Autority in the Church

From Mr. Timothy Dufort

Sir: May I offer some thoughts on the prospects before us, arrived at during Church Unity Week after long reflection on nearly 20 years of work in this field?

Much excitement has been aroused by the Agreed Statement on Authority in the Church. Although reservations have been expressed on many sides, notably in correspondence in The Times and by Cifford Longley in your columns, it is seen by very many as a watershed in Anglican-Roman Catholic relations, and as an occasion of real optimism for the future. I find it hard to share that optimism; and I fear that the statement may serve, instead, to make Catholics relax their efforts to arrive at that proper understanding of the problems of authority which is a precondition of their solution. The authority of bishops is accepted by those of the catholic tradition as a mandate given by Christ. The primacy of charity and service of the bishops of Rome was once recognised by all Christians as God’s will for the Church. But the authority of patriarchs and metropolitans over the churches in their regions is seen as assigned to them by men (se para 10-12 of the agreed Statement): as a juridical power granted by the Church itself.

The pope is also patriarch of the Latin Church, which for historical reason has spread by missionary activity all over the earth. It is not as pope but as my patriarch that the bisop of Rome appoints my bishop. It is as a patriarchal see that Rome regulates my liturgical practices. But because Latins form the huge majority of those now in communion with Rome, most of them wrongly identify the Latin with the universal Church; so that when the vernacular liturgy was introduced Catholics everywhere were heard deploring the loss of the «universal language of the Church» — as though Greek. Old Slavonic, Arabic, Geez Armenian and many others were not of equal standing. In the same way most Catholics think of clerical celibacy as a requirement of the Catholic Church and not as what it is, a local Latin regulation.

In the centuries since the schism between east and west the Latin patriarchate has become so confused in men’s minds with the primacy of the Pope that the proper distinctions have been forgotten, and Rome — sometimes in the person of the Pope but often by its functionaries & has assumed patriarchal powers over all Christians of its communion.

I belive it, is most profound mistake to imagine that communion can ever be restored between Anglicans and Roman Catholics, or between east and west, until this confusion is resolved, and until it is recognised that other churches that the Latin can live in communion with Rome, in unity of faith, and yet in full autonomy. The model is before our eyes in the Orthodox churches, which with no central government have preserved the ancient faith and bonds of communion since the time of Christ.

But this recognition will require a fundamental change in the position taken by our leaders. In The Guardian of 20 January Bishop Butler, commenting on the Agreed Statement, wrote «We have found room for a Ukrainian Catholic Church in England… There is no reason why Westminister and Lambeth should not coexist in full mutual communion but with their separate autonomies…» In fact, no more disastrous parallel can be imagined. Promised at the Union of Brest Litovsk in 1596 that their church would retain its autonomy, a promise twice confirmed by papal decree, the Ukrainian Catholics have always been treated by Rome as subjects of the Latin patriarchate. Bishop Butler must know that the Ukrainians in England are by Vatican ruling forbidden the ministry of married priests, guaranteed to them for ever by Clement VIII in the decree Decret Romanum Pontificem of 1596. He cannot be unaware that they are denied the synodal government promised them by that decree. Is this, then, a model of what the Anglicans are to expect? Even the Melkites, most independent of the eastern Catholic churches, have suffered gratly and still suffer; so that their present Patriarch could say «regarded by the Orthodox as traitors, we found that Rome allowed us no more than a pseudoautonomy» (conference in Milan. 14 April 1970), and so that when during the Vatican Council I asked one of their bishops how he found Pope Paul he replied «vous savez, monsieur, c’est Jules Cesar en soutane.» Reunion on terms like these is unthinkable today.

It will be asked how the views here expressed can be reconciled with the universal and ordinary jurisdiction which Vatican attributed to the popes. Fr. Robert Murry. SJ. has suggested (that Almanach, 1970) that this jurisdiction might eventually be seen to belong to the context of the Latin church. I would like to offer another tentative solution.

If patriarchal authority is juridical in nature, an assignment made by the Church, is not papal jurisdiction (as distinct from primacy) of the same, hunan, order? If so, then the conciliar decree does not permanently bind the Church. Made without consultation with those churches with which we now seek reunion, it was inappropriate; and sould be undone.

Clifford Longley, (The Tablet, 22 January), anxious to change the folk memory of the English people, calls for magnanimous symbolic actions from the Roman Catholic side; a red hat for Michael Ramsey; a Week of Intercommunion. But cosmetics are not enough, and I suggest that the only way to lay the ghosts of the past and clear away the stumbling-blocks of the future is for the Pope to renounce all claims to juridical power over churches other than the Latin; saving always the papal primacy and unity in faith. Such a course would give peace to the eastern Catholics and bring union with the Orthodox much closer. The Anglicans could reconcile reunion with their folk memories, and the declaration of Article XXXVII that: «The bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this realm of England» would be seen in a new perspective.

If in making such a renunciation the Pope declared it a precedent for autonomous national churches, which could as time goes on be formed from within the present Latin church, we might look forward to a future in which the Pope his role no longer distorted by the day-in-day administration of the largest church on earth, with its vast apparatus of entrenched and selfperpetuating functionaries, would be seen by all as the true inheritor of Christ’s commands to Peter: «feed my sheep», «confirm your brothern.»

nr Macclesfield

Timothy Dufort

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