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Address given at the International Federation of Married Catholic Priests held July 28-Aug. 1, 1999


Fr. Paul Collins


I have a doctor friend in his mid-fifties who said recently: "We've all changed, but the church has hardly changed at all". The 'we' he was referring to were the laity and many of the priests of his generation, the people who grew up in the pre Vatican II church and who have been through the massive changes of the last three decades. By 'church' he meant the clerical hierarchy. My friend's assessment is right: most older Catholics are changing or have changed by opting for pluralism. The priorities of their belief, spirituality and ethics are very different to what they were in the 1960's. As John Wilkins, editor of the London Catholic weekly, The Tablet says: "They have re- negotiated the terms of their membership (of the church)".' Younger Catholics have taken an even more radical approach: for them change and pluralism is a given and the post-modern culture in which they are educated has assured them that there are no absolutes and that truth is relative.

In my 1986 book Mixed Blessings I used the biological word 'mutation' to describe what had happened since the end of Vatican II in 1965. The word refers literally to genetic change and it conveys a sense "of both dramatic transformation and continuity ... The evolution of a new reality is deeply rooted in and is the result of all that has gone before".

'While the change can be sudden and dramatic, there is also genuine continuity. One thing is certain: there is no going back.

There have been at least four previous mutations in the history of the church. The first occurred in New Testament and sub-apostolic times when Christianity emerged from its Jewish matrix to confront the wider culture of the Roman world. The second was in the early fourth century the church moved from being a persecuted sect to the favored and eventually official religion of the late Roman Empire The third was at the beginning of the second millennium when a reformed model of church government emerged that was increasingly papocentric and hierarchical. Finally, the sixteenth century Counter Reformation saw the emergence of a more highly controlled church in response to Protestantism. To enforce this the papacy adopted an 'absolutist' model from contemporary political culture.' Catholicism today is undergoing the fifth, and probably most radical mutation in church history.

In the face of this many traditionalists have retreated into an attempt to restore the Catholicism of the past. There is a feeling abroad, even in the Vatican itself, that the only solution for the church is to withdraw to a kind of sectarian ghetto,. maintaining a surviving remnant of 'true believers.' Some maintain the church has to become smaller in order to remain faithful. This draws upon a tradition within Catholicism that is based on a sense of the church as a source of absolute truth that acts as a kind of perimeter for believers. There is freedom within its boundaries, but outside of it is the dangerous relativity of the 'world' in our case post-modern secularism, or various forms of totalitarianism. It is the role of the church to stand against these prevailing social trends.

The theologians who think along these lines - the most important are Hans Urs von Balthazar and Josef Ratzinger - generally take an anti modern approach and want to return to the sources, to the great thinkers of the past. They reject sectarianism, but see little to attract them in the modern world, and are sure it has nothing to teach the church.

However, this anti modern response does not really accord with the mainstream Catholic tradition. Catholicism has always resisted sectarianism and has maintained a sense of living in interaction with the cultural context in which it finds itself. In terms of the ugly neologism, it has always been an 'uncultured' faith. Anti modernism is also an unimaginative response.

What the contemporary church must learn to do is to live critically with pluralism, while resisting the post-modernist fascination with relativism. Many Catholics are already engaged in the process of learning this art. It consists in a respectful tolerance of a whole range of views within the context of a democratic polity, while maintaining an organic commitment to Catholic belief and its living and developing view of life. This expresses itself through Catholics participating in social processes, discerning and supporting what is best, and offering a critique of those social norms that are contrary to human and Christian values. This approach requires humility, knowledge of the biblical and church tradition and history, and a quiet confidence that the Spirit is able to sustain the church in all social circumstances. Most mainstream Catholics who have been born and brought up in Western democracies simply do this instinctively. The paradigmatic document of Vatican II for such an attitude is Gaudium et Spes the Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.

In contrast, many of those who come to adult maturity under dictatorial or absolutist regimes often unconsciously mimic their contexts: their view of religion and faith is similarly uncompromising and absolutist. While much in their stance is admirable, their approach is not as normative as they often assume. Catholics in liberal democracies have mare complex minuets to perform: respecting and tolerating other views while maintaining commitment to Christian faith and the critique it offers to society.

