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Quick Hits: Collegiality or resistance; from ‘field hospital’ to long-term care

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jul 27, 2017

Over on The Catholic Thing, Father Mark Pilon has two interesting perspectives on the argument—put forward recently in L’Osservatore Romano—that the world’s bishops and priests are the “main obstacle” the reforms planned by Pope Francis.

First, he notes that the Vatican newspaper is, in effect, scolding the world’s priests for failing to follow the Pope’s lead. The article in L’Osservatore fits with a pattern; the Pope’s allies and the Pope himself have complained frequently about resistance. “I try to imagine how such badgering of the clergy would have been looked at if it were a so-called ‘conservative’ Pope doing this,” Father Pilon remarks. He speculates that the media would have reacted quite differently if Pope John Paul II had refused a request from cardinals for an audience to discuss problems with the interpretation of Familiaris Consortio.

And yet Pope Francis seems to be the “Teflon” pope. No matter what he says or does in relation to his beloved clergy and cardinals, it doesn’t seem to affect his image as the compassionate, merciful, open pope.

Second, Father Pilon suggests that if indeed the clergy have been reluctant to accept the Pope’s teaching in Amoris Laetitia, that resistance could be seen as an exercise in collegiality. Most bishops and priests are not engaged in public dissent from the papal document, he says; they are showing “great respect for the papal office” and refraining from open criticism.

But the fact remains that the vast, vast majority of local Church hierarchies around the world are remaining silent, and a good number of individual bishops are openly confirming their flock in the traditional practice of the Church regarding communion for the divorced and remarried.

What does it mean if, after the release of an ambiguous papal document, bishops and priests resist the interpretation that the Pope himself seems—seems—to favor? Father Pilon argues that this is an exercise in collegial governance. Without attacking the Pope, the clergy are demonstrating the proper limits of his authority.


Writing for Crux, Father Robert Imbelli expresses his appreciation for the Pope’s comparison of the Church to a “field hospital.” It’s true, he writes, that the Church must care for those who are wounded spiritually. “But this legitimate need does not gainsay the imperative for more in-depth diagnosis, which may necessitate the patient’s transfer elsewhere to treat not merely the symptoms, but the deeper causes of the disease.”

In other words field hospitals, while essential to armies in combat, do not constitute a complete system of health care. There must also be specialized surgical centers, rehab facilities, and teaching hospitals. Father Imbelli develops his argument with a look at the encyclical Laudato Si’, in which Pope Francis finds the world’s future imperiled by a “misguided anthropocentrism,” a state of mind in which individuals “give absolute priority to immediate convenience and all else becomes relative.” How should the Church combat this spiritual disease? Father Imbelli suggests that the answer might be found in the activities of the new ecclesial movements that have arisen since Vatican II.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: claude-ccc2991 - Jul. 28, 2017 5:06 PM ET USA

    Fr Pilon's essay was quite good on the whole. But the idea that silence with respect to papal violations of Sacred Tradition constitutes an exercise in collegiality? That's pretty much drawing a conclusion from no data. Now, if a bishop upheld already established teaching in response to Amoris, then that would be collegiality of the type to which Pilon refers. My last thought is that if the Pope thinks the clergy is his main resistance, then we need more columns from Mr. Phil Lawler :)

  • Posted by: koinonia - Jul. 28, 2017 12:17 AM ET USA

    There is a significant difficulty. It's quite problematic for the pope to promote something contrary to the moral and doctrinal tradition of the Church. Claims of collegiality prove lacking. The silence is more a sign of the tenuous nature of today's "collegiality" rather than some heroic stand. One day of AL is one day too many. There is an apt saying: "He who hesitates is lost." Collegiality is supposed to be united to the bishop of Rome. This, at best, is disjointed hesitation.