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Excerpts: Authority in the Churchnext

lack of representation
  Lack of representation in Church governance

ad tuendam

quoteViewed from the outside, the monarchical Pope-Bishop-Pastor structure of governance structured by current canon law seems to be chugging along. ... Yet since the Enlightenment, in the West and now across the globe, we have evolved other forms of governance that are far more effective than monarchy, including that messy but flexible and at least moderately responsive form of government known as democracy. We have also learned a few things about fair representation, checks and balances, the rule of law, free speech, accountability, transparency, and justice. You can often hear it said, sometimes with an odd pride, that the Church is not a democracy. That’s for sure. It is an absolute monarchy, an artifact left over from the Papal States. Besides the Vatican City State, the only other absolute monarchies left on the planet at this writing are Brunei, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Swaziland. ... It is a strange thing indeed that these governance structures still exist. It is even stranger that we accept them as normal. It is stranger still that we fail to measure the harm that they directly inflict on the Church and its ability to carry out its mission.


The Pope exercises supreme legislative, executive, and judicial power in the Church. There is no separation of powers and no built-in checks and balances. ... If the Pope wants to change the Code of Canon Law, he does so without the advice or consent of the bishops, typically by promulgating an apostolic letter “by which certain norms are inserted into the Code of Canon Law.” Nothing further is required. ... Accountability is an accepted feature of just about every modern organization. Yet there is an almost complete lack of accountability in the current governance structure of the Church. ... Transparency has been a crucial component of the historic progression from the rule of kings to the rule of law. Yet the monarchical Pope-Bishop-Pastor structure of governance functions with no enforced transparency. ... A 1972 revision to the Code of Canon Law excludes the laity from any major decision-making role in the governance of the Church by requiring that all who exercise the power of governance be ordained; the other 1.15 billion of us are restricted to “cooperating.”... Just as Vatican II failed to create any serious ongoing structures for collegiality, it failed to create an ongoing mechanism for the review and evolution of canon law.


The reality of sanctions, which can be enforced by procedures that do not meet modern standards of justice, creates an intellectual landscape fraught with risk. Crucial issues that affect the ability of the Church to do its job (e.g., all the issues left unresolved by Vatican II and others) can simply not be publicly discussed by anyone who is ordained, holds an office in the Church, or teaches theology, without fear of repercussion.