What is happening in contemporary Catholicism is that those who have learned to live with plurality and ambiguity are frustrated by a church leadership that is afraid of this process and unwilling to engage in it. They often feel that the doctrinal and theological justifications used for maintaining or restoring the old authoritarian Catholicism are specious and that what they are really dealing with is a determination to maintain clerical power. In my view they are right, and in fact point to one of the essential fault lines that runs through contemporary Catholicism. While the model of church out of which most Catholics operate is communal and consultative, there has been a complete failure to develop structures that embody the new vision of church articulated at Vatican II. What we are essentially dealing with here is the disjunction between a reforming laity and an essentially unreformed hierarchy. Sitting at the core of this fault line is the question of power.


It is striking how often images of illness, sickness and decay recur in the poetic imagery of Shakespeare's Hamlet. As the guard Bernardo succinctly puts it: 'Something is rotten in the state of Denmark" (I, IV, 90) . Although he does not know any of the details of the political machinations at the highest level of the kingdom, Bernardo's comment sums up the pervasive canker at the core of the Danish body politic that corrupts everything it touches. This sense of corruption is re-enforced by recurring poetic images in the play that allude to disease, contagion and infection. There are references to 'leprous distilment', sickness, age and impotence,, 'contagious blastments' and to the sun breeding maggots in a dead body. The world is said to be a 'foul and pestilent congregation of vapours'. At the corrupt core of it all is King Claudius' murder of his brother, Hamlet senior. As the king himself says:

O! my offence is rank, it smells to heaven;
It hath the primal eldest curse upon't;
A brother's murder! (III, 111, 36-38).

The crime of regicide is compounded by Queen Gertrude's incestuous marriage to her brother in law. Shakespeare's notion is that the cankerous corruption that permeates the state is the fruit of high crime of regicide, incest and Claudius' pursuit of absolute power. A similar theme runs through his other great tragedies of the corruption of right order and royal authority gone astray, Macbeth and King Lear.

In the sixteenth century the theory was that a corrupt monarch's deeds could permeate the entire political structure, especially when the right order of society had been subverted by the murder of the legitimate king.

The nearest parallel that we have today to the absolute monarchical state is the papacy. Absolute monarchy was the model used at Vatican Council I (1869-1870) and it remains current in Rome today. It was first fully articulated in the heyday of absolutism in the seventeenth century by the Jesuit cardinal, Saint Robert Bellermine. Because pope and hierarchy still operate on the basis of this absolutist model, I think that Shakespearean imagery can be usefully applied to contemporary Catholicism. What I am arguing here is that the corruption of power in an absolutist structure eventually seeps down to permeate the entire body politic. Clearly, I am not suggesting that the papacy is guilty of regicide, although Gertrude's incestuous marriage has vague resonances with the modern epidemic of clerical sexual abuse.

It is the absolutist model of untrammeled power out of which the modern papacy operates that I maintain is the core structural problem facing the church. And because this overweening power infects the whole ecclesiastical structure, things will not change with a new pope or different cardinals, as many people hope. They say 'If only Cardinal Martini or someone like John XXIII were elected pope, everything will be all right. No, it won It. For the corruption of power is not so much about the culpability of particular persons, as it is about the fact that the structure as presently constituted, centralizes all power in the hands of the pope and the Roman curia. It is simply no longer working as a form of service on behalf of the church; like all absolutist structures, it has become obsessed with itself and the maintenance of its own control, and that obsession with power is intrinsically corrupting.

In 1988 Matthew Fox caused a ruckus when he compared the church to a maladjusted, addictive, dysfunctional family led by an authoritarian and psychologically disturbed hierarchy. He described the Vatican as a fascist, self-deluded organization that projected its problems outward onto others, with whom it never dealt directly.' Fox's reference to dysfunctionality chimed in well with the modern emphasis on psychological and social analysis. However, my preference is for a critique more in keeping with the Shakespearean structural approach. The psychological approach suggests it is primarily individuals that need to change. But people operate

Many in the Vatican object to the word 'power' when speaking of church government. They increasingly prefer to use the term 'authority. 'This gives a kind of rhetorical legitimacy to them In English the 'power' coercive dominance and command; a person with institutional power can achieve what they want by force, despite opposition. The word 'authority' has a less coercive feel to it; it suggests a kind of moral or legal legitimacy with the right to give a final decision. For instance, on the ABC's Lateline (Tuesday 9 June, 19981, discussing my book Papal Power, Cardinal Edward Cassidy said that my use of the word I power I had given of fence in Rome, and that he much preferred the word 'authority'. He argued that 'power, was an inappropriate word to describe the way pope and curia operated, despite objections from my fellow-panelist, Morris West and myself, about the constant use of the term 'sacra potestas' to describe the pontifical exercise of coercive power in the church for most of this millennium.

This rhetorical shift is a kind of unconscious cover-up of the reality of church life. In the past churchmen were less ashamed of real power. The First Vatican Council is completely unequivocal when describing papal power:

If anyone says that the Roman pontiff has merely an office of supervision and guidance, and not the full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the whole church ... or that he only has the principal part, but not the absolute fullness of this supreme power; or that this power of his is not ordinary and immediate both over all and each of the churches and over all and each of the pastors and faithful: let him be anathema.

So no matter what euphemisms may be used, the question of power and its exercise is a fundamental one in Catholicism.

As Lord John Acton's (1834-1902) famous aphorism pointed out in an 1887 letter to the Bishop of London, Mandell Creighton: 'Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.' 6 Acton was a liberal Catholic who had argued that the definition of papal infallibility was inopportune. The context in which he is writing to Creighton is significant: he is discussing his review of a volume of the bishop's History of the Papacy concerning the Renaissance popes. Acton is specifically talking about the approval by Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484) of the Spanish Inquisition, and he goes on to say that nineteenth century." Liberals think persecution a crime of a worse order than adultery and the acts done by (the Spanish Cardinal) Ximines considerably worse than the entertainment of Roman courtesans by Alexander VI .7 He continues:

I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favored presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption, it is the other way, against holders of power, increasing as the power increases ... Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad... Still more when you superadd the tendency or certainty of corruption by authority. 8

The powerful often use 'reasons of state' to sanction evil actions. Acton says this itself is a result of the corruptive nature of power. Also power can be held onto for too long. John Henry Newman is quite blunt about this. Writing just after the definition of papal infallibility in November 1870 he says of the pope of the time, Pius IX (1846-18781:

We have come to a climax of tyranny. It is not good for a pope to live twenty years. It is an anomaly and bears no good fruit; he becomes a god and has no one to contradict him, does not know facts and does cruel things without meaning it. 9

This comment has a remarkably contemporary ring to it!

What evidence is there to support my claim that the modern papacy abuses power? Two recent incidents illustrate this.

Modern Papacy Abuses Power I

Early in 1999 it was revealed that several Vatican officials, including the Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano (a former papal nuncio in Chile), and Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estivez (former Archbishop of Santiago, now Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacraments), had attempted to pressure the British government through diplomatic channels to release the former Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet. They asked that he be returned to Chile for "humanitarian reasons" and "national reconciliation," even though there were outstanding charges against him for murder, torture and human rights abuses, and an extradition order from Spain. Apparently, they advanced the argument that the arrest of Pinochet was an affront to Chile's national sovereignty." This attempted interference showed a monumental disregard for British law and its processes. The curialists had reverted to playing medieval power games when popes acted as arbiters between princes and made judgements about so-called "affronts to national sovereignty." The notion of the Vatican as a as a separate sovereign state plays into these illusions of power and In fact the Secretary of State's action was a silly power-play, whether conscious or unconscious, aimed at accepted processes of law on behalf of a former despised former dictator. Fortunately, it was unsuccessful.

Modern Papacy Abuses Power II

The second example shows a complete disregard for the pastoral of During the December 1998 Synod for Oceania in Rome, the Australian bishops were reasonably outspoken about the pastoral needs of the local church. However, before the Synod met, a group of curial officials (there were five Italians, and one each from Chile, Brazil, Colombia, Spain and Poland, and none of these clerics had any direct pastoral or other knowledge of Australia),and several dragooned Australian bishops met and put together a Statement of Conclusions! This was issued at the end of the Synod and it contradicted much that even some of the dragooned bishops had said during the gathering The vast majority of Australian Catholics felt the Statement was inaccurate and unsympathetic to the local church, and out of touch with the realities of national life.

