Leon J. Podles :: DIALOGUE

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Ecclesia semper reformanda

March 24th, 2013 · 32 Comments

John O’Malley’s book Trent: What Happened at the Council has many surprises.

His is one of the few (perhaps four) people alive who have read all the dozens of volumes of the proceedings  of the Council of Trent. As Trent’s decisions were framed as laws, it is not easy to understand them without understanding the legislative history – and even popes have misunderstood what Trent really said. For example, it did not intend to settle the question of the wider vs. the narrower canon of the Bible. Trent was, all things considered, irenic. It did not condemn Reformers or their books by name. It also focused on external actions, “If anyone says such and such, let him be anathema, If anyone does such and such…”; not ”If anyone believes…” or “If anyone thinks….”

One reform that Trent took up still has not been fully implemented: a bishop should be resident in his diocese. There are hundreds of bishops in Rome and other cities who carry out administrative duties and are not ordinaries of the diocese. There should be one, and only one bishop, in a diocese, including the diocese of Rome.

Rome’s habit of making bishop and archbishop an honorary title distorts the role of the bishop in the church, which is to oversee a local church. Rome is full of herds of wandering bishops, archbishops, and cardinals, who push papers for a few hours (or watch subordinates think about pushing papers for a few hours) and then occupy seats in coffee shops and restaurants and plot against one another, when they are not up to worse mischief.

There is no theological reason why Vatican bureaucrats have to be bishops, or even priests. The only practical reason is to indulge the snobbery of other bishops, who look down upon mere priests and laity. When Christoph Schönborn, then a Dominican priest and theologian, was given the task of writing the new catechism, he had to write to all the bishops of the world for their opinions. John Paul consecrated Schönborn an auxiliary bishop of Vienna, because bishops would not deign to answer the letter of a mere priest.

My proposal for the reform of the papal curia: send almost all bishops and priests out to work in dioceses. Staff the Vatican with deacons, lay men, and lay women (and lay men and probably lay women could be cardinals, if that were deemed necessary). Also, make Italian, English, and Spanish the three working languages of the Vatican, and specify that to begin working there one must be competent in two of the three and learn the third within five years.  Also, discourage people from making a career of working at the Vatican by rotating them home periodically.

Perhaps after another ecumenical council and in another 500 years, with massive pressure, some of these reforms could be enacted. But I know the power of entrenched bureaucracy.

Tags: Uncategorized · Vatican

32 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Tony de New York // Mar 24, 2013 at 8:54 am

    ‘My proposal for the reform of the papal curia: send almost all bishops and priests out to work in dioceses. Staff the Vatican with deacons, lay men, and lay women (and lay men and probably lay women could be cardinals, if that were deemed necessary).’


  • 2 John Weidner // Mar 24, 2013 at 10:42 am

    Your thinking also fits the Information Age. Top-down management by a few insiders was always very inefficient But it was necessary when it was difficult for organizations to process information. Management in the Industrial Age and before always tried to throttle-back the flow of input. Schönborn had to be a bishop because the bishops were (and are) filtering out 99% of the information that wants to get to them.

    This is no longer necessary. I can sit with a cup of coffee in the morning and scan most of the interesting developments happening in the global Church. If there’s something cooking in the scandals, or the subject of men in the churches, Podles will light up in my RSS reader—Leon is scanning through vast amounts of data and packaging it for me. It’s like I have a hundred high-quality research assistants. And they themselves each have a flock of researchers, who in turn are wired into other researchers. And all of them are trying very hard to make their thoughts clear and concise, knowing that there is fierce competition for our attention. (Thanks for the tip on O’Malley’s book, O valued researcher! It’s on its way, without my rising from my chair.)

    Priests and bishops are now in many ways specialists in managing institutions. Much of their time and training goes to that. But it is no longer necessary, and they could go back to their real job, “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” But they will cling to the old ways. Like most people, they would rather die than re-think.

