As Pray Tell reported yesterday, a petition in support of Pope Francis has arisen from the Czech Republic and Austria and is now circling the globe.
Are these petitions a good idea? Is this a constructive way to promote discussion and dialogue in the Church? If one supports Pope Francis, should one sign the petition?
I admit that I’m a bit uneasy with this thing. It feels to me more like competition than dialogue. I fear it becoming a proxy war, but at the wrong level. Discernment in the Church happens at the level of the hierarchy, which of course we hope is deeply in touch with the entire People of God including lay people, clergy, religious, and theologians. (The Middle Ages had it right when they held that the magisterium consists of those who teach – bishops and theologians.) What is the real meaning of a petition, and what value does it derive from having more rather than less signatories?
Massimo Faggioli stated on social media why he did not sign:
I understand the temptation to sign it, but it’s ecclesiologically wrong and ecclesially-politically misguided. The Catholic Church is a Church of reception, not of petitions (right or left, conservative or liberal).
“They” need to count how few they are, “we” do not need to do that.
But Joseph S. O’Leary responded:
This is a subtle point of ecclesiology. Offhand I can’t think why petitions should not be part of church life. The citizens of Ghent addressed petitions to Julius II and Leo X. A glance at Google indicates the Jews, and the citizens of Bologna, addressed petitions to the pope. No doubt many individuals and groups have petitioned the pope with various requests. …It’s hard to see why even this should be an ecclesiological no-no.
When asked whether the pope really has any need of such a petition, co-organizer Fr. Paul Zulehner of Vienna said this to katholische.de
Asztrik Várszegi, archabbot of Pannonhalma and also a bishop, told us that of course he would sign – although he finds it very regrettable that such a thing is even necessary. And I feel a bit the same way. On the other hand, we know from the pope himself that he loves pluralism and the open exchange of opinions and does not suppress them. In this light, the engagement that we want is absolutely creative for the life of the Church.
Asked about the aim of the petition, Zulehner said this:
I don’t know what will come from this. But I sure am amazed at how quickly it is going. That in just a few days, so much fire has flamed up, so to speak. This says that the ground was already very dry and ready to burn. The detail of how many people it will ultimately be is probably not really so important. In any case, we will gain unbelievably many supporters. If it continues as now, I foresee over 10,000. And the media will not be able to ignore this. “Radio Vatican” has already reported on it.
I suppose this petition has a bit of official recognition in that seven bishops have signed it: Beer, Vac, Hungary; Dowling, Rustenberg, South Africa; Iby, Eisenstadt, Austria (retired); Krätzl, Vienna (auxiliary); Lobinger, North-Aliwal, South Africa (retired); Malý, Prague (retired); Várszegi OSB, titular bishop and Benedictine abbot of Pannonhalma, Hungary.
I haven’t signed. If enough bishops and superiors and mainline theologians sign on, will I reconsider? I don’t know. But I’m not there yet.