Public reaction among Australian Catholics centered on the Vatican's rejection of the wide-spread use of the Third Rite of Reconciliation with general absolution. What emerged, through the secular media, was that a small group (the Australian Catholics Advocacy Center) had been monitoring the use of general absolution in parishes and dioceses. Clearly they had very good access to senior curial officials. It became obvious through the media that it was their view of the Australian church, rather than that of the local bishops that was taken as normative in Rome.

Over a period of more than two decades these services of reconciliation had brought large numbers of Catholics back to the sacrament. Despite this, Rome simply enforced its will that private confession was the only permitted form of the sacrament. The Australian bishops, with a side-swipe at what they called "deliberate and intrusive surveillance of clergy and liturgical celebrations", simply surrendered, and abandoning their leadership role in the local church, fell back on accusing the usual suspects: "a crisis of faith," "secularization," and "less than appropriate practices ...(in) liturgical celebrations." 11 The bishops ignored their own and their people's pastoral experience and simply submitted to Roman power.

This also points up another profoundly corruptive influence at work throughout Catholicism: the disjunction between what bishops and priests personally believe and know from pastoral experience, and what they say, do and support in public. There is a kind of deceit widespread in Catholicism today. Many priests are highly critical of hierarchical policies among themselves, but will never say so in public. If they ever speak critically to anyone, it is always 'off the record'. Thus they are never forced to say honestly and publically what they actually think. The illusion of uniformity is maintained while truth and ecclesial unity is undermined.

In this context Rosemary Ruether, after several years of experience negotiating a statement on women with the United States bishops, commented at a previous international CORPUS conference:

I came to the intuition that bishops are men with a particular personality structure; men who went from being sons to being fathers without ever becoming independent adults. No matter how much they might come to agree privately on subjects like women's ordination, they could not take a position contrary to the pope on their own. Thinking independently on such questions was for them unthinkable.

She says that this led to them being fixated between rebellion and submission; they used submission "as a way of assuaging feelings of guilt for bebellion." Thus they never trusted their judgment and used power as a form of self-assurance." Again the issue of power and its use becomes central in church life.


So where does all this leave us? What do we need to do to sustain us to continue the reforming task?

Firstly, we have to accept that we are involved in a long-term task, not something that will be achieved in our generation. John L. Allen, in a profile of Cardinal Josef Ratzinger in the National Catholic Reporter, makes the point that the Prefect of the CDF is interested in the long-term, in shaping "the way the church thinks about a controversy 200 years from now."

Reforming Catholics must take the same view. Our asceticism must be that of knowing that personally we will probably never achieve what we set out to do. We will not even be certain if we are right in what we are trying to achieve. Someone further down the track will judge that.

The greatest temptation we face was well known to the early hermits in the desert: 'acidia' - the noonday demon. This is the sense of weariness and frustration that can infect us. We feel that no matter what we do, nothing in the church will change. It is described by the great theorist of mysticism, Evagrius of Pontus (c.345-399). The demon, he says, drives the hermit to desire some other place (than the desert cell),where he would more easily find what he where he could do some work that would be easier and more profitable ... The demon) describes the long time the monk still has to live ... and sets the machinery going that will drive (him) to leave his cell and flee from the arena.

All people in reform movements of whatever sort run up against 'acidia.' It develops because of inflated expectations that change will happen quickly when, in fact, ecclesiastical intransigence has succeeded in blocking almost every attempt at the reform of church structure since Vatican II. As a result people become frustrated, cynical and eventually withdraw. Often there is the perception that it is only middle aged and older Catholics who are committed, that younger people are not interested in the church at all.

This can be re-enforced by recent comments such as those of Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna that reform minded Catholics are aging radicals from the 1960's infected with the "hermeneutic of suspicion," or Cardinal Francis George of Chicago who described liberal Catholicism as an "exhausted project" and "parasitical."15 All this can make 'acidial' a real temptation.