  • 3 cm // Mar 24, 2013 at 12:05 pm

    Unfortunately, all the ideas of Greek theologian Zizioulas are in the ascendancy, including the primacy of bishops - to the exclusion of laity and priests to my mind. His ideas are now being pushed at CUA with the new eastern leaning dean as well as Zizioulas’ friend, professor McPartlan. CUA is trying to hire an expert in eastern spirituality, with all its high rhetoric of priesthood, ascetical striving. etc. Francis is attracting the eastern leaders but what will that mean? An expert I know says the eastern bishops are gay in the main, their boy priests who do not marry taken into their residences to groom. The main problem with the papacy is the same as that of bishops: the theology in documents that says they HAVE the Holy Spirit in His Person, not like the laity who only have sanctifying grace. That came after Trent but the model of the bishop emperor was around during the age of the Patristics which are hailed in academic circles as the answer to everything wrong with the Church. If Francis does not dissolve the grip of the ideologue theologians behind talks with the eastern churches and those ruling congregations for bishops and priest, no laity will ever make it into the ranks of leadership. Can he make a difference in his reign that won’t be undone 10 minutes after he leaves, is the question. It will be a miracle because the people he is friends with in his past work in congregations are very sloppy in their theology and they are very influential. Also, cleaning up the Vatican is nothing if the papal armadas now leading universities and seminaries worldwide aren’t dissolved. They are pumping out wacky theology and priests and bishops.

  • 4 Mary // Mar 24, 2013 at 12:14 pm

    “(and lay men and probably lay women could be cardinals, if that were deemed necessary)”
    Now this is a great idea, especially since one would find it next to impossible to find a wanna be female careerist cleric ( mainly nuns ) who did not have the LGBT and pro abortion /comtraception agenda on her hit parade of prioritzed transformations for Catholicism!
    Considering that most of the litigated sexual abuse by clerics consist of homosexual acts of forced sodomy and that certain activist groups like NAMBLA wish to lower tha age of consent they could create a “love” fest church of unheard of proportions! “…worse than Sodom and Gomorrah.”
    As friends were repeatedly told by same sex attracted priests who gathered in the rectories where they worked ,”Love is love!”
    Funny thing though. I was informed
    their brand of “love” meant all things sexual and did not apply to actually comforting the sick, being readily available for Sacramental service or giving time talent and financial aid to the poor of their parishes.That was left to the laity, especially to the willing little old ladies whose piety they were often heard mocking.
    Rather, these ‘men’ are extremely self indulgent and in private enjoy expensive food liquor clothing, furnishings, trips and spa services while giving the opposite in lip service for the pubic relation “image”. The latest trend ,i am told , is for the priests NOT to reside in the rectories but in private residences .The location is kept unknown to their parishoners because these poor overworked clerics unlike St John Vianny ,”… need to have their down time.”
    On the otherhand, sending more Bishops home might open up cases for the ones who find Vatican State immunity a great comfort.

  • 5 Father Michael Koenig // Mar 24, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    cm, which branch of the Orthodox Church was the expert you know refering to when he said most of “their” bishops are gay? Each national branch, or “autocephalis church”, is self governing and somewhat distinct. As well, each exist in a different cultural and political milieu. So, for example, I could believe this maybe of the Greeks but not of the Russians.

    The monarchical bishop was the norm very early (at least the mid 100’s AD). Given this and the fact it has persisted to the present day, one is faced with the question of where the Holy Spirit was for more than 1,000 years if this form of church governance is absolutely off base.

    The power of bishops in ancient times, and in some areas later, must be seen in the context of an episcopacy whose members were elected and could be deposed.

    Of course, laity are better educated and informed now than ever and so present the church with new possibilities for lay involvement.

  • 6 Crowhill // Mar 24, 2013 at 7:12 pm

    If Trent “did not intend to settle the question of the wider vs. the narrower canon of the Bible,” then are you saying the canon of the Bible is still an open question?

  • 7 Mary // Mar 24, 2013 at 7:18 pm

    When you refer to “eastern Bishops”are you referring to Orthodox or Catholic?
    The latter I might believe having known several and far too many of their priests.The former I would take issue with since the Orthodox have taken a clear stand against hx’s serving at the altar and the majority of their priests are married with children. I have heard some speak out against the effeminate that sought Ordination.

