Bishops or Branch Managers?

Collegiality after the Council

No reforming project exercised the pope and bishops at Vatican II (1962–65) more than collegiality—the doctrine that the church is governed by the college of bishops, with and under the pope. The Catholic Church had for centuries been known as a monarchy. Now, in its dogmatic constitution Lumen gentium, it described itself as a people’s church, hierarchically structured on the pattern of the twelve apostles around their leader, Peter. This reform of governance was a key result of the council’s progressive method, eschewing the juridical approach to church governance dominant for centuries so as to draw out from biblical and patristic sources the deepest and richest meaning of tradition.

Yet today, fifty years after the Second Vatican Council opened, the collegial hopes and expectations of that time are muted. For now and for the foreseeable future that reform, with all the ecumenical and pastoral avenues it would have opened up, is on the shelf.

There had been great surprise when a straw poll of concilar bishops at the council taken on October 30, 1963, showed very large majorities in favor of the collegial principle. “We have won,” exclaimed Pope Paul VI. The ...

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About the Author

John Wilkins was editor of the Tablet of London from 1982 to 2003.