The only response to this battle-weariness is, in Father Daniel Berrigan's phrase, the "spirituality of the long haul." Real structural change is a life-long task that is only brought about by small, committed groups of people. Those on top of the hierarchical ladder have too much invested interest in the maintenance of the structure, or to many external pressures on them, to perceive the need for renewal and the energy needed for change. That is why the fidelity of a group of committed Catholics at the core of the church is so important. It will be their adherence to a renewed vision of Catholicism and their determination to make that vision real in church structures, no matter what the obstacles, that will be an essential element in realizing a whole new way of living Catholic Christianity. Their spiritual foundation will need to be mature and rock-solid, they will need to face the demons of fear and the sense of uselessness that will be regularly present, and they need to trust the work of the Spirit among younger Catholics.


Certainly change is occurring at the local level all over the world. But this is not my primary focus here. The local community needs a broader ecclesial context and it is with this that I am concerned. The danger we face is that a wedge will be driven between the local community and the wider institutional church. We face an impasse in contemporary Catholicism precisely because we have neglected questions of power and structure.

At the core of the problem is the office of pope. Vatican commentator, Giancarlo Zizola, has asked recently whether the papacy is too much for one man? "The question that leaps to the mind is whether the papal institution has not become so insupportable as to be sacrificial? 16 He wonders aloud if the "structural pathology of the papal system" has not led Pope Wojtyla to an illness (Zizola calls it a "personal pathology") which could be already crippling for the whole institution. Zizola also muses about what would happen if a pope's health broke down altogether, if he lost his mind? A mentally incapacitated pope would be a nightmare scenario for such a highly centralized system. There is no process for dealing with papal incapacity because the church has resigned herself "to a self-deluding interpretation of papal sovereignty. 17 Only the abandonment of temporal power and the devolution of ecclesial authority to a world synod and to national bishops' conferences could prepare the church for such an eventuality.

Cardinal Franz Koenig, former Archbishop of Vienna, highlights two of the central interconnected structural issues that the church faces: inflated centralism and marginalization of the bishops. Having shown that various examples of pluralism and subsidiarity have long existed in Catholic tradition, Koenig spells out the implications:

The issue is twofold ... On the one hand we have to strengthen the bishop's collegial concern and responsibility for the whole Church in accordance with Vatican II. On the other, we have to cease restricting the competence of local and regional bishops as church leaders. That means ... that bishops must have a say in episcopal appointments ... It also means giving the bishops, conferences a more precise role and function."

In other words collegiality has to become a reality.

Zizola emphasizes that these reforms must occur within an explicitly ecumenical context. John Paul II asked for this himself in the encyclical Ut Unum Sint (25 May, 19951. The Pope admits that he cannot carry the primatial task "by himself," and he prays that the Holy Spirit enlighten "all the pastors and theologians of our churches, that we may seek - together, of course - the forms in which this (primatial) ministry may accomplish a service of love recognized by all." 19 In other words, this is a call to all the churches to share in a dialogue about the future of the primacy. For John Paul this is a radical offer.

Yet, as I read the comments of the Pope, Koenig and Zizola, I must admit to a cynical feeling of 'deja vu' . They repeat what has been constantly said over the last 30 years since Vatican II. But ecclesiastical inaction indicates that reform will not come from the hierarchy. The historical precedents are almost non-existent. While lip-service is regularly paid to ecumenism and a more synodal, participative approach, the response of Rome to those who press for structural reform is negative.

In this context it is interesting to examine the shifting profile of those appointed bishops in the Anglo-American world. A decade ago in the United States and Canada there was a significant group of bishops willing to speak out strongly on issues of broad public interest, but this has been muted recently by the increasing appointment, especially in the United States, of safe,, uninspiring, conservative bishops who are almost exclusively focused intramural, ecclesiastical issues. In contrast, over the last decade Australia has had a number of good, pastoral bishops appointed. 'Down Under' was an ecclesiastical backwater of little interest to Rome. However, since the country has come to Vatican attention as a result of the Oceania synod, my guess is that those who are now going to be appointed bishops will be similar to the contemporary United States profile.

