’s members? This is where the ‘ loving parent’ authority is active, rather than the ‘ lordly leaders’.

    2. There is an imbalance within that ‘government’ heavily towards the rational intellectual; other functions are being shut out.
    Maybe this is why so many are ‘leaving’ the religious institution and seeking elsewhere for ‘spiritual’ nourishment?
    Which threatens the status quo and the position of them who consider it their right to ‘dictate’ the ‘ways & means’ of belief/believing, and call it ‘The (only) Faith’ of God. With no concerns for the ‘voices’ of sincere devout disciples. (Just like the politics of our times).
    The ‘leaders’ (and it’s not just clerics) react with more of the same rational/intellectual propositions, presented in differing ways, including social manipulation and ‘spin’. Which drive more people to seek elsewhere the elements that are lacking in a biased rationalistic/intellectual institution … etc etc.
    (Maybe the ‘milk’ considered appropriate, is not the food needed anymore?)

    3. Ego rules (‘my way is the only right way’). Ego (false self) needs to die or it will increase, and the ‘church’ will indeed become the (as it is?) smaller ‘holier’ (than Thou) church mentioned in the press not so long ago.
    4. There needs to be a balance found to include all means and ways of seeking God?
    … & … a need to let go of them all. …. Let God be God.

    5. The ‘poor in spirit’ are not the poverty stricken or ‘ignorant plebs’; it is them that are biased, in one way or another, to the exclusion of all else.

    I believe Pope Francis is trying to address that ‘imbalance’ – and of course getting flack from all.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Are we forgetting all the ‘religious’ organisations who all over the world are doing works of mercy and have done in the past, all those fighting the wars and dying for others, all those helping the poor and hungry , the homeless from earthquakes and natural disasters .
      who are not raising their voices criticising.
      Actions speak louder than words-and hopefully we put our words into action.
      Or the Lord will say ‘Be gone you hypocrites’! Practice what you preach!.

      • G.D. says:

        No, St J. not forgetting them. They are the ‘saints’ within the church.
        A ‘parish worker’ for the last 30 yrs myself that’s been my action.

      • Nektarios says:

        St. Joseph
        Christian people and organisations and Churches the world over are engaged in good works.
        Those who are the Children of God, do not do such works to gain Salvation. It is important to get that clear.
        They do such works because they have new life in Christ and such work he would lead them to do for our fellow-man.

        But there are many other groups, whose motivation do seemingly good works who are neither Christian or religious.

      • St.Joseph says:

        You are not telling me something new.!
        Read LifeSite News today The Holy Father speak about that.
        However There are two kinds of love which would fit your comment, the CCC tells us.
        ‘Perfect Love for God Himself and Imperfect love for ourselves for our Salvation.
        At least they do believe in Salvation of the Soul!!

      • St.Joseph says:

        Thank you.
        My post was for Nektarios.

    • John Nolan says:

      G.D., surely the criticism of the present structure is that it does not model business practices, especially as regards subsidiarity.

      • G.D. says:

        J.N. …….
        Did say ….. as it seems to me they are becoming for many. … “(world rules & governance) whereas it’s (the church is) not primarily about that.”

        Am thinking more of the reasons & ethos for the ‘works’. …. The desire for advancement, advantage, market place cut throat,economical justification, using people as commodities etc, rather than the structures of business.
        Which i know little about and not able to criticise. (Thanks be to God!).
        ” Yes, use those means (if it must be) but don’t let them be the guiding principals.”

      • G.D. says:

        That last line … ” Yes, use those means (if it must be) but don’t let them be the guiding principals.” … Should be after Did say …. in my last post.
        Sorry about that

  15. John Nolan says:

    Subsidiarity as a principle owes much to St Thomas Aquinas, with more than a nod towards Aristotle. Regarding the century in which St Thomas wrote, Brian Tierney observed: ‘In spite of the persistent tendency towards papal centralization, the whole Church … remained in a sense a federation of semi-autonomous units, a union of innumerable greater or lesser corporate bodies. Bishoprics, abbeys, priories, colleges, chantries and guilds, religious orders, congregations and confraternities all contributed to the life of the Church and, equipped with their privileges and immunities, exercised substantial rights of self-government.’

    Tierney is an historian, not a theologian, and his research inclines him to see authority as being more ‘bottom up’ than ‘top down’. This inevitably leads him to question the idea of papal infallibility. Indeed, the tendency towards papal centralization he mentions was in no small measure because the papal curia was more efficient and more developed than the bureaucracies of the nation states of the time, and appeals to Rome were popular and effective.

    However, the medieval situation was a result of evolution, and cannot simply be replicated. Those who look to the papacy to impose subsidiarity from above are in a somewhat paradoxical situation. Tierney’s views at least provide a basis for rational discussion (indeed he disputed, in scholarly and amicable terms, with Fr, later Cardinal, Alfons Stickler). I find it a tad depressing that some of the contributors here seem to have an aversion to both reason and intellectual enquiry. As a result we have missed an opportunity.

    • St.Joseph says:

      John as far as to how I understand what you say I unlike you am not an historian in the way you speak of the Church an how it has moved over the centuries. It is out of my area of learning,although admire you for your knowledge.
      My understanding is that Jesus gave the Power of the Keys to ‘St Peter’upon this Rock.How do we take what Jesus told him in the extreme when we discuss Authority outside ex cathedral.

      • St.Joseph says:

        no l on cathedra”!

      • G.D. says:

        no ‘l’ but a happy mistake ……. the ‘authority’ was to bind or loose, condemn or forgive. Pope Francis is doing his best to imitate Jesus’ example of loosening ex cathedra. Outside the ‘Cathedral’ even!

      • St.Joseph says:

        G.D. Yes.
        I posted my last comment before I saw yours.
        It took me a while to understand Pope Francis, But am beginning to do so now.
        I worried he was ‘loosing’ too much at one time!
        God works in strange and wonderful ways- but so does Satan.
        I believe what he says on Holy Communion for the re-married, This needs to be ‘sorted’!

      • St.Joseph says:

        I say this as one of the messages of Our Lady at Fatima to the children is
        ‘Many marriages are not of God and do not please Our Lord!

        I remember reading somewhere that another message from Our Lady in one of Her apparitions were ‘ It is better if one marries to one in the same religion.!

    • G.D. says:

      Thanks John, very enlightening.
      But was ‘the medieval situation’ really an ‘evolution’?
      I ask because if ‘centrality’ was imposed by a more efficient and more developed bureaucracy upon the the whole church, including those who wished to remain a federation of semi-autonomous units, then it’s a dictate, and oppression, not truly an evolution.
      Which could indicate a break (schism?) with the life of the original apostolic church?
      That continues to this day.

      Appealing to a more efficient ( wealthy and powerful too?) member of a federation for aid is not asking for autonomy to be taken away; no matter how many times it happens.

    • Quentin says:

      The view of secular management psychologists that subsidiarity tends to come from the top. A middle manager under pressure from a demanding boss is inclined to be demanding to his inferiors in order to save his skin. But a ‘subsidiarity’ boss gives an example to others.

      However this does not endanger infallibility because in any organisation there will always be some unquestionable rules. But creeping infallibility will always be a danger.

  16. G.D. says:

    “Those who look to the papacy to impose subsidiarity from above are in a somewhat paradoxical situation” …. Agreed, impossible situation even .
    But the removal of dictates/controls would allow it in certain situations. Which is easily accomplished.

  17. St.Joseph says:

    I very often think about my mother and the things she used to say to us as children.
    ‘You are getting too big for your boots’ and ‘Going beyond yourself’ and you will do as I say as long as you live in this house and When you live on your own you can then do as you please, and there was no answering back.
    She was not a bossy lady but lay down the rules.
    Nevertheless we respected her and knew how to bring up our children, However with love and not with the ‘rod’!.

    • G.D. says:

      You had a good loving mother, sadly many are not. Love and boundaries we need as children.
      Bet she respected you too as you got older, listened and let you have more of a say too.

  18. John Nolan says:


    I didn’t say centralization was ‘imposed’ in the crude sense of the word, but that the tendency was given impetus by the fact that in the 12th and 13th centuries the papal curia was more ‘modern’ and efficient than its secular counterparts, and if there was a conflict of interest (inevitable when you have semi-autonomous communities) people had recourse to help (subsidium) from higher authority. Secular rulers also looked to the papacy for prestige and support. The whole idea of subsidiarity rests on a hierarchy of authority; it is not co-terminous with fragmentation.

    The Great Schism, which began in the late 14th century, lasted 39 years, and resulted in the unsavoury situation of the Church having three popes simultaneously, did not greatly affect the lives of the faithful. This can be seen as testifying to the strength of local institutions. However, the papacy never regained the power and prestige it had enjoyed in the High Middle Ages, and the emergence of bureaucratically efficient nation states in the early modern age accelerated the decline as it increasingly pitted Church against State.

    Today the Church-State divide is wider than ever, not least because liberal western democracies have, in a matter of decades, turned their backs on three thousand years of Judaeo-Christian morality; and if opinion polls are to be believed even ‘self-inentifying’ Catholics embrace the nostrums of the new secular ‘morality’ and reject the teachings of their own Church (if indeed they are aware of them – we now have two generations of badly-catechized Catholics).

    I see no evidence that ‘the Vatican’ has the means or the will to micro-manage ecclesiastical affairs, and (which is ominous) there is no evidence of any spiritual strength or defined purpose in the mainstream local Church either. It bodes ill.

    • G.D. says:

      There are ‘communities’ lay and ecclesial (many, if not most, Catholic) around he country that do embody a serious religious and moral spiritual life, John, and are strong within it. Too ‘autonomous’ and of ‘dubious practices’ for the likes of the more ‘traditionalist’ worshipper maybe, but sincere in following Jesus and seeking God. Not as ‘main stream’ as it used to be maybe, but many of the members still worship, work and witness in main stream parishes.
      That is a modern evolution of the Christian faith from the bottom up.

      If they were embraced and not seen as a threat to ‘authority’ and the ‘status quo’ ………. ?? Well …. Don’t know what would happen, but certainly an less authoritarian church, with more subsidiarity. Probably a membership much more willing and open to ‘teachings’ too.
      But, as usual, i wax lyrical from things seen and heard during life, and have no ‘hard data’ to offer.

      I don’t see bad catechises as the reason why people are less enamoured with ‘church’. (Or for the depletion of general social morality).
      Over the last thirty years or so i have ‘catechised’ many, children and adults, in my parish. Some children of previous children now adults. Including the C.C.C. content and doctrine etc. Know of many others who have done so too.
      Suspect the cause(s) are myriad, but i don’t know.

      People are still hungry and thirsty for ‘God’ though and waking up to the need for a decent moral approach to life. Thanks be to God.
      Sadly most in ‘alternative’ spirituality of one sort or another. But not all bad!

  19. John Nolan says:

    The genius of the Roman Church in assimilating grass-roots enthusiasm rather than rejecting it was recognized by Macaulay in his famous essay of 1840.

    In the current climate a group would have to be seriously at odds with Church teaching to find itself excluded. There is also undoubted spiritual vigour and no shortage of vocations in ‘traditionalist’ organizations, but mainstream Catholicism continues to decline in its historic heartlands.

    It is difficult not to see the present crisis as being worse than that posed by the Protestant Reformation. Fifty years after the Confession of Augsburg, the Church had radically reformed her institutions, clarified her doctrines, discovered a new spiritual vigour, and had arguably won the intellectual argument. Fifty years after a Council (Vatican II) which promised renewal we see few signs of it.

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