Self-Governance in sui iuris Churches
This document evolved from a simple list of Rites and Churches created a few years ago, has been expanded several times by addition of pertinent information, and has had related texts merged with it to afford a fuller picture of the structure of Eastern and Oriental Catholicity. In all its iterations, editorial comment has been avoided in favor of factual presentation, leaving analysis, interpretation, and conclusions to the mind and imagination of the reader. However, this time, the compulsion to address the validity of terming Eastern & Oriental Catholic Churches as sui iuris has overtaken and vanquished self-restraint..
Patriarchal and Major-Archepiscopal Churches are, to an extent, self-governing. Within the so-called “historical territories” of the primatial hierarch of each of these Churches, the hierarch and synod have the power of governance, with only subtle differences between the two statuses.
In recent history, however, even the scope of authority accorded by the Eastern Code (CCEO) can and has been withheld by Rome from one such Church - the restrictions imposed on the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church during the first decade (1993-2003) of it being a Major Arch-Episcopate are the case on point. For the first five years of that period, the Church was denied decision-making authority as to matters liturgical (the sole power that all Patriarchs and Major-Archbishops routinely exercise even outside their circumscribed historical bounds). It was five years more before the Church was accorded the right to nominate hierarchs to canonical jurisdictions within the territory of the Major Arch-Episcopate.
When denominated to that status, barely more than a century had passed since appointment of the Church’s first indigenous hierarchs (1886); and only 80 years since a full hierarchical structure was established for it (1923). Thus, at the time, I rationalized that the Church, likely due to its numbers of 3.6 million faithful, had been selected to share the ecclesial status of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church (UGCC), but lacked the centuries of operational experience that the UGCC brought to the table when it was accorded Major-Archepiscopal status.
In retrospect, it was remiss not to acknowledge that the internal turmoil surrounding liturgical praxis in the Syro-Malabar Church was not merely contributory to Rome’s decision, but causative as well. Such, however, begs the question - is it appropriate to thusly interfere, interject, or intervene in the day-to-day decision-making of an ecclesia that is denominated as sui iuris and has just been canonically elevated to a status then accorded to only two Churches? On reflection, the answer is “no!” - the more so because centuries of ill-advised superintendence, exercised over the indigenous Church by transplanted hierarchs in the name of the Roman dicastries, was a significant factor in creating the situation that the imposed restrictions were intended to solve. (Notably, although beyond the scope of this discussion, Rome ultimately walked away from the matter, having accomplished little to nothing toward its resolution.)
Move outside the circumscribed bounds of historical territory and, this time by law, the powers of both hierarch and synod diminish significantly, effectively being reduced to those concerned with matters liturgical. In all other respects, those canonical entities of a sui iuris Church which are situated in the diaspora are exempt from the authority of the primatial hierarch and synod. Stand-alone parishes in the diaspora are subject to the local Latin Ordinary in almost all instances; the canonical jurisdictions are subject to the Oriental Congregation.
Is there a justification for this? Maybe once upon a time, when individual Churches were competing for bodies of faithful and jurisdictional authority over a given place. These days, the constituent population of each Church is effectively defined by tradition, with provisions in place to permit transfer of canonical enrollment for those whose spirituality or circumstances draw them to another Church. So, if there is justification, the argument is elusive, at the least. Is there even a coordinating role for Rome to play? I gave a lot of thought to that aspect, thinking about the clustering of multiple Sees in a single city and concluded, for a brief moment, “ahhh … there’s the need”, but then disabused myself of the notion. After all, presently, Rome does site canonical jurisdictions in the diaspora - has that resulted in a return to the canonical precept of “one city, one bishop”? Hardly, … Chicago boasts three; even Parma, not exactly a major metropolis, guests two - has it no suburbs?
Although, we’re no longer subjected to indignity the like of that inflicted on Saint Alexis Toth by Archbishop John Ireland or on Father John Wolansky, of blessed memory, by Archbishop John Ryan, certainly, having Rome at one’s shoulder or being physically situated in the jurisdictional bounds of your Latin brother hasn’t always been to the benefit of our Churches in the diaspora. Granted, if you were Bishop Justin (Najmy), of blessed memory, in process of establishing a Melkite Exarchate, the fraternal benevolence and generosity of the late Richard Cardinal Cushing was a boon, instrumental to your success.
If, on the other hand, you were Bishop Manuel (Batakian) and learned that the local Latin Cardinal Archbishop was closing the church which served as Cathedral of your Armenian Eparchy, with no offer of an alternative, you might justifiably feel less than blessed. While it cannot be argued that the latter situation would have been different under the direct omophor of the Armenian Patriarch, it is illustrative that direct supervision by the Oriental Congregation has no cachet attached and fraternity apparently has its bounds.
For Metropolitan and Eparchial Churches sui iuris, the situation as to self-governance marks sui iuris as that much more a contradiction in terms. While the primatial hierarch and Council of Hierarchs of a Metropolitan Church enjoy minor privileges, the hierarch of an Eparchial Church - even in its historical territory - exercises no more autonomy than does any local Ordinary of the Latin Church. The few Eparchies which have another jurisdiction attached have no authority over such. All such subordinate jurisdictions are Apostolic Exarchates and as such are responsible to him on whose behalf the Exarch acts; in this instance, that is the Apostolic See. Where is the self-governance? What does being sui iuris do for our Churches?
To my jaundiced eye, the totality of these facts and circumstances suggests that there is no Eastern or Oriental Catholic Church which can be truly described as sui iuris. Is it any wonder that our Orthodox brethren shake their heads in wonder as we trumpet our autonomous status? I think not.