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The Rev. Dr. Paul Collins' Response to the Observations on his book Papal Power by an anonymous consulter of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
20 April 1998
Manuka, ACT 2603, Australia
Observations on
Papal Power: A Proposal for Change in Catholicism's Third Millennium
Fr. Paul Collins, M.S.C.
(Harper/Collins Fount Paperbacks, 1997)

I. Object

The book is primarily a critique of papal primacy and the ordinary magisterium (cfr. p. x; p. 59).  The author uses the term "papalism" to refer to the contemporary exercise of the papacy, defining it as "the conflation of all teaching authority, with an exaggerated notion of primacy" (p. 3).  He claims that the contemporary papacy distorts the structure of the Church as it has been traditionally understood (p. 29).  As a solution, the author proposes a more democratic model for the Church: "there is a true sense in which the Church is a democracy ... a democratic model is much closer to New Testament forms of the Church" (p. 191). 

II. Method

The author launches his critique from "a historical and practical perspective" (p. 5).  However, he appears to read Church history out of context, looking for proof texts to support his thesis that the primacy of the Roman Pontiff is not rooted in Divine Revelation but in secular political models.  In addition, the book contains not a few historical inaccuracies. 

The author's use of theological sources is slanted, drawing from like-minded theologians, but failing to cite those who oppose and refute them. 

III. Doctrinal Problems

In general, the author's presentation implies that a true and binding Revelation does not not exist.  The following is a list of some of the specific doctrinal problems contained in the book: 

  1. Sacred Tradition  The author's concept of Tradition is more than nebulous.
      "There are, of course, within Christianity a number of traditions, different ways of comprehending and living the Christian faith.  There is the Orthodox tradition, the Roman Catholic tradition, the Anglican tradition ... and other Protestant traditions: all emphasize specific aspects of the totality of Christian faith, while retaining much in common with the other traditions" (p. 128). 

      "...it is quite clear from our historical studies that Constance is far closer in its ecclesiology to the early Church than is Vatican I. So the contemporary Church is clearly faced with the possibility that the teaching of Vatican I might not be in accord with tradition" (p. 216).

  1. Ecclesiology  The author appears to deny the identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church, suggesting a reunion of Christians characterized by indifferentism. 
      "Clearly the aim (of ecumenical endeavors) will be the reunion of Christendom, but not in the sense of one church entering into corporate union with another.  To move in this direction would to be to run the risk of the largest church (Western Roman Catholicism) swallowing up many of the others.  We need to maintain the richness and diversity of the Christian traditions.  What is really called for is a mutual recognition of each other's traditions, ministries, and structures, and, on the basis of that, an entry into full inter-communion.  In this scenario all the churches would remain corporate entities ... there would full recognition of each other as legitimate Christian churches" (p. 199).
  1. Ordinary and universal magisterium  The author holds an erroneous concept of infallibility, in as much as he only conceives of it in its solemn and ex cathedra manner, thus excluding the infallibility of the ordinary and universal Magisterium. 
      "The pope and Ratzinger have turned what is simply a serious teaching of the pope (what Vatican I would call 'ordinary magisterium') into an 'infallible' teaching (the reference is to Ordinatio sacerdotalis and the Responsum ad dubium).  This seems to me to border on heresy and be a denial of conciliar teaching" (p. 19). 

      "'Ordinary magisterium' has been used as a catchall phrase for virtually all papal teaching.  The ordinary magisterium is now being conflated by the Vatican with the infallible magisterium" (p. 52). 

      "... the real issue (with Humanae vitae) was papal power and not the question of the moral status of contraception ... today we see clearly that everything was sacrificed to preserve papal power" (pp. 87-88). 

      "Most theologians argue that Humanae vitae is an exercise of the ordinary magisterium.  But the problem is that John Paul clearly thinks that it is infallible... (Vatican I) made it clear that the 'charism of infallibility' only operated under the most restricted and solemn circumstances.  Infallibility cannot be somehow interjected into the 'universal ordinary magisterium '" (p. 106). 

  1. Theological notion of reception  The author maintains that in order for a teaching to become a doctrine of the Church it is first debated by theologians and decided on by Bishops, but then it must also be accepted or received by the congregatio fidelium.
      "The context of all teaching authority is the sensus fidelium.  This 'sense of the faithful' is difficult to define precisely, but it refers to the actual acceptance of beliefs by Christians down through the centuries.  It is linked to the doctrine of reception, which holds that if the Christian community accepts a teaching then that teaching is confirmed.  If the teaching is not received, then it can be said that it is not the teaching of the Church" (p. 16; cfr. p. 19, pp. 29-30, p. 63, p. 127, p. 175).
  1. Modernism  The author attacks the condemnation of modernism, failing to understand its true harm (cfr. pp. 23-29). 
  1. Conciliarism  The author cites the Council of Constance as affirming the notion of conciliarism, when in fact it did not affirm the superiority of the council over the Pope.  The author further maintains that the Council of Basel later confirmed the superiority of the council over the Pope, failing to mention is that the "three propositions" of the Council of Basel ("quod vere conventiculum esse diximus ") were condemned not only because they were contrary to the genuine sense of Sacred Scripture, but also because they were contrary to the Council of Constance (cfr.  Concilium Florentinum, Sess.  VII, 4. ix. 1439, Decr. Concilii Florentini contra synodum Basiliensem).  The author claims that Dignitatis humanae from Vatican II is a contradiction of Mirari vos from Gregory XVI and, therefore, an example of "a council correcting the papacy" and not of development of doctrine (p. 22).
      "Am I advocating conciliarism?  I would certainly admit that I lean strongly in that direction in light of the present papalist dominance of the Church.  My position would be viewed by some Catholics as doctrinally untenable" (p. 204). 
    Arguments against the Primacy  The author appears to reject papal primacy by suggesting that the Council Fathers of Vatican I were not allowed to act freely, and that the required moral unanimity among the minority Bishops was lacking (cfr. pp. 115-116).  He concludes that both primacy and infallibility represent only the triumph of a certain "theological school", and is not in accord with Tradition (cfr. p. 216).  He says that the place of the Supreme Pontiff in relation to other Bishops is "primus inter pares" (cfr. p. 16 1).  The author rejects the plenitudo potestatis of the Roman Pontiff, claiming that it is a juridical term that has its roots in the Bull Unam sanctam and not in Divine Revelation. According to the author,  plenitudo potestatis is the cause of the erroneous identification of the Church with the Pope: "the pope equals the Church, and the Church equals the pope" (p. 57).

PO BOX 4053, 
MANUKA.  ACT. 2603. 

20 April 1998. 

Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, 
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 
Palazzo del S. Uffizio, 
00120 Citta del Vaticano.  Vatican City State. 

Dear Archbishop Bertone, 

Re: Your ref. 96/82-05519 

Unfortunately, I have not received any response from you to my letter of two and a half months ago.  So, as a gesture of my willingness to participate in some form of reasonable discussion of the concerns your Congregation has with my book Papal Power, I have decided to initiate the dialogue by responding to the Observations of your anonymous consulter.  However, because of my commitment to open discussion of these issues I wish to reiterate that I will make this letter public. 

But before addressing specific issues, I think it is important to mention firstly some of the unanswered questions involved in what is now being called in Australia "the Collins case".  I still remain ignorant of who it was who delated my book to your Congregation.  Subsequent events in Australia have suggested to me, and to a number of other informed people here, that one or other of the bishops may have played a role in the delation, but because your process protects accusers, one cannot say definitely and we may be entirely wrong in our suspicions. 

The serious problem with anonymous denunciation is that it breeds suspicion.  Accusers act in the dark and do not have to assume moral responsibility for what they do, so there is an inevitable perception of injustice.  I am obliged to answer publicly for my book, but they can act silently, without having to assume any public responsibility for their attacks on me and my perceived opinions. 

Let us now turn to the consulter's Observations: When I first received the Observations I showed them to an Anglican friend, a theologian unacquainted with the ways of the Roman bureaucracy.  He commented that the Observations were written as though Papal Power was written in a vacuum and had no relationship to me.  He went on to say that the book was the product of my experience and ministry and some knowledge of that would be needed to make a mature judgement of it. 

