The Collegiality Pope
One of the items on Benedict XVI's list of projects is a new equilibrium between papal primacy and the college of bishops.That rattling you hear is the bishops of the world, banging pots in excitement. Go on, Sandy....
During the first millennium of Christianity, when the Church of Rome and the Eastern Churches were still united, the college of bishops played a greater role than it has since. It still plays such a role in the patriarchates of the East, which are governed by a synodal system.So we're seeing a dual-pronged effect here: one which serves the existing Catholic world well in giving its diverse and far-flung voices (through the bishops, of course) a more substantive reception in the universal administration of the church. And it goes further into the Pope's ecumenical agenda.
The opposite took place in the Roman Church. There, papal primacy was greatly strengthened during the second millennium. Benedict XVI – together with the cardinals who elected him – is convinced that the time has come to strike a balance of powers and give greater recognition to the role of the bishops.
A small first corrective measure has already been introduced into the synod Rome is planning for next October. The synod – an institution inaugurated by Paul VI after Vatican Council II, periodically gathering around the pope representatives of the Catholic bishops from all over the world – will remain a consultative rather than a deliberative body, but the bishops will be able to discuss their topic, the Eucharist, using procedures much better adapted to bringing out different points of view, which the pope will have to consider.
Benedict XVI hopes that by reinforcing the college of the bishops, he will heal the schism that has divided the Church of Rome from the Eastern Churches. He wants to bring the respective systems of governance closer together according to the best that each has produced throughout its history.
Every bishop I've ever spoken to about B16 has always reflected on his ad limina visit. As you all know, during the quinquennials the visiting prelates meet with the Roman dicasteries to "discuss" relevant issues. Usually, the prefect walks in, gives a canned speech as if he were lecturing students, and walks out.
But the bishops' faces -- and their words -- would light up when speaking of the CDF experience. As one told me about Ratzinger's presentation, "He listened to us. He engaged us. He asked us what we wanted to know, and he put us at ease...." Ratzi even lingered afterward if any bishop had a private question or just wanted to chit-chat.
As with any of us, but especially with bishops, that goes a very long way.