If you have been following the Synod on the Family taking place in Rome you no doubt have noticed that a number of bishops and cardinals are advocating for what has been called “decentralization.” The Pope himself has suggested that there might be a need for decentralization, even of the papacy. Under decentralization, authority over “pastoral” matters would be left to bishops and bishop conferences around the world. What kind of matters might be in play? Specifically, the bishops and cardinals promoting decentralization are interested in having authority on issues concerning the Church’s position on sexuality, specifically the response to active homosexuality and access to the Eucharist for those not in a state of grace.
So you should be wondering … is decentralization a good thing or a bad thing?
The answer is clear. Decentralization is a bad thing, a really, really bad thing. If fully implemented it could well be the end of the Catholic faith as we know it.
How can I say such a thing with certainty? Simple. Because we have already seen a unified faith torn asunder by the tragic results of decentralization and the division it engenders.
It’s called the Anglican Church.
You remember the old Anglican Church, it was born of Henry the Eighth’s desire to get rid of his wife so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. From its founding in the early 16th century, the Anglicans by and large accepted the teachings and traditions of the Catholic Church, but differed on governance and the authority of the Pope.
In the first half of the twentieth century, however, the Anglicans began to gradually decentralize the recognized leadership of the faith. Decentralization led to disorder and factions, as “traditional” congregations were pitted against “liberal” ones, polarizing and confusing the faithful. Traditions and disciplines were tossed out in some Anglican communities. The results? Disunity. Hostility. Absence of agreement on doctrine. Large scale flight of the faithful. Today, the African bishops in the Anglican Church are decidedly conservative and traditional. The bishops of Europe and the United States are so liberal as to barely resemble their African counterparts.
Does any of this sound familiar? How can decentralization cause injury to our Holy Catholic Church?
Here are just a couple of examples, there are many others. For instance, in a decentralized structure a bishop in one diocese could decide to permit persons not in a state of grace to receive the Eucharist without fear of committing mortal sin, while a bishop in another diocese follows the traditional Church’s teaching and prohibits such reception of the Eucharist. A second example would occur if one bishop decides that it is pastoral to perform blessings of homosexual unions, while a bishop in a different diocese refuses to permit such blessings. The confusion engendered by these examples would necessarily weaken the authority of the Church.
Our Church is catholic, that is, universal. The truth does not change depending upon the identity of who currently is the bishop or cardinal. The truth of our faith is rooted in the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ, as revealed to us by the teachings of the Apostles and sacred scripture. Our Church, the bride of Christ, has always proclaimed the truth with one voice. To suggest that matters of faith and morals are dependent upon a bishop or location is an affront to the mission of the Church.
We are not sheep. We are Catholic. We are the Church. Speak the truth boldly in love.