This notion of context is the second point that I want to emphasise with you.  The book emerges from my life and ministry which, for the last two decades has been lived out in an attempt to explain some of the riches of the Catholic tradition for those educated Catholics who are struggling to remain intellectually honest in the church, or for those who no longer find that the church meets their intellectual needs.  I have also tried to speak to the broader educated community that, perhaps unfairly, often sees the Catholic church as an outdated rump focused only on the issues of sexuality and social conservatism.  Because of the way we Catholics often present ourselves in Australia, the richness and breadth of the tradition of Catholicism has been lost, and we are perceived in public discourse as a church with a very blinkered vision. 

The context of my attempt to communicate with the people of today has been the media - radio, TV and, to an increasing extent, the written word.  I do not think it would be immodest to say that I have had some success.  This was acknowledged by one prominent Australian Catholic theologian who, when commenting on my contretemps with your Congregation, said: "Paul Collins has won a sympathetic hearing for Christian positions among people who would normally class themselves as the 'educated despisers of religion' ... [and] has attracted many young people who had assumed that the church has nothing to say on the issues of the day". 

Thus the book has a context, but your consulter seemingly regards it as though it existed in the abstract.  His Observations would have had more credibility with fair-minded people if they had an introduction saying something like: "This is who Paul Collins is and this is what he has tried to do. Now let's look at the book in the light of that".  Instead, there is an attempt at a kind of "objectivity" that proceeds as though I did not exist. 

Papal Power is not, and was never meant to be, an academic treatment of theological issues.  It is popular theology written for an intelligent lay audience.  In the book I explicitly say that I am not a theologian (p 5) and I make it clear that my approach is both historical and practical.  This, of course, does not excuse me from being doctrinally and historically accurate. 

Interestingly, if you read them carefully, most of the criticisms of your anonymous consulter are actually inferences drawn from the book rather than clear statements of mine that have been found to contain specific doctrinal problems. 

The book is also explicitly ecumenical in intention and is directed to members of the other Christian churches.  In Papal
Power I have tried to explain as openly as possible the Catholic doctrines of ecclesial governance, while remaining true to the tradition, as a gesture of openness toward those Christians separated from us.  I believe that my approach in many ways mirrors the approach taken in official ecumenical dialogues, which are often sponsored by the Holy See. 

The Observations begin by saying that "the book is primarily a critique of papal primacy and ordinary magisterium".  This is simply a completely mistaken reading of the book.  It is much broader than that.  It fundamentally attempts to deal with the major structural issues facing the Catholic church today and makes suggestions as to how we might move as a church community into the future.  In the process Papal Power deals with issues such as Christian leadership in the New Testament and the early church as a model for today (pp 139-143; 149151), the churches and ecumenism (pp 111-117), the collegiality of bishops (pp 14-20; 185-187), councils and the future of the church (pp 197-203), the role of theologians (pp 15-20), priestly celibacy (pp 101-103), and much more. 

At first sight one of the most extraordinary comments made by your consulter's Observations is that my "presentation implies that a true and binding revelation does not exist". (Note well, he uses the word "implies".  As I said above, we are dealing here with an inference, not a fact).  At first I could not believe that I was reading this.  Excuse my bluntness, but I found that an insulting comment, given that the man making it was hiding behind a mask of anonymity, and that he was a person who clearly knew nothing about me. 

I have spent much of the last two decades of my life standing up for the Catholic church in public life in Australia, often having to face hard questions in the media, for example in the area of clerical sexual abuse.  There have not been many of us who have stood up and been counted in public as people explicitly committed to the Catholic church.  I am sure you can understand that to have someone chosen by the Holy See to then imply that I do not believe in the truth of Christianity is rather hard to take. 

It was only when I cooled down that I realised that much in the Observations could be explained by the fact that your consulter and I are coming from different starting points. 

I am a Catholic believer, indeed a passionate one, but for me faith is always lived out within the context of history.  Thus our theological understandings are always determined and limited by the constraints of culture and human experience.  We can never exhaust in any one theological approach or statement the transcendent and mysterious realities that underlie and give context to our beliefs.  Among these realities is the church, whose mystery we are constantly challenged to explore.  My belief is that in all of this the Holy Spirit of God is alive and active, constantly guiding the church.  Our understanding of ultimate mystery is always developing. 

