At a Spanish university's canon law conference, the Vatican's head for doctrinal matters spoke this week about collegiality and unity in the Church, emphasizing their orientation to evangelization.
The speech by Archbishop Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, focused on Church structures and served as a commentary on Pope Francis' Nov. 24 apostolic exhortation “Evangelii gaudium,” in which he discussed a “conversion of the papacy” and “sound 'decentralization.'”
“A readjusting of independence and collaboration with the local Churches, of episcopal collegiality and of the Primacy of the Pope will enable us not to lose site of the transcendent need for the question of God,” Archbishop Müller explained Jan. 20 at the St. Vincent Martyr Catholic University of Valencia.
“The life of the Church cannot be concentrated in this way on the Pope and his Curia, as if what happens in parishes, communities and dioceses were something secondary. An exaggerated centralization in administration does not help the Church but instead impedes her missionary dynamic.”
The archbishop, who will be made a cardinal at next month's consistory, was speaking during the university's 12th annual conference on canon law; his speech was titled “Collegiality and the Exercise of Supreme Power in the Church.”
Calling a “reform” of papal primacy pertinent to the new evangelization, Archbishop Müller said that “a Church which only revolves around her own structural problems would be dreadfully archaic and unconnected to the world, for in her being and mission she is nothing other than the Church of the triune God, the origin and destiny of every man and of the entire universe.”
“Communion and mission are the two elements that constitute the community of the disciples of Jesus as the sign and instrument of the unity of mankind with God and with one another. Therefore, the Church is essential one, as a servant and mediator of that union.”
He clarified, however, that “Evangelii gaudium” is a “corrective,” and has “not given a signal for a change of direction or revolution in the Vatican,” criticizing “superficial interpretations.”
“What interests the Pope is an overcoming both of lethargy and of resignation to extreme secularization, and bringing to an end the debilitating disputes within the Church between traditionalist and progressive ideologies.”
“'Evangelii gaudium' desires interior reunification in the Church, so that the People of God, in their missionary service, may not be an obstacle to a humanity that is in need of salvation and help.”
Archbishop Müller cited civil wars, terrorism, poverty, the situation of refugees, and pornography among the “global and daily tragedies” that give the Church “the momentous task of giving new hope to humanity.”
He emphasized that “separatist tendencies and arrogant behavior will only hurt the Church”, and that it is part of the Church's holiness that bishops are united “with and under Peter,” decrying a “power struggle” between centralist and particularist views of the Church.
The Church, he said, “is not a federation of national Churches or a global alliance of confessionally related ecclesial communities, which respect, by human tradition, the Bishop of Rome as an honorary president,” but is what both “testifies to, and realizes, the unity of peoples in Christ.”
Church unity, Archbishop Müller said, comes from Christ, who established the apostles and their successors, adding that nationality, language and culture are not “constitutive principles” of the Church.
This vision would end in “a secularized and politicized Church, different only in degree from an NGO.”
“The invitation of the Pope to a renewed perception of the Collegiality of Bishops is contrary to a relativization of the service which Christ entrusted directly to him.”
The doctrine chief explained that the college of bishops “serves the Church's unity,” founded on Christ, and that “a bishop can only be pastor of a local Church, and not president of a federation of regional and continental ecclesial alliances.”
He added that national conferences “cannot be a pure objective principle” in the Church, for the office of bishop is essentially one of “personal testimony”: therefore “the principle of the unity of the episcopacy itself is incarnated in a person.”
Bishops' ministry, he reflected, should be seen as “a sacramental reality” and not “confused with the service of a moderator of purely human associations.”
Concluding his talk, Archbishop Müller reminded those gathered that the Church “is not the Light,” but exists to give testimony “to the Light which illumines every man, Jesus Christ,” and that “despite all the storms and strong winds, the barque of Peter must raise again the sails of joy, for Jesus is with us.”