    “The power of bishops in ancient times, and in some areas later, must be seen in the context of an episcopacy whose members were elected and could be deposed.”
    Absolutely Fr and I would love to see the Church return to the ancient practice wherein the Church community and it’s Elders still had the authority to depose. Arguments for the Liturgists of the Vatican Two mindset state they sought a return to ancient Church practices. I wonder how many them would go for this?

  • 8 Anonymous // Mar 24, 2013 at 8:02 pm

    Coptic Orthodox perspective on homosexuality and the priesthood.


  • 9 TheAltonRoute // Mar 24, 2013 at 8:31 pm

    There’s a lot of information on the internet but how does one interpret this information? The vast amount of info on the web, in my opinion, is making a few people more intelligence and the vast majority of people less intelligent.

    The Church needs to abolish bishops’ conferences and narrow the distance between clerics and the laymen whom the former supposedly serve. I also have heard about the trend away from rectories. I am not surprised. We seem to be moving in the direction of lay staffers running the lower levels of the Church because the priest/sister managers don’t want to be bothered with parishioners. Tradition in Action has reported on the growth of lay-led funeral in England. This is incredibly pathetic. Get the laity off the altar! No more eucharistic ministers, lay lectors, etc.

  • 10 James Kabala // Mar 24, 2013 at 8:48 pm

    It’s interesting to wonder how the curial hierarchy would have developed had there not been a Muslim conquest of the Middle East or a schism between Rome and Constantinople - besides all the more obviously earth-shaking consequences of those two events, there could hardly be titular bishops of Ephesus and Carthage etc. if there were still genuine Catholic bishops in those cities.

  • 11 admin // Mar 25, 2013 at 6:11 am


    You are making up the story about Jewish chairs, aren’t you? Was Feeney really that crazy?

  • 12 admin // Mar 25, 2013 at 6:12 am

    Apparently Trent did not decide the precise status of the deuterocanonical books, as saints had come down on both sides of the question.

  • 13 Anonymous // Mar 25, 2013 at 7:41 am

    Lee, Please explain the “Jewish Chairs” and Fr Feeney. Mother Teresa of his Order of nuns was a dear friend of mine. An extremely logical clear headed Catholic I have been hard pressed to remember.She and her nuns cared for Fr Feeney up until his death and their convent was a lovingly and happy truly Christian residence . Near the end of her life we spoke on the phone and she told me of a certain Traditional priest who came for an extended visit ,spoke at length privately with her younger nuns and caused dissention and problems there which she felt was intentionally created.I was told the same by Malachi Martin who was in touch with numerous priests and religious in other traditional parishes around the country.
    BTW ,even Gary Potter seemed bias against the Feenyites imho. Fr Feeney upheld the Dogma of Extra Ecclesiam

  • 14 Anonymous // Mar 25, 2013 at 7:44 am

    cont nulla salus.Yet no one seems to repeat what he often stated after speaking about this Dogma.
    That was ,” Of course we always believe in God’s Mercy.”

  • 15 James Kabala // Mar 25, 2013 at 7:48 am

    I posted a follow-up comment in the correct thread after having found the article. My memory was slightly off - it was more a tirade against modern art and architecture in general, filtered through an anti-Jewish lens. If you Google “Bauhaus chair,” you do turn up some pretty hideous specimens. So his interesting instincts may have been correct, but they’re buried in anti-Jewish invective.

  • 16 James Kabala // Mar 25, 2013 at 7:49 am

    His “artistic instincts,” not his “interesting instincts” - not sure where that slip of the keyboard came from.

  • 17 Mary // Mar 25, 2013 at 8:11 am

    Could someone give an accurate explanation of the politics both in and outside of the Catholic Church in South America regarding Liberation Theology and its relationship to Opus Dei? Perhaps Lee Penn?