Something of this was well expressed recently here in Australia by Father Kevin Dance, CP.  He is the President of the Australian Conference of Leaders of Religious Institutes, and commenting on "the Collins case", and another public ecclesiastical dispute here, he said: "The Catholic church is committed to truth, but discovering truth is a process not an accomplishment.  Truth is dynamic, not static".  Exactly ! 

What I try to do in Papal Power, albeit in terms of popular theology, is to examine something of the development of the structure and government of our church.  For me change and development, inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit, is part of the process of belief.  However, I would also maintain that there is an organic and continuous development that occurs in, through, and often despite the vagaries of church history. 

Your consulter, however, clearly emerges from a different theological perspective.  Here faith is seen in a more normative, static sense - and I do not use the word "static" in a derogatory way.  He seemingly proceeds from the assumption that the profound mysteries at the core of faith can be clearly expressed within a specific theological tradition, and that the development of doctrine is an almost logical process within that context.  The process is largely outside and beyond the realities of history. 

I would suggest that Cardinal John Henry Newman's notion of the development of doctrine is actually closer to the historical view of faith.  Catholic Christianity has never been a religion of static law and unchanging doctrine, established once and for all in the past and true for ever.  Taken to its logical conclusion, this is fundamentalism. 

Newman argues in his Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine that the church's inner life is like an idea that is continually clarified and expanded by development and growth.  His profound historical sense led him unerringly to the realisation that the more the church grows, develops and changes, the more it becomes truly itself.  He concludes his extraordinary image of the river in the Essay on Development with the famous statement: "Here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often". 

When discussing my "method" your consulter says that I read church history out of context, that there are "not a few historical inaccuracies" in the book, and that I look for proof texts "to support [my] thesis that the primacy of the Roman pontiff is not rooted in divine revelation but in secular political models". 

Now, Archbishop Bertone, I think it is important to get this on the record: I certainly do not deny that the Roman primacy is part of divine revelation.  Your consulter does not seem to have read the book carefully.  For example, I say unequivocally on page 150: "The Petrine text is clear that the leadership of the church was conferred on Peter and it is also demonstrable that there was a strong early tradition of identifying the bishop of Rome with Peter... In fact, as [Father J.M.R.] Tillard points out, the notion of Petrine succession is far more significant than is generally recognised today.  He argues that there is an almost sacramental sense in which Peter lives on in his see of Rome" (p 150). 

It is clearly spelled out in the book that I believe in the continuation of Petrine primacy through Roman primacy.  Any other reading is a distortion of my position.  Certainly, I am critical of the First Vatican Council's definition of primacy precisely because it is couched in canonical, legal terms and has actually neglected the rich theology of primacy that can be found especially in the first millennium of church history.  But criticism of a conciliar text - and I am not alone in this criticism - is not tantamount to rejection.  My point about Vatican I is that it did not take church history sufficiently into account. 

Now, I concede that Papal Power is not a complete history of the papacy and that I choose material to support my (perfectly reasonable and verifiable) argument that the gradual process of over-centralisation of control has brought about a dysfunctional situation in the contemporary church.  But the practical problem that my publishers faced is that they had to work within the constraints of size and price when putting out a book such as mine.  You can't say everything in one work. 

Let us now turn to the specific problems with the book that your anonymous consulter mentions. 

First he says that "the author's concept of tradition is more than nebulous" and then refers to passages on p 128 and p 216.  Again, I have this feeling that he has not read the book carefully.  I talk specifically about tradition in pp 125 to 130.  I define tradition not as the static process of merely repeating the past, but as a dynamic process of handing on the faith.  Then I say: "Catholics take tradition as a source and norm of faith.  God, Catholic theology says, reveals God's self to us through the Bible and through the tradition of the church.  But tradition has never been definitively defined.  Probably it cannot be: it is one of those dynamic concepts that defies definition" (p 126). 

