The limits of the papacy
During the preparation of the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Pope Paul VI proposed that the constitution’s discussion of papal primacy include the affirmation that the Pope is “accountable to the Lord alone.” This suggestion was rejected by the Council’s Theological Commission, which wrote that “the Roman Pontiff is also bound to revelation itself, to the fundamental structure of the Church, to the sacraments, to the definitions of earlier councils, and other obligations too numerous to mention.” Pope Paul quietly dropped his proposal.
Yet the image persists that the Catholic Church is a kind of global corporation, with the pope as CEO, the bishops as branch managers, and your parish priest as the local salesman. And according to that image, the pope not only knows what’s going on all the way down the line, he gives orders that are immediately obeyed all the way down the line. Or, to vary the misimpression, the Church is like the United States Marine Corps—there, at least according to legend, when the Commandant issues an order, everyone from the highest-ranking four-star to the lowliest Parris Island recruit staples a salute to his forehead and does what he’s told.
This distorted and distorting image of the pope as dictatorial CEO or Marine commandant is, admittedly, reinforced by the language of the Code of Canon Law. Thus Canon 331 states that the “Bishop of the Church of Rome … has supreme, full, immediate and universal ordinary power in the Church, and he can always freely exercise that power.” Yet, while, both theology and law tells us that the pope enjoys the fullness of executive, legislative, and judicial authority in the Church, his exercise of that power is circumscribed by any number of factors.
It is circumscribed by the authority and prerogatives of local bishops, According to the teaching of Vatican II, bishops are not simply branch-managers of Catholic Church, Inc.; rather, they are the heads of local Churches with both the authority and the responsibility to govern them. Moreover, the pope.....[continue reading Weigel at the Denver Catholic Register]
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The obedient are not held captive by Holy Mother Church; it is the disobedient who are held captive by the world!