    To understand the historical formation of Pope Francis and what to expect from his Pontificate , we need to understand the political views that are sourced to the hackneyed press reporting about his concern for the poor .Who cares that he chose to ride public transportation? What did he do to help the thousands who were tortured murdered and disappeared during the Dirty War?
    The Catholic Press pumped up the image of the late Pope John Paul .His persona was shrouded in stories about his concern for the Jews during the Holocaust yet the genocide of our neighbors in S America seems to have been a nontopic of concern of Catholicism here.It seems that Communism is mixed bag of pros and cons coming from the Vatican depending on whose agenda is behind it.


  • 18 Sibyl // Mar 25, 2013 at 8:20 am

    While the SCOTUS justices, who are political appointees, pretend to deliberate ’same-sex marriage’, the pansexual activists have scored another victory with the (spiritually-blind) fathers of the APA groups (Pyschology and Psychiatry) who have decided that new DSM-5 will no longer classify anyone as ‘gender disordered’ but have normalized ‘transgender’ as a legitimate ‘orientation.’

    The pedofiles have been lobbying this erstwhile group of elites to normalize their orientation as ‘ingenenerational’ and ‘minor-oriented’.

    Next up, will be the ‘inter-species’ orientation (bestiality) and ‘intra-famial’ orientation (incest) and ‘multiple’ orientation (polygamy).

    The fathers of science and government and in many cases, the church, have become completely untethered to Scripture, 4000 years of Judeo-Christian wisdom, and even to science, statistics, clinical medicine and reality. They are completely politicized to the wishes of a few depraved and disoriented noisy 1.5% who happen to have a conditioned emotional attraction to persons of the same sex and a smaller percentage who feel discomfort about their ‘gender’.

    This is a world and church gone mad…over sexual feelings and a false sense of justice and rights…and arbitrary sexual rights seem to trump all other.

  • 19 Mary // Mar 25, 2013 at 9:37 am

    Frankly, after researching Cardinal Pio Laghi ,his Vatican immunity when the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo wanted him extradicted and his “Cappuchino” meetings as nuncio here in order to garner monies for the Solidarity Opus Dei effort in Poland for the alleged downfall of communism ,I was waiting for this to come up.Couple this with the revelation that Walesa was a communist informant in the seventies and you really have a brain twist.





    “Meanwhile, in Washington a close relationship developed between Casey, Clark and Archbishop Laghi. “Casey and I dropped into his [Laghi’s] residence early mornings during critical times to gather his comments and counsel,” says Clark. “We’d have breakfast and coffee and discuss what was being done in Poland. I’d speak to him frequently on the phone, and he would be in touch with the Pope.” Says Laghi, “They liked good cappuccino. Occasionally we might talk about Central America or the church position on birth control. But usually the subject was Poland.”

  • 20 Mary // Mar 25, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    This is the anti religion of the Kabbalah Cabala
    Qabbālâ,or is it rightly spelled Kabala?

  • 21 TheAltonRoute // Mar 25, 2013 at 3:34 pm


    Interesting article:

    Chossudovsky and Tarpley come to opposite conclusions on Bergoglio, so I guess Bergoglio’s a mystery man for the time being.

    My theory on Vatican II at the moment is that the Council was sabotaged by the Anglo-American cabal (which included apparently quite a few in the KGB and the Soviet Union as well). If PVI was trying to orient the Church away from the US-UK-Soviet axis, perhaps, in response, the Anglo-American cabal detonated a bomb inside the Church. The two-pronged attack on the Church has included right and left-wing attacks, which could be represented by Opus Dei on the right and the adherents of liberation theology on the left. No doubt the Church has been sabotaged in Latin America, as it presented a threat to the power of the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union. Imagine perhaps one or two countries in all of Spanish-speaking Latin America with the Church as a uniting force versus the present Balkanized small states with a weak Catholic presence. A united Spanish-speaking country and Brazil could have been first-rate world powers.

  • 22 Oso Pious // Mar 25, 2013 at 6:27 pm

    According to the Church dogma, all the books in the Canon are inspired. It does NOT say that all the inspired books are in the Canon! Therefore there might be some books that are inspired but not in the Canon, like the Gospel of Thomas. I think we should stop being so “picky” about what Pope Francis did or didn’t do in his past life in Argentina. For God’s sake, please be grateful that he is our new Pope and give him a fair chance!

