Is the Vatican Catholic Church capable of change and flexibility?
by Tom Thorne
I now regularly argue that currently there are really two Catholic churches. First there is what I call the Vatican Catholic Church (VCC) and its hierarchical structures headquartered in Rome. Second there is the Catholic Church throughout the world consisting of dioceses, parishes, parishioners and their pastors.
The VCC finds it very difficult to change and respond well to the needs of the faithful at the diocese and parish levels. They function in a bureaucratized world of rules, pronouncements, apologies and ritualized blessings. In good faith they solidly believe that their work is relevant to faithful Catholics throughout the world. They may be misguided in this basic assumption.
The Church of parishioners and their pastors is often capable of embracing change and addressing the spiritual and moral needs of the people. However their local message is often couched but in a type of twisted respect for the VCC and as a result they live disciplined lives of frustration and quiet desperation as many issues remain unresolved and are more often bureaucratized into lengthy processes by the head office in Rome or worse yet they are swept under a rug and ignored.
That’s why I ask how can a bureaucratic top down highly centralized VCC organization deal adequately with the issues of contemporary life across the world? It is my view that current hierarchical structure is so passé that it has little hope of functioning well in contemporary times. In fact this style of management is largely passé for secular structures as well.
An old problem
Even in earlier times when the Church was concentrated in Europe and around the Mediterranean there was a chance that this system could function but even then the Vatican centre was often unable to exercise control to the point that there was a Schism and later a Reformation started from its own regional dioceses and parishes.
The VCC’s lack of control and authority is not a new phenomenon of our times. There is a pretence that there is a central Catholic authority. I argue that even historically that has never been the case.
Please note that these comments are made in no particular context or with no particular issue front and centre or with no particular ax to grind.
Out of step
It is my contention that the Vatican structure itself as it is constituted even over its lengthy history is unable to deal with the affairs of the people of the Church, the faithful Catholics who live their lives each day and wrestle with the moral issues of contemporary life. In short the Vatican hierarchy is out of step with needs at the parish and individual Catholics and may well be irrelevant to their needs. The plurality and diversity of the Church in the world today may spell the final end to the VCC’s authority.
How relevant can the VCC be?
The test of relevance is how well the VCC hierarchy deals with issues. Their approach from my viewpoint is the same as bureaucrats everywhere. They focus issues into well intentioned processes and the processes lead to more and more form without substance posturing all done in the name of good. If we trace their response to almost any issue the issue disappears into VCC processes and emerges when it does as an infallible rule book for the faithful to follow or worse it remains unresolved and remains in a moral limbo.
The VCC system very often generates unreasonable viewpoints and expectations that instead of building resolutions to problems often builds stress for the diocese and parish and individual Catholics to deal with. The test of the VCC’s influence is whether or not what they say is what they do and also whether the faithful accept VCC viewpoints, apologies and pronouncements as valid
moral guidance in their lives.
© Copyright 2011 Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved