Before I share Robert's words let me just say that the papacy of today's Roman Catholic Church has been several hundred years in the making. Historically, its development can be traced as a series of increasingly reactionary measures orchestrated in response to new insights and understandings brought to light by advances in the sciences and by the rise and spread of democracy throughout Europe. Today the papacy serves primarily as a pitiful remnant of a once formidable bastion of defensiveness against these new understandings and developments. It wasn't always like this, nor does it need to remain so.
Old Catholicism views its understanding of the papacy as an authentically traditional one. At the same time, the Old Catholic Church is a very dynamic and progressive expression of Catholicism. Robert notes, for instance, that women and LGBT persons are not just welcome to the table at Eucharist but are also welcome to "fully participate in the gospel ministry of Christ’s church by sharing their diverse gifts with the local eucharistic fellowship."
Following are Robert Caruso's thoughts on the papacy from an Old Catholic perspective, a perspective I believe is both important and helpful for Roman Catholics who are serious about reconsidering and reforming the papacy.
Old Catholics share similarities with the Roman church liturgically and theologically; they believe in the seven sacraments of the church, the Eucharist as the local church’s central act of worship, and bishops, priests, and deacons functioning as ministers of Christ’s mystical body: the local church universal.
Old Catholics disagree with the universal supremacy of the papacy (i.e. the pope), and all so-called infallible dogmatic teachings decreed post council of Trent (1546). However, Old Catholics maintain the primacy of the pope in stating that he holds a primus inter pares (first among equals) position among the college of bishops in the church. The disagreement between the papacy and the Union of Utrecht (generally speaking) is focused on Old Catholic’s maintaining that the pope and the papacy is not a divinely inspired institution, nor should the pope possess supreme jurisdictional power over all local churches throughout the world.
Other differences between the Old and Roman Catholic churches are more visible; the Old Catholic church of Germany ordained it first two women to the ministerial priesthood in 1996, homosexuals (gay and lesbian) are welcome to full participation in the body of Christ, and nobody is ever denied Eucharist. The church is understood as healer, lover, sustainer, and forgiver. Meaning, Old Catholics elevate the dignity and conscience of the baptized in understanding what sin (the separation between God and oneself) is and how it affects her or him in their lives. There is no black and white social moral catechism for Old Catholics because social morality is viewed as being relative, and the Church (the body of the baptized) moves with and in the power of the Spirit to meet the needs and hurts of all the parts of the body throughout the ages. Hence, social morality is not demeaned but significantly valued in recognizing its complexity and relativistic nature.
The pope, according to Old Catholic European theologians, holds a place of primacy as the bishop of Rome because this geographical location is traditionally known as the place where Sts. Peter and Paul were martyred. The pope is the symbol of unity for every local church universal throughout the world, and his historical place in the catholic (universal) Church is one of honor, not power.
Old Catholics do not agree that the pope is the Vicar of Christ on earth and supreme head of the universal local churches. There is one head for the body and that is Christ Jesus (Eph. 4:15). The bishop is a representative of Christ for the local church, and no one bishop is superior to any other local church bishop. Furthermore Old Catholics do not affirm that the bishop of Rome (as an individual) is infallible in any way, shape, or form. The Church (the entire body of the baptized) teaches infallibly through the power of the Holy Spirit. No one human being stands alone and speaks for the universal Church because it is antithetical to its salvific communal and universal nature. Meaning, as individuals our human pride fools us into believing the illusion that we are free agents – it is only when we (the baptized) function in communion with the entire body, that we truly begin to understand Christ’s paschal mystery and the salvific nature of the local church universal in relationship with the Triune God.
. . . How did the Old Catholics arrive at a theological justification for a Catholic Church not in communion with Rome? Old Catholics cannot be fully understood (from a historical and theological perspective) apart from Vatican I and the doctrine (teaching) of papal infallibility. The disagreement with Rome and Utrecht had everything to do with the “crisis of conscience” between a local church (Utrecht) and papal authority. When the papacy forced certain local national churches to accept the doctrine of infallibility of the pope or face excommunication, a theological crisis of conscience emerged yet again and conflict ensued between the papacy and certain national churches in Europe. This “anti-infallibility” movement was led by Ignaz von Dölinger (a Roman Catholic theologian present at the Vatican I council), who later became a major “classical” theologian for the Old Catholic Church. Dölinger was against the doctrine of papal infallibility because he claimed it was a novel teaching foreign to what the ancient church fathers taught regarding the bishop of Rome. He further stated that if the Roman church accepted the infallibility doctrine of the pope, the church would quintessentially redefine itself apart from the tradition of the ancient church. Dölinger asserted that Vatican I, by accepting the papal infallibility doctrine, created a new Catholic Church, and he further asserted that he would remain part of the old Catholic Church – the church that did not distance itself from the tradition of the ancient church. Hence, the term “Old Catholic” was coined and reserved for those national churches that did not accept the papal infallibility doctrine promulgated at the Vatican I council. It is important to note that the Old Catholic churches did not schism with the Roman Catholic Church; they were rather expelled (excommunicated) by the papacy for refusing to submit to the Vatican counsel. Hence, these local churches had no choice but to unite with each other, so to preserve their Catholicity apart from Rome.
NEXT: Part 3
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Progressive Perspectives on the Papacy (Part 1)
An Old Catholic Perspective on the Roman Hierarchy's "Dumbing Down" of the Catholic Church
Robert Caruso's Scholarly Introduction to Old Catholicism
Understanding the Old Catholic Church (Part 1)
Understanding the Old Catholic Church (Part 2)
Understanding the Old Catholic Church (Part 3)
Robert Caruso on the Pentecost Rainbow Sash Presence at the Cathedral
Celebrating the Risen Christ, Old Catholic Style
Casanova-inspired Reflections on Papal Power - at 30,000 ft.
What It Means to Be Catholic
No Patriarchal Hierarchy, No Rigid Conformity
Re-Forming "the Vatican" Doesn't Mean Destroying the Church
Pan's Labyrinth: Critiquing the Cult of Unquestioning Obedience
What the Vatican Can Learn from the X-Men
Roger Haight on the Church We Need
Recommended Off-site Links:
On Day Before Papal Vote, Talk Shifts to Ritual – Joshua J. McElwee (National Catholic Reporter, March 11, 2013).
SNAP to Cardinal Angelo Sodano: Step Down Tomorrow as Papal Conclave Begins – William D. Lindsey (Bilgrimage, March 11, 2013).
What Will Happen Inside the Vatican Conclave to Choose the Next Pope? – David Wright and Alyssa Newcomb (ABC News, March 11, 2013).
Picking the Pope: Holy Spirit or 'Groupthink' – David Gibson (Religion News Service via The National Catholic Reporter, March 9, 2013).
Mary Hunt on CBS News: "Conclave a 'Farce' When Women Have No Say” – WATER (March 11, 2013).
The Next Pope Should Be Catholic – Timothy George (First Things, March 8, 2013).
Father Marcial Maciel And The Popes He Stained – Jason Berry (The Daily Beast, March 11, 2013).
Vatican Summoned Before UN Committee on the Rights of the Child – Barbara Blaine (SNAP, February 28, 2013).
What Would Christ Say If He Could See the Church Today? – Fr. Peter Daly (National Catholic Reporter, March 11, 2013).