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How should the church be governed?

SAN DIEGO -- At the Catholic Theological Society of America meeting on Saturday, Archbishop John R. Quinn, emeritus of San Franciscio, responded to critiques of his 2013 book on reforning structures of church governance, Ever Ancient, Ever New. Quinn, who served as president of the U.S. bishops conference from 1977 to 1980, previewed that volume's arguments in a talk he delivered at Stanford last year. "Media reports dealing with reform tend to focus on clerical celibacy and on the ordination of women and on the reform of the Curia," he said. "These are important topics, but it would be a mistake to stop there."

The reform he urges involves decentralizing papal authority and increasing the authority of local bishops conferences. In order to achieve those goals, Quinn argued, the church has to establsh regional bishops conferences and episcopal synods that would carry out the administration of the local church (e.g., appointing bishops, handling liturgical issues, etc.). These reforms were called for by the bishops at Vatican II, according to Quinn. After Pope John Paul II asked for recommendations on reforming the papacy in Ut Unum Sint, Quinn published a book about these issues called The Reform of the Papacy (1999). Yet throughout his ponificate, John Paul continued to centralize authority in the office of the pope. Local bishops conferences lost authority. "To date," Quinn told the Stanford audience, "fifty years after the council, no deliberative synod has ever been held." His latest book is an attempt to reignite the conversation he began nearly twenty-five years ago.

The first respondent to Quinn's book was Amanda Osheim of Loras College, and the second was Joseph Komonchak (who requires no introduction here). I've collected my tweets of the session below, so remember: you may find some typos; unless you see quotation marks, I'm paraphrasing; and owing to the density and speed of the remarks, I may not have captured the speakers' intent with total clarity. The tweet parade begins after the jump.

About the Author

Grant Gallicho is an associate editor of Commonweal. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.



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Thank, Grant. This was very helpful.

I love the debate and hope that the participants remember than those who have no vote, vote with their feet ... and pocketbooks.

Vatican II was remarkable because of the great bishops and theologians that were there. The documents were great though imperfect. But what a beginning and that they could get so many beautiful things published. And the irony is that only a  leader like the pope could call so many great achievers together.

Quinn gives us a clue as to some of the problems. The bishops had little expertise in responding to the new enthusiasim of the laity. Certainly pastors were less equipped and it was not only easy to go back to the rigid authoritarian structure. It was the only way the hierarchy knew how to deal with it. The leadership and everyone else did not know how to handle a reformed church. Counter Reformation Mode was so entrenched that no one knew how to implement the new approach. JPII took the easy approach and the bishops accepted it as long as they did not lose their privileges. 

50 years later we can handle it better. Not only can we handle it but most seem to demand it. Francis does right to stress the preferential option fo the poor and preaching mercy and unity with a clergy that gives example. Not glorifying privelege. Who can argue with that. Even the lapsed CAtholic and atheist Bill Maher understands this. "After all its all over the place." The care of the poor and downtrodden....

Joe K is every good. But I am not sure about going  to vagaries like "subsist" or "exist in" are pertinent. Quinn seemed to be rightly avoiding the contention there. 

I would like to hear more about the myriad leaders among the Cardinals , bishops, and some laity who do not want to give up the privileges that they have. 

A Jewish leader once said that he does not like to hear Jews talk about  being a Jew. Because they always say how bad it is and how persecuted they are. He prefers to hear the enemies of the Jews who say: "How rich, powerful and privileged Jews are that they have so many earthly  gains."

i would paraphrase that in reverse. We should not want to hear how magnificent our Cathedrals and how attended are our shrines. But rather how we fill the hungry with good things and love our enemies and own the Beatitudes and the entire Sermon on the Mount.

Francis gets it and he is doing his best to bring it to us. 