Given the significant failure of leadership, where does this leave us? The answer lies in trying to renew the Catholic tradition from within and below. There are several ways to attempt this. First, we have to imagine, develop and debate among ourselves different models of church based more on the ancient notion of 'communio' Communion is founded on equality; all sit equally at the Lord's table. It expresses itself through sharing of gifts; all members contribute to building up the community's identity and service. The symbolic core is the common eucharistic celebration. In the early church this was presided over by the bishop who had been elected by all, was known to all, and was confirmed in office by other local bishops. The community was in communion with other communities, and the church universal was comprised of a communion of communions.

Nowadays, with modern mobility, the local 'communio' is just as likely to be a group with common aims and causes - often reaching across an ecumenical divide - as it is people who live in a specific area. Many people involved in the church will belong to more than one communion. Some of these might be entirely Catholic, others ecumenical. Often Catholics will find that they have more in common with their Anglican or Protestant brethren than they do with some other Catholics.

Ecumenism is not just negotiating agreements between churches. These agreements are usually quickly negated by an official failure to follow up with inter communion. Real ecumenism nowadays is occurring among groups of Christian people who work out of common theologies and spiritualities, or who share ministerial objectives. It is around these common theoretical and practical interests that Christians of various denominations are sharing a common faith and entering into genuine communion. Clearly, the notion of 'communio' has much in common with democracy, although the tedious objection that ,the church is not a democracy, is just as true as the fact that it is not an absolute monarchy either. As Eugene C. Bianchi points out in his paper "A Spirituality of Democracy", the essentially democratic principles of subsidiarity, dialogue, election, accountability, representation and devolution of power can provide the spiritual foundation for Christians living in communion."

A key element in building communion is avoiding sectarian ingroups. An important way of achieving this is by creating new agendas for the church by discerning and participating in public discourse about the issues that are basically important for the culture. Occasionally, these will coalesce with hierarchical agendas, but mostly they will not. In many ways Catholicism has been absent from public discourse recently, and often only engages in a very narrow range of issues, such as abortion, personal ethics, or safe, non controversial aspects of social justice.

What needs to happen is that we join other Christians in areas like media, law, medicine, science, technology, industry and business to encourage and sponsor discussion and debate of moral, ethical, ecological, philosophical and theological issues. we need grassroots organizations and structures that give shape and direction to these discussions, that help inject them into media and make them part of public discourse. These need to be collegial in structure and should be small enough to operate by consensus. They should also give support to members and protect them from the browbeating that so often greets those who take a critical stand.

By taking initiatives in the wider world, Catholics keep pressure on the internal structure of the church. For change comes by acting, by creating new traditions, by finding new ways of doing things, by refusing to be bound by pharisaical rules . We do not need from to art as Catholics and so we should assume the right to take the initiative. The onus then is on the church leader to stop us. The Catholic who acts as a change-agent must stop thinking in hierarchical terms. Catholicism could do with a lot more disorder! This involves living with the ambiguity of acting outside the 'rules', of establishing new ways of doing things.

Canon law recognizes the significance of custom. Even in a narrow sense it concedes that the actions of a community can, after a time, obtain "the force of law. 21 In his very useful booklet The Canonical Doctrine of Reception, James Coriden says that a community's practices "can have the juridical effect of establishing a custom which eventually takes on the force of law." 22 He also comments that the "non-reception of a law is an indication of the on-set of a contrary custom 21 Non-reception is the flip side of the canonical and theological doctrine of reception. A law or a doctrinal teaching depend upon by the congregation of the faithful. Newman describes this as "the ultimate guarantee of revealed truth. 24

I began by pointing out that Catholicism is undergoing one of the periodic, seismic mutations that occur in its history. These are drawn-out, difficult and painful re-alignments that call for serious commitment from those who live through them. In the process of working through these mutations people may express their commitment in different ways and in various forms, but the whole process demands a deep-seated spirituality and a profound realization of the richness of the tradition to which we belong, together with an absolute unwillingness to abandon what is best in Catholicism. It is part, albeit a difficult part, of the ever changing reality that makes up the church's life. Newman expresses this beautifully in the Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine he says that the church's belief and inner life is like an idea which is continually clarified and expanded by development and growth. Comparing it to a river he says the more the church grows and changes, the more it becomes truly itself.

