papal sealAnnouncing that the Roman Curia will be transformed root-and-branch, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said that “Roman centralism” will come to an end. What Pope Francis’ eight Cardinal-Advisers discussed, said Lombardi, was “subsidiarity.”

Whoa!

Subsidiarity, a cornerstone of Catholic social doctrine for over a century, means that the functions of society, and of government in particular, should be carried out at the most local level possible. In recent years, it’s been used (some would say abused) by conservatives to argue against state welfare programs and regulatory policy.

That note, indeed, is struck in Catechism #1883:

Socialization also presents dangers. Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative. The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co- ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.”

Now, it seems, Pope Francis will be applying the idea to the church itself.

Under Pastor Bonus (The Good Shepherd), the 1998 Apostolic Constitution regulating the Curia, increased papal centralization became the order of the post-Vatican II day. Under a forthcoming Pastor Melior, the operative principle would appear to be that whatever can be handled at the local ecclesiastical level will be handled there.

What that means remains to be seen, of course. In the early church, bishops were chosen and saints were made by popular acclaim. Those days are, presumably, gone forever. But curial domination of the world-wide church is about to  be dialed back in a major way.

Categories: Institutions

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Mark Silk

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life.

2 Comments

  1. This is not actually that radical and for the most part, this is what happens now. The local ordinary is the Vicar of Christ for the local church. The Pope, the spiritual and moral head of the Church, has its own diocese; the diocese of Rome. While this is not the same as primus inter pares as you see in the Eastern Church, it does call for the local bishops to be the principle shepherds of their local churches in the matters of faith and morals. This does not mean however that Bishops can just do whatever they want and change church teaching but they are the primary teachers for their people in their dioceses.

  2. “Curial domination”….where is this great big boogie man?? what are the terrible consequences of this “domination”? why is it that you never address ACTS? why do you always attack PEOPLE? Isn’t this judging?

    Does anyone believe that the prof would attack the church every other day if they were liberal? Or if catholics were only 2% of the population instead of 25%? what is so special about the catholic church that they deserve so much derision?

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