Bill Mazzella:

God knows a number of US bishops worked to implement the great Council. To name only those who come to mind at this late hour: Lawrence Shehan, Paul Hallinan, Joseph Bernardin, James Malone, John May, Charles Buswell, Ernest Primeau, Cletus O'Donnell, John Dearden, Kenneth Untener, Raymond Hunthausen (the only surviving US bishop participant at Vatican II), Raymond Lucker, Joseph Sullivan, Anthony Bosco, Carroll Dozier, Robert Tracy, Francis Mugavero, Charles Helmsing, Donald Borders, Francis Hurley, Joseph Gossman, P. Francis Murphy, John Quinn, et alibi aliorum. Indeed, God knows they tried. And too often they suffered for it, at home and in Rome.

And Francis Quinn, Bernard Topel.

Am I the only one who would prefer that the tweets be expanded into a real article? This format may be "real time', but it is frustrating to read - at least for some. Brief comments without the full exchange and context for the comments leads to as much puzzlement as enlightenment.

While likewise grateful for tweets, I concur with Anne,


Hi, Anne, I agree that an actual article would make for easier reading, I do find something kind of intriguing in reading the pastiche of real-time impressions.

No! The last thng dotcommonweal needs is more paragraphs. Keep the tweets. Better yet, replace them with image macros or gifs.

Seriously, some of you guys write like Thomas Bernhard.

For fellow Commonweal readers interested in this topic, I'd be glad to email a free copy of my novel (otherwise sold on Amazon). The work of fiction, published on the eve of Francis's election, explores what might happen if the College inadvertently elected a revolutionary who wanted to change the structure of the church. Visit giesbooks(dot)com and contact me via the site, mentioning Commonweal.

Ann Chapman, I don't think you have any conception of what it would take to expand all that into a "real" article that provides more context and a more detailed account of the proceedings. How could one possibly do that while covering the conference and posting on the blog. This is about informing people as quickly as possible with the best information possible. Grant (and others) have done yeoman's work. And his tweets track the discussion pretty closely. Have you read Quinn's book? You might start there.

David Gibson, I did not mean to critticize Grant G - he does a marvelous job at Commonweal. I find the tweet format to be unsatisfactory for gaining any real understanding of what the issues are, however. 

For example, the text of the first tweet is: Osheim: How is the bishop a minister for communion, and what structures help him carry out that ministry?

But the reply to the questions does not appear.

Osheim: We should take more seriously the need for bishops to develop attentiveness to God.

I don't know what he is implying - that bishops aren't attentive to God?  If not, to whom are they attentive?  And how can non-bishops get bishops to be more attentive to God?


I had never heard of Quinn's book until reading this. I am not a theologian (sorry) and was not really aware that there is apparently a great deal of discord in that particular community. From what  I could glean from the post and tweets, it seems that some believe that the CTSA is not open to conservative theologians.   Perhaps this type of coverage is only meant for a small group. those who are already aware of the issues.

I understand that real time coverage requires brevity. But couldn't there be a follow-up on the main points?  Will the CTSA put the full papers/texts from the conference on their website later on for reading or download? 

Ann Chapman, I imagine the papers will be available. And Quinn's book is out already. Why haven't you read it? I think you would do better to read those rather than a blog and magazine like this one, which is not -- surprise -- an academic journal or publisher.

John Page, 

Yes all those you named tried and their efforts were gallant. But they did not know how to deal with the sabatoge and how to control some of the new liturgists who were just as monarchical as the Council of Trent. NCR, American and Commonweal explained the renewal. But the pastors in the trenches did not relate as most of them did not read or keep up with the new. They set the groundwork for Neuhaus, Weigel and Novak. Novak caved into the fashion and bought unbridled capitalism He is actively sabatoging Francis now. 

For the most part the theologians at CTSA are academics without the will or the knowledge to foster real pastoral life in the churches. Kung, Congar and Schillibexx understand this. Most of the CTSA are content to take the cowardly road and not get into the nitty grity. Vatican II had difficulty because no one got to the Pastors

I suppose episcopal conferences will have whatever authority the Supreme Pontiff delegates to them.  Francis seems open to greater delegation.  Should there be a Synod on Church Governance to follow on the heels of the Synod on the Family?