The argument then goes on to reject the post-Tridentine idea of tradition as the articulation of the unwritten teachings of Jesus.  I then emphasise the creative element in tradition and stress that tradition is more about process than content.  It is here that we strike again the problem mentioned above: my approach is explicitly historical.  My position is that doctrinal truth works itself out in the processes of church history under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, whereas your consulter seemingly has a more static view.  All that I have said is in complete harmony with Vatican II's Dei Verbum. 

This leads us logically to the second criticism of your consulter.  His Observations say that I "appear to deny the identity of the Church of Christ with the Catholic Church, suggesting a reunion of Christians characterised by indifferentism".  Here again we are dealing with an inference: I "appear" to deny.  But when you read the passage he quotes from p 199 I simply talk about "the richness and diversity of the [other] Christian traditions" and suggest that we work toward intercommunion rather than corporate union, so that the richness of each of the traditions of faith be preserved.  This is hardly a denial of the truth of the Catholic church. 

In fact, Archbishop Bertone, you can set your mind at rest on this issue.  I have said over and over again, both publicly and privately, that I have a deep sense of belonging to the Catholic church and to its extraordinary tradition.  I have no intention of leaving, for it is here that I have found God in the Spirit of Christ. 

But that does not blind me to the profound Christian truths and tradition embedded within the other churches.  Does your consulter think that the other communities - the Orthodox, for instance - are deficient and second class Christians ? Does he suggest that we are the only "true" Christians?  If so, he might have difficulty with the 1993 Ecumenical Directory (17) - which I have no doubt your vigilant Congregation would have carefully scrutinised before publication.  The Directory talks about "the rich diversity of spirituality, discipline, liturgical rites and elaborations of revealed truth that have grown up among the churches" (my emphasis) . The phrase that I have emphasised would certainly suggest that a diversity of theological views is also acceptable within the broad ambit of Catholic truth. 

Here I would like to refer briefly to the least relevant comment that your consulter makes.  He says that I attack "the condemnation of modernism, failing to understand its true harm".  It would seem to me that assessing "the true harm of modernism" is a matter of historical judgement and has nothing whatsoever to do with doctrine.  As a consequence it certainly does not come under the aegis of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  This statement seems a bit like "point scoring" to me. 

In fact, the reality is that the overwhelming weight of historiographic opinion today is against your consulter's view.  The majority view is expressed by Professor Roger Aubert, who knows the papacy of Pius X and this period better than most.  Having conceded that the modernists were far from perfect in attitude (who is?), he says: "One has to admit that the various measures employed to hold back the tide of modernism must be assessed negatively.  Many men loyal to the church were mercilessly banned ... But more serious than these personal fates were other facts: for a long time the undifferentiated suppression of modernism kept the majority of the clergy from pursuing intellectual investigations .... The gap between the church and modern culture widened.  The solution of fundamental problems was postponed, and by simply ignoring them nothing was won, but, on the contrary, harm was done" Roger Aubert in Hubert Jedin (editor), History of the Church.  The Church in the Industrial Age, New York: Crossroad, 1981, Vol IX, pp 387-388). 

Sometimes one is tempted to think that there are contemporary parallels to the suppression of modernism.  And I think I need to ask your Congregation if any consideration is being given to the harm done to the reputations of many loyal and hardworking Catholic lay teachers, theologians, priests and even bishops by reactionaries who constantly call anyone with whom they happen to disagree "modernists" ? 

The consulter then goes on to say that I hold "an erroneous concept of infallibility, in as much as [I] only conceive of it in its solemn and ex cathedra manner, thus excluding the infallibility of the ordinary and universal magisterium".  He quotes four passages from the book which are apparently meant to demonstrate his contention. 

In fact the passages he quotes do not show that I exclude the infallibility of the ordinary and universal magisterium at all, but they reveal my concern about the extension at the popular level of the ordinary and universal magisterium to all and every papal teaching.  And please remember this book was written as popular theology.  Papal Power nowhere suggests that I have any problem with accepting what is universally held by the pope and the bishops. 

My argument is with the way in which this phrase has subsequently come to be used as a catch-all term for each and every papal teaching.  The view of the book is that the ordinary and universal magisterium has been gradually expanded to include the ordinary magisterium of the pope -and to extend to it a kind of "quasi-infallible" status in popular perception. 

