Following the modification of the structure of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Pope Francis has just signed a new decree moving in the direction of greater decentralization, in accordance with the principle of synodality. This new paradigm is at the heart of the current pontificate.
In a single day, February 11, 2022, Francis signed two motu proprio promulgated the following week. The first, reorganizing the former Holy Office, has already been widely discussed by FSSPX.News.
The second, by choosing to modify the attribution of certain competences provided for by the Codes of Canon Law of the Latin and Eastern Catholic Churches, intends to promote a “healthy decentralization.” What is that exactly?
Two objectives are targeted here by the sovereign pontiff: the first is “to promote the sentiment of collegiality and pastoral responsibility” at the level of each of the episcopal conferences; the second is “to support the principles of rationality, effectiveness, and efficiency,” as the introduction to the papal decree indicates.
Concretely, it is a question of decentralizing certain competences attributed until now to different dicasteries of the Roman Curia, which will be entrusted to the bishops (diocesan or gathered in Episcopal Conferences or according to the hierarchical structures of the Eastern Churches) and to the Major Superiors of the Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
To do this, the successor of Peter decided to make ten modifications to the Code of Canon Law of the Latin Church as well as to the Code of the Eastern Churches.
Some amendments relate to the dismissal of religious, of temporary or perpetual profession. The procedure is simplified. It should be noted in a way this is a return to the discipline of the 1917 Code. Obviously, the “guarantee” that overprotected the subject at the expense of the common good, which had been put in place by the 1983 Code, has gone out of fashion.
The decree also grants episcopal conferences the ability to publish catechisms on their territory. The approval of the Holy See is no longer required, but a simple confirmation is sufficient. It is true that, for a long time, the bishops benefited from this license, but gradually, and for various reasons, the Holy See wanted to exercise some control.
And it is enough to evoke the scandal of catechisms like the Pierres Vivantes [Living Stones] or of the sadly famous manuals published in Holland in the 1970s, to remain perplexed by the “healthy decentralization” evoked in a commentary by Msgr. Marco Mellino, secretary of the Council of Cardinals, and member of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts.
The decree also grants the diocesan bishop the faculty to create a seminary on his territory and “to adapt the formation of priests to the pastoral needs of each region or province,” by a simple confirmation from the Holy See. We must also note the concern to avoid “headless and wandering clerics,” against whom, it is true, the Church has always endeavored to fight.
But would it not be just as important to avoid seeing the formation of “headless and wandering” episcopates, the most deplorable example being the current assemblies of the German Synodal Path?
In summary, one can wonder if the numerous decrees signed under the current pontificate do not mark a major evolution in the vision of ecclesial law: since the Pio-Benedictine code promulgated in 1917, the Church has chosen a “codifying” approach to the law, in order to compensate for the scattering of the different sources of law.
Since 2013 at least, on the other hand, an inverse movement seems to be beginning under the avalanche of a multiplication of decrees which accumulate and which must be regularly synthesized. At the risk of getting a little lost, especially when we know that the notion of collegiality presides over this evolution.
But wouldn't it be precisely to prepare for a major decentralization planned in the future Apostolic Constitution supposed to reform a Roman Curia which, since the last motu proprio, appears more and more stripped of its functions?
As Aline Lizotte puts it very well: “Decentralization is certainly necessary, and it is a good thing. But, if it destroys the center, it no longer has any meaning.”