John Page:  thanks for mentioning Bernard Topel.  He had his blind spots but his conversion experience was truly remarkable!

Some one mentioned here that one can be a lay person and be into clericalism. The way that happens is that the lay person places the clergy on the pedestal and lets them be unaccountable. We do have to talk about clericalism much more. This viewpoint allows the clergy to virtually act as Prima Donnas. Even many well intended clerics can escape this sickness.  From the title of Father to the indelible hands, the dispensor of the Sacraments. the power and the glory it is no wonder that so many of the clergy have gotten stricken by it.  The clergy are truly "our brothers" the way Mary is "truly our sister."  We have to get out of this worship game. Don't call them Father and don't call the Reverend. 

I wish it was possible for the governing of the church to be done by everyone through groups of elected lay people and clergy who would vote for a term-limited leader, as is done in the Episcopal Church.

If the episcopal conference was stronger vis a vis individual bishops, and vis a vis the Holy See, would the sex-abuse crisis be managed more effectively?  

Francis gets to the heart of the matter. 


Pope: Half-hearted Catholics aren't really Catholics at all

Cindy Wooden  Catholic News Service  |  Jun. 5, 2014

Those who insist others pray and believe exactly like they do, those who have alternatives to every church teaching and benefactors who use the church as a cover for business connections may call themselves Catholics, but they have one foot out the door, Pope Francis said.

"Many people say they belong to the church," but in reality have "only one foot inside," the pope said Thursday at the morning Mass in the chapel of his residence.

"For these people, the church is not home," but is a place they use as a rental property, he said, according to Vatican Radio.


Bill M. wrote: For the most part the theologians at CTSA are academics without the will or the knowledge to foster real pastoral life in the churches. Kung, Congar and Schillibexx understand this. Most of the CTSA are content to take the cowardly road and not get into the nitty grity. 

Dude, come to CTSA next year! Sure, there will be a lot of abstract work--some of theology is like that. But you'll find lots of people digging into the nitty gritty, as you call it. Not only are there a lot of theologians (ordained and lay) who also do pastoral work of one kind or another which informs their work, but gosh--moral theology and social ethics are usually principally concerned with that same nitty gritty. We'll be in Milwaukee, where we're told that beer and brats abound, so that's another reason to come along. Next year's topic--the sensus fidelium. 

Bill M. mentions "...the new liturgists who were just as monarchial as the Council of Trent."  I'm glad someone besides me remembers that part. And some of that did trickle down to the parish level.  If you had priests (or in some cases vowed religious) in a parish who were steam rollers, it didn't make any difference if they were traditional or liberal, the pew sitters were going to get flattened. In fact I have known some who have done a 180. They were iconoclasts who were going to get rid of the past back in the day; and more lately now that the wind has blown a different direction, they have gone all traddie again. But guess what, they are still steam rollers.

The trouble I have, as one of the sheeple in the pews, is that the reform and renewal which comes from spent hierarchs like John Quinn is totally inadequate to the moment.  [Before everyone goes to DEF-CON1 in defense of Quinn, I would stipulate that the same could be said of the vast majority of hierarchs.]  Catholics deserve better, fresher pastoral leadership.  Kung was a very young theologian when he lead the Council to some of its greatest contributions.  We need bold visionaries who aren't afraid of the necessary changes if Catholic communities and culture is to survive this century.  We're not going to get that leadership from the hierarchs and present "safe" theologians.  In a reversal of what Jerry Rubin once said, Catholics have to start trusting only "people" UNDER thirty. 

"Dude!"  Lisa, so sudden!

I did mention that I do like some of the members. You also I might add. Let me count the ways. 

!. I have always been annoyed that the presenters at the convention charged for their speeches. 