It is indeed sometimes said that the stream is clearest near the spring. Whatever use may be fairly made of this image, it does not apply to the history of philosophy or belief, which on the contrary is more equable, and purer, and stronger when its bed has become broad, and deep, and full...In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often."

The significant opportunity for the contemporary Catholic is that they have a chance to be an important part of that process of change.

Talking of streams and rivers reminds us that there is a sense in which many Catholics today are actually called to be "pontiffs" in the literal sense. The word comes from "pons facere", to build a bridge, and the challenge before us is to participate in that task: to provide the link between the Catholicism of the past and the creative manifestations of the tradition that are yet to come.

To live at that level of risk requires great courage. It remains to be seen if we have it?

PAUL COLLINS is an Australian Catholic priest, broadcaster and writer. -His 1997 book Papal Power (London: Harper Collins) is being examined by the CDF. His own favorite book is God's Earth. Religion as if matter Really Mattered (Melbourne: HarperCollins, 1995). If focuses on the interaction between ecology and faith and theology.

1. John Wilkins, "Reformed Church, Unreformed Papacy" in Gary MacEoin (Ed), The Papacy and the People of God, Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1998, p 124.

2. Paul Collins, Mixed Blessings. John Paul II and the Church of the Eighties Ringwood: Penguin Books, 1986, 6.

3. For details see Mixed Blessings, pp 11-12.

4. Matthew Fox, 'Is the Catholic Church Today a Dysfunctional Family? A Pastoral Letter to Cardinal Ratzinger and the Whole Church', Creation, November/December 1988. within a structural context and it is the system that needs to be modified.

5 Norman P. Tanner (ed) Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils, London: Sheed and Ward, 1990. Vol II, pp 814-815.

6. John Acton to Mandell Creighton, March 1887. Quoted in Mrs Louise Creighton, Mandell Creighton, his Life and Letters, London: Longmans, Green and Co. 1906. Vol I, p 372.

7. Acton, op. cit, p 371.

8 . Acton, op. cit., p 372.

9. Newman to Lady Simeon, 18 November 1870. The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman Charles Stephen Dessain and Thomas Gornall, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973. Vol XXV, p 231.

10. See The Tablet, 27 February 1999, p 307. See also ibid., pp 288-290 for a background article.

11 In a Letter from the Australian Bishops to the Catholic People of Australia, 14 April 1999.

Parag 11 and 9.

12. Rosemary Ruether, Corpus Conference, Brazilia, August 1997.

13. John L. Allen, "The Vatican's Enforcer, "National Catholic Reporter, 16 April 1999, p 19.

14 * PG, XL, 1237. Translation in Louis Bouyer, The Spirituality of the New Testament and the Fathers, New York: Seabury Press, 1963. p 385.

15. For Schonborn's comments see National Catholic Reporter, 9 April 1999, p 6, and for George's see National Catholic Reporter, 19 February 1999, pp 3 and 32. For George's response, see 2 April 1999, p 20.

16. Ciancarlo Zizola, "A Spiritual Papacy" in MacEoin, op. cit., p 53.

17. Zizola, p 51.

18.Franz Koenig, "My vision for the Church of the future," The Tablet, 27 March 1999. p 426.

19. English translation by Society of St Paul (Homebush: St Pauls, 19951. Paragraphs 96, 95.

20. Eugene C. Bianchi, "A Spirituality of Democracy" Paper preapred for the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church. (PO Box 912, Delran, NJ. 08075).

21. Canon 26. For custom see Canons 23

22. James A. Coriden, The Canonical Doctrine of Reception. Delran, NJ: Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church. p 17. (For ARCC's address see 20 above).

23. Coriden, p 11.

24. Newman to R.E. Froude, 30 March 1870, Letters and Diaries, op. cit., Vol XXV, p 172.

25. John Henry Newman, An Essay Christian Doctrine, London: Longmans, Green and Co., Eighth edition, 1891, p 40.

National Catholic Reporter, August 13, 1999