I am not alone in this concern about "creeping infallibility".  Father J.M.R. Tillard, OP in his seminal book The Bishop of Rome (Wilmington, Del: Michael Glazier, English trans., 1983), after detailing some examples of ultramontanism which passed in some places as catechetical instruction up to as late as the 1960s, says: "Another sign of this inflated ultramontanism, so different from the vastly more prudent and sober tone of Pastor Aeternus, is a particular conception of the ordinary magisterium ... This may be seen in the way every judgement which comes from Rome is implicitly canonised, whether it be dogmatic, theological or spiritual.  Before the influence of Vatican II made itself felt, the starting point of theological reflection ... was 'the teaching of the magisterium. The views of anyone not on the same wavelength as 'the centre of Christianity, were systematically ignored, indeed considered suspect; theological light could only shine from on high", (pp 32-33).  My contention in Papal Power is that this false canonisation of Roman teaching has continued and is still to be found among many people.

In the book I use Ordinatio sacerdotalis (on the ordination of women) as an example of ordinary magisterium being 'modulated" into the ordinary and universal magisterium and thus, by implication, into infallible teaching.  The problem that I make reference to is the question of how Ordinatio sacerdotalis can be part of the ordinary and universal magisterium when there is no apparent evidence that anyone has asked the bishops their view, and when a sizeable portion of the theological magisterium is seemingly doubtful about how the question should be resolved ? 

Father Francis A. Sullivan, SJ certainly seems to back up my concern in the quotation I cite on p 19 of Papal Power.  He says that for something to be taught infallibly by the ordinary magisterium it has "to be clearly established that the tradition has remained constant, and that even today the universal body of Catholic bishops is teaching the same doctrine to be definitively held".  It is hard to see how these conditions could be fulfilled when the question has only been around for at most two decades. 

Moving now to your consulter's comments on my treatment of the doctrine of reception.  He says that I maintain "that in order for a teaching to become a doctrine of the Church it is first debated by theologians and decided on by Bishops, but then it must be accepted or received by the Congregatio fidelium".  He does not say what is wrong with that summary of the notion of reception, although I suspect it is the reference to the community of the faithful that worries him.  Obviously, my text presupposes that the pope participates in this process as head of the college of bishops. 

Actually, I would have thought that your consulter's summary of Papal Power's views is a reasonable, if a somewhat abbreviated and simplified statement, of the doctrine of reception. my understanding is that the papal magisterium has a solemn obligation to make sure that what it teaches is in conformity with what the bishops and community of the church believe.  When this is carefully and fully carried out "The assent of the church can never be lacking to such definitions on account of the Holy Spirit's influence" (Lumen gentium, 25).  If non-reception occurs those responsible have a further serious obligation to review their decision in the light of the belief of the faithful. 

A criticism has been made by some theologians that I tend to treat reception as a post factum reality; that is, a teaching is ultimately confirmed as true when the Catholic community "receives" it.  I would simply argue in defence of my view that it also seems to be the approach taken by Cardinal John Henry Newman.  Speaking specifically of the definition of infallibility at Vatican I, Newman said: "If the definition is eventually received by the whole body of the faithful ... then too it will claim our assent by the force of the great dictum 

‘securus judicat orbis terrarum'".  He refers to reception by the faithful as "the ultimate guarantee of revealed truth" (Both quotations are taken from The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman, edited by Charles Stephen Dessain, Vol XXV, pp 165, 1712). 

Your consulter then turns to the issue of conciliarism.  I said in the book that "I lean strongly in [the conciliarist] direction" if that term is taken strictly to mean that a general council is ultimately superior to a pope, especially in time of crisis.  Contrary to your consulter, that is the teaching of the Council of Constance.  At the third session on 26 March 1415, led by Cardinal Francesco Zabarella, the Council declared that it had been constituted in a proper way and at the fifth session on 6 April 1415 the fathers confirmed the decree Haec sancta synodus which had already been prepared by Zabarella. 

