The Church of Pope Francis

Source: District of Asia

It is essential to thoroughly examine and understand the significant concept of "collegiality" to fully grasp the directions and implications of the guidance already provided by Pope Francis.

1st:  The context - Collegiality in Vatican II.

To be honest, neither the word nor the notion of collegiality existed in the Church before the 1960s. There was always, of course, a holy collaboration among bishops to grow the Kingdom of God in the triple communion of faith, charity, and hierarchical subordination. But it was never said that the Body of the twelve apostles had been instituted in the form of a "college," so that the Body of bishops, successors of the apostolic Body, only existed and acted juridically collegially.

On the contrary, both in its doctrine and in its law, the Church always professed its monarchical constitution, in the sense that everything in it proceeds from a single head, Christ, of whom the Pope is the sole vicar on earth, endowed therefore with universal jurisdiction. The Church is also monarchical because the bishop is the only one with ordinary jurisdiction over his diocese, with no authority above him other than that of the Pope.

It is precisely this hierarchical order that Vatican II made shake. During the discussions accompanying the drafting of Lumen Gentium, the idea was introduced that authority in the Church would be essentially collegial, hence the famous "episcopal collegiality." This directly questioned the primacy of jurisdiction of the Pope, to whom only a primacy of honor or at most a function in service of the unity of the Church was conferred. This view, of course, directly opposes the Divine Constitution of the Church. Vatican II, without going so far, nevertheless affirmed a dual supreme authority in the Church: on the one hand, that of the Pope alone, and on the other hand, that of the Episcopal College with the Pope at its head.

2nd: Pope Francis's Collegiality.

This context allows for a better understanding of the speech Pope Francis delivered on October 17, 2015. When the Pope affirms in it that "synodality, as a constitutive dimension of the Church, offers us the most suitable interpretative framework for understanding the hierarchical ministry itself," or that within the Church, "no one can be 'elevated' above the others," it is immediately understood that he would like to eliminate the splitting of the supreme authority of the Church in favor of the Episcopal College along with the Pope at its head and, therefore, to the detriment of the primacy of jurisdiction of the Pope separately from the College. This assessment seems to be confirmed when the Pope reiterates "the need and urgency to think about 'a conversion of the papacy'," using the dimension of collegiality that he wants to recognize in the Church as a criterion for this "conversion": "The Pope is not, by himself, above the Church; but, within it, as a baptized person among the baptized, and within the Episcopal College, as a bishop among bishops, called at the same time—as the Successor of the Apostle Peter—to guide the Church of Rome, which presides in charity over all the Churches."

If this were the case, and as Francis seems to say, bishops would be subject to the Pope only as the head of the Episcopal College: "Bishops are united to the Bishop of Rome by the bond of episcopal communion ('cum Petro') and at the same time are hierarchically subject to him as the head of the College ('sub Petro')."

This would eliminate the full and universal power of the Pope alone, to whom the bishops are subject, like all other members of the Church. Thus, the last barriers against heresy still present in the ambiguous texts of Vatican II are destroyed, and a new Church is shaped, different from the one divinely instituted by Our Lord Jesus Christ.

3rd:  A First Concretization.

Exercised at all levels, this collegiality would attribute, for example, a real doctrinal authority to the Episcopal Conferences. The Pope opened this path in Evangelii Gaudium (no. 32):

The Second Vatican Council expressed that [...] Episcopal Conferences can 'develop a multiple and fruitful work, so that collegial affection has a concrete application.' But this desire has not been fully realized because a statute of the Episcopal Conferences has not yet been sufficiently explicit, conceiving them as subjects of specific attributions, including some authentic doctrinal authority.

Such a proposal, from a doctrinal point of view, would question the bishop's own authority over his diocese, which is of divine institution. And from a practical point of view, if each Episcopal Conference had doctrinal power, we would soon reach divergent and even contradictory teachings, according to countries, on matters of faith and customs. The unity of the Church would be destroyed in favor of national Churches. Unfortunately, this does not seem to worry Pope Francis too much:

What seems normal for a bishop of one continent may seem strange, almost like a scandal—almost!—for the bishop of another continent; what is considered a violation of a right in one society may be an obvious and untouchable precept in another; what is freedom of conscience for some may simply seem like confusion to others. In reality, cultures are very different from each other, and every general principle—as I said, dogmatic questions well defined by the Magisterium of the Church, every general principle needs to be inculturated if it wants to be observed and applied.

These statements, made by a Pope disappointed that his proposals regarding the communion of remarried divorcees were not adopted at the 2015 Synod on the Family, show a Pope willing to accept divergences in matters affecting the doctrine of the Church in faith and customs in particular Churches.

4th: Ecumenical Dimension.

The conception of the Church that the Pope seeks to impose on the Church is quite similar to that of the schismatic Churches of Orthodoxy, as Pope Francis himself acknowledges in his interview with La Civiltà Cattolica: "From them [the Orthodox], we can learn more about the meaning of episcopal collegiality and the tradition of synodality." According to him, it would then be necessary to "recognize what the Spirit has sown in the other [Orthodoxy] as a gift that is also destined for us." What a terrible statement! Christ would not have endowed His Church with all its gifts, especially regarding its Divine Constitution, and, on the contrary, what precisely defines Orthodoxy in its schismatic dimension would be a gift from Christ. However, Pope Francis's ecumenical will prevails over all these considerations. In his speech on October 17, 2015, he shows the ecumenical need for a reform of the Church down to its very constitution:

The commitment to build a synodal Church [...] is pregnant with ecumenical implications. For this reason, speaking with a Delegation from the Patriarchate of Constantinople, I recently reiterated the conviction that 'the careful examination of how the principle of synodality and the service of the one who presides are articulated in the life of the Church will offer a significant contribution to the progress of relations between our Churches.

5th: From Collegiality to Synodality.

But there is more: the Church that Pope Francis would like to impose far surpasses the schismatic conception of the Orthodox. Taking on the implicitly mentioned thesis of Vatican II and developed by subsequent popes, Pope Francis asserts that "the synodal path begins by listening to the people, who “also participate in the prophetic function of Christ."” It no longer places the infallibility of the teaching Church at the foundation but that of the People of God as a whole:

In the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (no. 119), I emphasized how the People of God are holy because of this anointing that makes them infallible 'in credendo' [...] The 'sensus fidei' prevents a rigid separation between the 'Ecclesia docens' and the 'Ecclesia discens,' since the flock also has its 'olfactory' sense to find new paths that the Lord opens to the Church [...] A synodal Church is a Church of listening [...]. in which everyone has something to learn. Faithful people, Episcopal College, Bishop of Rome: all listening to each other, and all listening to the Holy Spirit, the 'Spirit of truth' (Jn. 14:17), to know what he 'says to the Churches' (Rev. 2:7).

In summary, God would no longer speak to the members of the Church through the mediation of their pastors but would address the conscience of the People of God as a whole. The role of the Magisterium would then be to authenticate the divine nature of these intuitions of the People of God. This is the conception of the Magisterium condemned by Pope St. Pius X in his encyclical Pascendi on modernism. In any case, this is how Pope Francis's words in his speech on October 17, 2015, make sense: the Church becomes like an inverted pyramid:

"Jesus constituted the Church by placing at its summit the apostolic College [error of collegiality], in which the Apostle Peter is the 'rock' (Mt. 16:18) [reduction of the Petrine function to the head of the Episcopal College], the one who must 'confirm' the brothers in the faith (Lk. 22:32). But in this Church, like in an inverted pyramid, the top is found below the base."


After the dramatic pastoral exhortation Amoris Laetitia, which allowed access to communion for remarried divorcees and thus opened the door to the moral legitimization of adultery, some observers did not hesitate to speak of a de facto schism within the Catholic Church. If now Pope Francis's personal desires regarding synodality were to become institutionalized, we would be facing a de jure schism. If such a schism were to occur, would the 'Polycephalous Synodal Church' of Pope Francis be equivalent to the One, Holy Catholic Church, which is inherently monarchical in nature? This is the real question.