2. CTSA has no report on its convention.  No details on its website. Without Grant no one would know what they said. As Sam Kinison would say:  "Bring theology to where the people are!" (Parental Advisory)

3. Parishes are devastated. What does the CTSA do there? 

4. Seminaries are irrelevant. Aren't they part of its purview. ETC. 

5. At a VOTF conference years ago some Catholic College students participated. These were not students of faith. I do not mean liberal or conservative. No faith. 

6. What is the impact of the CTSA members on the college students who attend your classes?

7.I will come if you let me give a 20 minute speech. Warn them that I will be critical 

I have been watching the Catholic scene in America for a long time. I am sure I have missed some good things. Show me how I am wrong for giving CTSA an overall F for impact?


You wrote: "I have always been annoyed that the presenters at the convention charged for their speeches."

If this means that the speakers at CTSA conventions are paid, I don't believe that it's true. I gave one of the four major speeches many years ago, and have made many other presentations, but have never been paid or expected to be paid. I don't think that either Archbishop Quinn or the two of us who commented on his booklet were paid or expected to be paid.

lol, my irsih born and raised mother, devoutly  Catholic, came from a family that lived in three nearby houses (20 children,11 from her parenys and  9 adopted cousins) had one of theur three houses burned down twice and another burned down once during the Irish War of Independence.

But when I gave her Antonia Fraser's Life of Cromwell, the most depised fihure in Irish history, he liked a lot of things about him and totally agreed with the way he wanted the church governed (congregationally). Of course she also belived that the Catholic Chirch under deValera's favoritism had become a corrupive institution.

I agree. 



I meant that CTSA charged for the papers .  I have no objection to a presenter being paid. 


To continue my critique of the CTSA.  If we are a "People Adrift" CTSA must take some responsibility. I do believe that being a theologian is a necessary charism. That charism must exercise itself in the parish.  Instead of just discussing the Sensus Fidelium, let each theologian be given mandatory field time each year in one parish and come back to share. 

Again the sorry state of theology and parish life in the US has to be a real concern of CTSA and their part in that demise. 

I attend a parish that manages to exist in the inner city with many "variations" that are life-giving. I would enjoy some profiles of "parishes that work" that may have to be unnamed- and even congtributors unnamed - thaat push the limits of typical norms.

Ann Chapman, I imagine the papers will be available. And Quinn's book is out already. Why haven't you read it? I think you would do better to read those rather than a blog and magazine like this one, which is not -- surprise -- an academic journal or publisher.

David G, once again - I apologize for having offended you in some way. I don't truly understand why a mild complaint about the Twitter format has so upset you, but the dripping sarcasm tells me that it has,  so please forgive me.

To answer your question as to why I haven't [already] read Quinn's book - it is because I had never heard of it until the discussion on this blog.

As mentioned before, I am neither a theologian nor an academic which is precisely why I read Commonweal - because it is not a professional journal. I recently retired and have more time to pursue subjects that have long interested me, but for which I had little time. 

I do not have either the educational or professional experience assumed for the target market readership of academic journals, especially in theology or philosophy.   I had thought that one of the missions of Commonweal was to provide discussions and insights on a range of aspects of the church  (including theology) in a format and in language that is  understandable to non-academics and non-professionals while still having enough depth to attract the academic and professional readers as well. 

I will stop posting on this subject now, as it seems I put my foot in my mouth with every word I write. I meant no offense to Grant Gallicho - I just don't like the twitter format.  It's a matter of personal preference, not of "right" or "wrong". Michael Sean Winters sometimes uses the twitter format at NCRonline. I have learned to skip them to seek out other coverage instead. (thank you, Google!).  I will do the same on the CTSA controversies.  I often use the Commonweal articles (I am a subscriber) and blogs as a starting point  - following up with books or other in-depth articles on various subjects. 

Once again, I apologize for any offense I have given by mentioning the difficulties some have in trying to follow coverage given in tweets -  even if totally not intended.

Anne, I think you've apologized enough (or more) :-).  I don't imagine that enjoying reading a string of tweets is a prerequisite for subscribing to Commonweal nor hanging out here.  It seems novel enough that it warrants like/don't like reaction comments.  Just my opinion.

Anne --

You're never rude.  Please don't stop posting.  

Someone mentioned here that one can be a lay person and be into clericalism.

This man said the same thing quite some time ago:

"By clericalism I mean an elitist mindset, together with structures and patterns of behavior corresponding to it, which takes it for granted that clerics—in the Catholic context, mainly bishops and priests—are intrinsically superior to the other members of the Church and deserve automatic deference. Passivity and dependence are the laity’s lot. By no means is clericalism confined to clerics themselves. The clericalist mindset is widely shared by Catholic lay people.”

Russell Shaw, “Nothing to Hide. Secrecy, Communication and Communion in the Catholic Church”, pg 57.




David P said:  I would enjoy some profiles of "parishes that work" that may have to be unnamed- and even contributors unnamed - that push the limits of typical norms.

These may not totally fit the mold, but they are worth looking into:

And, of course, worth reading even after all these years is Paul Wilkes’ “Excellent Catholic Parishes.”

I will nominate my parish:   It most certainly pushes the limits when it comes to being in the Archdiocese of San Francisco.  It is a truly intentional parish with more than 40% of the attendees not living in San Francisco nor, for that matter, within the Archdiocese itself.  It has a strong laity that has virtually run the parish during the tenure of a beloved pastor who was wrestling with personal demons for way too long and who was then succeeded by a pastor who made it quite plain that he didn’t want to be there.  We are now getting a new pastoral team ( that has exhibited first signs of being totally collaborative with laity and supportive of the wide variety of parishioners that attend our church.

I really appreciate the distinction that was made between the full means of salvation and the fullness of salvation. There is a world of difference between the two claims, and whenever this distinction is elided we get into trouble. 

Part of the beauty of the post-Conciliar Church is that we can recognize and affirm the existence of God's work outside the visible communion of the Catholic Church, and at the same time acknowledge that although we possess a fullness of means as a gift, we do not always live up to this gift as we should, as it says in Unitatis integratio. 

can the entire church be governed, administered?

I don't know the answer to that question. I don't see how it can work, in the entire world, and I don't see how the question can be avoided in modern times. The only model for a world-wide body is the United Nations.

Perhaps as important as how the church should be governed, theolgians can help us and give some pertinent boundaries. Here is the statement of a great theologian of our time:

Twenty Propositions

(By Hans Kung, "The Christian Challenge", pages 313-316, 1979)

A. Who is a Christian?

  1. No one is a Christian simply because he or she tries to live in a human or in a social or even in a religious way. That person alone is a Christian who tries to live his or her human, social, and religious life in the light of Jesus Christ.
  2. The distinctive Christian reality is Jesus Christ himself.
  3. Being a Christian means: By following Jesus Christ, the human being in the world of today can truly humanly love, act, suffer, and die, in happiness and unhappiness, life and death, sustained by God and helpful to men.

B. Who is Christ?

  1. The Christ is no other than the historical Jesus of Nazareth. Neither priest nor political revolutionary, neither ascetic monk nor devout moralist, he is provocative on all sides.
  2. Jesus did not proclaim any theological theory or any new law, nor did he proclaim himself. He proclaimed the kingdom of God: God’s cause (=God’s will), which will prevail and which is identical with man’s cause (=man’s well-being).
  3. For the sake of men’s well-being Jesus effectively relativized sacred institutions, law, and cult.
  4. Jesus thus asserted a claim to be advocate of God and men. He provoked a final decision: not for a particular title, a dogma, or law but for his good news. But in this way, too, the question of his person was indirectly raised: heretical teacher, false prophet, blasphemer, seducer of the people or what?
  5. In the last resort the conflict centers on God. Jesus does not invoke a new God. He invokes the God of Israel understood in a new way, as Father of the abandoned, whom he addresses quite personally as his Father.
  6. Jesus’ violent end was the logical consequence of this approach of his to God and man. His violent passion was the reaction of the guardians of the law, justice, and morality to his nonviolent action: the crucifixion becomes the fulfillment of the curse of the law; Jesus becomes the representative of lawbreakers, of sinners. He dies forsaken by both men and God.
  7. Jesus’ death, however, was not the end of everything. The faith of his community is: The Crucified is living forever with God, as our hope. Resurrection does not mean either a return to life in space and time or a continuation of life in space and time but the assumption into that incomprehensible and comprehensive last and first reality which we call God.
  8. The resurrection faith, therefore, is not an appendage but a radicalizing of faith in God: of faith in God the Creator.
  9. Without faith in the risen Christ, faith in the crucified Jesus lacks confirmation and authorization. Without faith in the cross, faith in the risen Christ lacks its distinctive character and decisiveness. The ultimate distinctive feature of Christianity is Jesus Christ as the Crucified.
  10. The emergence of the Church can be explained only in the light of faith in Jesus raised to life: the Church of Jesus Christ as the community of those who have committed themselves to the cause of Jesus Christ and bear witness to it as hope for all men.
  11. The essential distinction between "Catholic" and "Protestant" today no longer lies in particular doctrinal differences but in the diversity of basic attitudes which have developed since the Reformation but which can now be overcome in their one-sidedness and integrated into a true ecumenicity.
  12. The ecumenical basis of all Christian churches is the biblical profession of faith in Jesus as the Christ, as the criterion for man’s relations with God and with his fellow men. This profession of faith must be freshly translated for each new age.

C. Who acts as a Christian?

  1. The distinctive feature of Christian action, therefore, is the following of Christ. This Jesus Christ is in person the living, archetypal embodiment of his case: embodiment of a new attitude to life and a new way of life. As a concrete, historical person, Jesus Christ possesses an impressiveness, audibility, and realizability which is missing in an eternal idea, an abstract principle, a universal norm, a conceptual system.
  2. Jesus then means for modern man a basic model of a view of life and practice of life to be realized in many ways. Both positively and negatively he is in person invitation ("you may"), appeal ("you should"), challenge ("you can"), for the individual and society. He makes possible in the concrete a new basic orientation and basic attitude, new motivations, dispositions, projects, a new background of meaning and a new objective.
  3. For the Church, too, Jesus must remain the authoritative standard in all things. The Church is credible only when it follows in his way as a provisional, serving, guilty, determined Church. At all times practical consequences must be drawn from this for constant internal church reform and for ecumenical understanding.
  4. It is particularly in coping with the negative side of life that Christian faith and non-Christian humanisms have to face their acid test. For the Christian the only appropriate way to cope with the negative is in the light of the cross. Following the cross does not mean cultic adoration, mystical absorption, or ethical imitation. It means practice in a variety of ways in accordance with the cross of Jesus, in which a person freely perceives and attempts to follow his own way of life and suffering.
  5. Yet, despite all demands for action, looking to the crucified Jesus, the ultimately important thing for man will not be his achievements (justification by works), but his absolute trust in God, both in good and in evil, and thus in an ultimate meaning to life (justification by faith).


 I don't see how it can work, in the entire world, and I don't see how the question can be avoided in modern times. The only model for a world-wide body is the United Nations.

Claire - there are other models.  The Orthodox (to the best of my limited understanding) are a sort of confederation of separate churches that are in communion with one another.  The Anglican Communion is a different sort of confederation, with more democratic structures (again, to the best of my understanding as an outsider).  I'm not claiming that either of these are better or worse than Roman Catholicism, just pointing out that there are other large-scale organizations, even within the category of religion.


There are also global corporations such as Coke, Caterpillar, etc.  It can be done, but Rome will have to learn some modern management principles, especially about communication and delegation.  Not that a corporation is completely like a church, but there are similarities.  Dioceses have a theological status that field offices will never have.  

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