The decree is clear about its purpose: "the eradication of the present schism" and the "reform of God's church [in] head and members".  The very directness of the language of Haec sancta conveyed the feeling of the need for action in a time of crisis.  The first two points of Haec sancta were the most important theologically: Firstly, Constance claimed that it was "legitimately assembled", that it represented the whole church and it had power "immediately from Christ".  Secondly, Haec sancta stated: Therefore, "everyone of whatever state or dignity, even papal, is bound to obey it in those matters which pertain to the faith, the eradication of the said schism and the general reform of the ... church" (The translation is from Norman P. Tanner's Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils). 

Most historians now accept that Constance was ecumenical from the beginning.  The idea that it only "became ecumenical" from the time the legate of Gregory XII staged a reading of the bull of convocation is now largely abandoned.  It was not clear who was the pope at the time - there were three candidates and it is simply an assumption to say that Gregory XII was legitimate pope.  Again, we are engaged here in historical issues and it is for historians to decide, not theologians. 

Finally, your anonymous consulter says that "I appear to reject papal primacy" - another inference - because of lack of freedom at Vatican I. Let's get clear what I actually say.  I summarise Father Luis Bermejo, SJ saying: "There are serious doubts about Vatican I's freedom, but he (Bermejo) emphasises that this is still an open question" (p 115) . "Open" in English means that the question is still debatable.  To say that debate about a possible lack of freedom is an "open question" is hardly tantamount to rejection of papal primacy. 

Papal Power then goes on to examine the question of the required moral unanimity at Vatican I. With Bermejo I think that there are more serious questions to be asked here.  I quote Bermejo saying that the required moral unanimity was not reached (p 116) . I have great respect for him as a careful historian who has studied the sources thoroughly.  On this issue I neither agree nor disagree with him in my book.  And that is still my position. 

Your consulter also says that I say that "the place of the Supreme Pontiff in relation to other Bishops is primus inter pares" as though this were an absolute statement on my part.  But it is qualified (in block letters) with the phrase "primacy in the first millennium" (p 161) . The whole section (pp 161-164) simply talks about the theological views held in the period prior to Damasus I (366-384) . In this section I am not spelling out what I think, but what the historical situation was.  Either the consulter has not read the section, or he misrepresents my position totally.  Either way, it is an utterly incorrect assumption to infer - again it is an inference -  that this brief saying sums up my view of papal primacy. 

He then goes on to say that I "reject the plenitudo potestatis of the Roman Pontiff claiming it is a juridical term that has its roots in the Bull Unam Sanctam and not in divine revelation". 

I have one simple question: where in divine revelation can one find the term plenitudo potestatis?  The historical facts are that the term comes from Roman law.  It entered the canonical tradition just before the time of Innocent III.  In this period fullness of authority became synonymous in canonical thought with papal primacy.  As John A. Watt has pointed out two historical sources come together to inject meaning into the term plenitudo potestatis.  The canonists linked the authority granted to Peter in the Petrine text with the notion of imperial or monarchical power which had came into canon law from Roman law.  Increasingly, in practice, the popes imitated imperial power.  By the time of Innocent III the term plenitudo potestatis denoted papal sovereignty.  This sovereignty became co-terminus with primacy. 

Again here we are dealing with historical facts.  To infer from this historical discussion that I reject papal primacy is totally incorrect. 

In conclusion, Archbishop, I have to say that in general I found your consulter's Observations quite extraordinary.  With the exception of the issue of the ordinary and universal magisterium, the criticisms are nothing more than inferences drawn from quotations taken out of context from my book. 

Ultimately, the Catholic church and the people of God will be the judge of us all, 

Yours sincerely, 

[Rev.  Dr. Paul Collins, MSC]. 

Link to Paul Collins' statement of the reasons for his resignation from the active priesthood in protest over the current retreat  by the ecclesiastical leadership from the Vatican II vision of the Catholic Church. (March 2001)

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(Bishop Geoffrey Robinson in converation with Dr Ingrid Shafer)

Ingrid H. Shafer, Ph.D.
e-mail address: ihs@ionet.net
Posted April 1998
Last updated 11 March 2001
Copyright © 2001 Ingrid H. Shafer
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Helena, MT 59604-6512


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