  • 23 Sophie // Mar 25, 2013 at 9:53 pm

    Viva Le France!


  • 24 Mary, // Mar 26, 2013 at 9:19 am

    Great article Alton.
    Apparently the global battle continues.

  • 25 Mary Ann // Mar 26, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    Maybe Pope Francis, in his decision to live at the guesthouse, is more worried about the bugs that may be at the Papal apartments rather than about poverty. I would think that poverty is having to live alone in those papal apartments!

  • 26 Mary Ann // Mar 26, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    I meant electronic listening devices, not insects, of course.

  • 27 mary ann // Mar 27, 2013 at 12:52 pm

    Yes, the Church should be envangelistic and bring Christ to the most distant and in need. But those most in need are in her own pews. The post-abortive who never heard any teaching, but suffer the consequences. The victimized young who are told it is love. Those who are driven underground or away because of horrible homilies, heresy, and liturgy that tramples on a spirit of worship. Those who have never heard a word of Catholic doctrine (which is most) and live accordingly, and their lives and families suffer horrendously they know not why. There is a desert in the Church. Time enough to embrace Muslims later. He is a good man, but I fear the naivete of his instincts. Even St. Francis was deceived and betrayed, and it took the pope to clear it up. Not wearing the ring of the fisherman sends a powerful sign. Living surrounded by a few for company sake risks abandoning the many. Sort of like priests with their cadres of adoring parishioners, who never look to the needs of the parish. We’ll see.

  • 28 mary ann // Mar 28, 2013 at 9:23 am

    His Chrism Mass gave a good meaning to “the edges.” But why do we ignore that Christ first of all meant sin, not troubles and problems.

  • 29 Joseph D'Hippolito // Mar 28, 2013 at 11:15 pm

    Ecclesia semper reformanda…

    When applied to Catholicism, it makes as much sense as “jumbo shrimp.”

  • 30 cm // Apr 8, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    MA, I never met a Jesuit who is naive. The article below shows he was meeting sin and the heart of darkness in the slums. He also repeatedly has asked priests to keep the confessionals open longer - he sees this priestly act as the center of identity for priests. Also, I can’t decide what is worse, the horrible folk music my parish used to have or the turgid, wailing operatic Gregorian chant we suffer through now; the loosey goosey liturgies or the current lacey Kung Fu gestured Kabuki shows we now have; the old feel good homilies or the “you are going to hell tomorrow” homilies we get repeatedly now. His daily homilies are on the net. Check them out. I think we are going to get a course correction, Jesuit style. He’s about 10 chess moves ahead of everybody. I just want to see him take down the complicit bishops and soon. That is the big question.


  • 31 mary ann // Apr 8, 2013 at 7:11 pm

    I agree, cm. I put up that post a long time ago.

  • 32 Mary, // Apr 10, 2013 at 8:10 am

    Take down the Bishops? I’m waiting for the active HX fake Latin Trads to get out of town!
    Voris just did a video about a priest snubbing and then getting rid of altar boys who knelt for Communion.

    The “Image and bucks” priests here are ten steps ahead of all this. They brag in the rectories about the big donors who like their Traditional Latin show while laughing at their lavish dinner parties about the confessions they have to endure. Some parents and their altar boy son’s are catching on though, as are the employees in the parishes and they are leaving albeit ,very mysteriously to the Latin devotees who still have no clue just who and what is officiating at their Masses.
    They are active HX priests and their school and rectory employees are disgusted.
    Not everyone is buying into the false public pious demonstrations.
    I wish it all was as simple to figure out as Voris makes it appear to be and I am so tired of hearing this or that priest is ’so holy” from the naive pew people who only judge
    by the externals .Only Jesus Christ reads hearts.I think you really have to know the private lives of these men ,who they fraternize with and what they do and say outside of the Catholic public eye.
    Barring a miracle ,I am not expecting big changes on the local level ,no matter what the Pope does or says.

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