papal grand strategy: an insight

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles ) | Aug 14, 2006

Veteran Vaticanologist Vittorio Messori, who collaborated with the future Benedict XVI to produce The Ratzinger Report, now sees an important hint about papal strategy encoded in a seemingly bland statement by the incoming Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

If Messori is right-- and he makes a solid argument-- the Pope's goal is to enhance the authority of diocesan bishops by decreasing the power of national episcopal conferences.

As Messori observes, Vatican moves to put the bishops' conferences in their place might look like efforts to centralize power in Rome. Actually they would be exactly the opposite.

(Tip to Amy Welborn for the lead.)

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 See full bio.

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  • Posted by: depeccatoradvitam - Aug. 16, 2006 5:18 PM ET USA

    Normnuke: You hit it pretty good on your points! The other issue is that the hiding is over if the "stucture" is gone. It then goes to duck and cover as the direct line becomes known (as it truly has been) Bishop to Pope, NOT Bishop to Confraternity to Pope. To others: A direct line allows for direct confrontation with or without charity as is necessary without the flak coverage of the "boys club" Some "chairs" will be hearing more about the shepherding of souls rather than careerism.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 16, 2006 7:22 AM ET USA

    Perhaps it is time to return to the papal tiara symbolizing authority.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 16, 2006 5:29 AM ET USA

    I have been in agreement with Novak for a long time. The bishops' conferences need to be completely disbanded and the bishops made to, once again, report directly to Rome.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 15, 2006 3:17 PM ET USA

    If you think the USCCB is bad, get a load of the CCCB. The USCCB, by comparison, is a set of Hammers of Heretics. The CCCB? Bowling Pin Bishops for rent.

  • Posted by: Cupertino - Aug. 15, 2006 11:07 AM ET USA

    Let us hope this proves true. With modern communications the Pope can actually e-mail or (gasp!) call up a Bishop who is wavering and demand an accounting. Without the cover of the Bishop's conference they will have to answer to the Pope directly. Imagine that! "Allowing communion to prominent politicans supporting abortion, Excellency? Be in my office next week prepared to explain and defend yourself." 21st Century technology at the service of the Church.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 14, 2006 11:51 PM ET USA

    Unum, Perhaps the USCCB is mentioned in scripture after all. Back then the language didn't permit a translation for the word "conference." But scripture does describe a situation whereby a group acting as one attempted to destroy a body by taking it over and making it not only their abode, but also their voice. Look it up in Mark, 5 - 9. "My name is leigon, for we are many."

  • Posted by: - Aug. 14, 2006 8:58 PM ET USA

    Unum, the USCCB is an acronym. I believe it stands for "Useless Snivveling Corrupt Cowardly Bishops." The few exceptions in that bunch (e.g. Bruskevitz) seem not to trust their "brothers", either.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 14, 2006 8:16 PM ET USA

    The only problem is; the same weak bishops will still be weak bishops. Maybe they will have to stand up and do something rather than stand behind the USCCB and its endless commissions.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 14, 2006 7:16 PM ET USA

    The real function of USCCB is to provide political cover for members of the Good Ol' Boys Club. Thus, the administrative bureaucracy established in the wake of the sex abuse scandal provides cover for individual bishops who comply with "audit" requirements. Non-participants like Bruskewitz don't need cover; the others do. The Church needs accountability not cover.

  • Posted by: unum - Aug. 14, 2006 6:30 PM ET USA

    What is this USCCB you mention? Where is it mentioned in Scripture?

  • Posted by: jbrown629 - Aug. 14, 2006 5:45 PM ET USA

    When, precisely, was the Second Vatican Council "hijacked", i.e., violently wrested from the control of good bishops and Popes and used to promote error and disobedience? I am not aware of such a moment: the national episcopal councils and synods were a direct outgrowth of the Council, encouraged by Paul VI and John Paul as being obedient to the Council, even though they were known to be controlled for the most part by agents of Modernism, such as Gregory Baum and Rahner. It's just a bad idea.

