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You Can’t Have It Both Ways

It’s hard to pursue two conflicting policies at the same time. But that seems to be what the Holy See has been doing as it seeks both to advance the agenda of Catholic orthodoxy inside the Church, which requires a strengthened papacy, and to achieve ecumenical accords with non-Catholic churches, which can only be bought at the price of a weakened papacy. At issue here is the nature of papal primacy (i.e., the authority of the pope with regard to the doctrine, discipline, and government of the Church), a subject to which Russell Shaw devotes an interesting article in Crisis (Jan. 2000), one of the best Catholic magazines around.

While Shaw adopts his usual on-the-one-hand-but-on-the-other-hand posture and predictably avoids coming down on either side, he does lay out the problem clearly, thereby inviting a response from us.

In Ut Unum Sint, Pope John Paul II said that, in the interests of Christian unity, he is willing to find “a way of exercising the primacy which…is…open to a new situation,” and he invited “dialogue” toward that end. Shaw recognizes that actually taking this route will involve “decentralization” of Church authority, and asserts that “important purposes could be served” by taking this road. Yet, Shaw also recognizes that Catholic progressives have “exploited” Ut Unum Sint to undermine John Paul’s policies and that they seek to weaken papal primacy in order to “create a friendly environment for changes in doctrine and discipline.” Shaw also understands that a “strong papacy” is the antidote to the poisons that our degenerate Western culture is injecting into the Church.

The choice to be made is clear: Achieve ecumenical goals by weakening the papacy and allowing dissent to run rampant or let ecumenism take care of itself and revitalize and reunify the Catholic Church with the instrument of a vigorous papacy. It’s clear to us that the latter option is the correct choice.

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