  • Posted by: Hammer of Heretics - Aug. 14, 2006 5:15 PM ET USA

    The USCCB is still useful as a printing clearinghouse for Church documents. It's when they set themselves up as the US "Vatican" that they run into trouble. Good Bishops are sadly in the minority and are squashed by the weight of their mediocre and/or evil brethern whenever they speak out for the truth. Remember when Archbishop Burke made it clear that politicians who support legal abortion should not present themselves for Communion? The majority of Bishops acted like he was a dissident.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 14, 2006 5:05 PM ET USA

    Catholicity: I hope you are right. However, Fr. Don Keefe's S.J. warning is a propos about the the need for Rome to govern: "Benedict XVI is facing a schism long nourished by the unwillingness of his Polish predecessor to govern the Church. A decade or so after John Paul II took office, a well known and highly influential theologian had observed this reluctance sufficiently to remark in my presence tthat he did not care what the pope said,only what he did. This stance is now nearly universal."

  • Posted by: - Aug. 14, 2006 4:13 PM ET USA

    I hope Messori's right. Given the excesses and end-runs of the USCCB and the bad actors that have populated its leadership (Trautman, Mahony, McCarrick), it's about time dioceses kept more of their own money and stopped wasting it on this worthless white elephant.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 14, 2006 3:57 PM ET USA

    Novak: It will, perhaps, become easier for Rome to admonish the individual diocesan bishop after he doesn't have a front covering for him anymore. I think that national bishops conferences should be completely dismantled, not just scaled back.

  • Posted by: Charles134 - Aug. 14, 2006 3:42 PM ET USA

    Like almost every proposed way out of our current crisis, this will work if we have good bishops, but won't be needed if we have good bishops. Personnel IS policy. We need a pope of whom it can be said: He's given us lots of great bishops, few mediocre ones, and no bad ones. Or maybe the solution is more encyclicals and exhortations and guidelines. Maybe JPII didn't write enough.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 14, 2006 3:15 PM ET USA

    The national conferences have a number of bad qualities: the first is that they institutionalize and politicize cowardice. The second is they empower the bureaucrats. The third is they empower the "experts", i.e. academia. The fourth is they institutionalize the bishops as a body of nobles. (And, guess what a body of nobles do? They undercut the monarch. After they consult the "experts")

  • Posted by: - Aug. 14, 2006 2:10 PM ET USA

    The clear intent of the V2 documents wan to bolster the ordinary as the teacher of his diocese (inunion with the Holy Father). This intent was hijacked in the USA by the Bernardin crowd to empower the episcopal conference. This will be a good thing because it will be clear who is the Bishop's direct supervisor - the Holy Father. When I was employed by a parish, I said i worked for the pastor who worked for the Cardinal who worked for the Pope who worked for God - best chain of command ever!

  • Posted by: - Aug. 14, 2006 1:12 PM ET USA

    Good idea, the national conferences have no real authority anyway. Maybe some of the Bishops will start behaving like Bishops again and the rest can be encouraged to retire early. We can finally be rid of "art and catholic worship" (aka, "what would wicca do?") "For God so loved the world, He did not send a committee." Anon.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 14, 2006 12:15 PM ET USA

    This might not be a bad idea after all. Making the Bishops Council less powerful and delegating more authority to individual bishops could work for controling weak or dissident people. The group loses power;individuals apparently gain authority, but become isolated and can be dealt with more effectively since they stand alone. Divide and conquer may be an old idea but it works!

  • Posted by: - Aug. 14, 2006 12:11 PM ET USA

    There's no telling where this could lead. I'm already shaking in anticipation of the change in outfit for the liturgical Shirley Temple dance routines in our diocese. If this keeps up, they might even crack down on halter tops. Where will the Spice Girls, go?

  • Posted by: - Aug. 14, 2006 11:50 AM ET USA

    Dismantling the episcopal Rumpelstilzchen will require more than juridical changes to make them "fly out of the window on a cooking ladle."

  • Posted by: - Aug. 14, 2006 10:08 AM ET USA

    Yes, but does that really address the crisis? Various diocesan bishops in our country are undermining the Church's teaching on homosexuality for example. Where was the diocesan bishop in the Terri Schiavo tragedy? Where are the diocesan bishops with universities in their diocese vis a vis Ex Corde Ecclesiae? This will do nothing if Rome is still unwilling to govern and enforce doctrine and discipline and go after bad diocesan bishops, religious superiors, and theologians.