Collegiality, Subsidiarity, and Pluralism
The Church structures of the Council can be classified under four headings:
- The People of God
This term came from the Old Testament (e.g. Jeremiah 31). But it was clear that the Council Fathers no longer viewed the Church as a pyramid, but as a circle. Within the circle were all the members of the People of God – Bishops, Priests, Deacons, Religious, Layfolk – in a relationship of the equality which comes from baptism. Some members rendered a service (i.e. a ministry) like preaching, visiting the sick, the Eucharistic ministry, etc.
In the old chain of command, the Pope was expected to take decisions affecting any lower level of the pyramid. These decisions were carried out by the Bishops. By contrast, 22-24 of the Constitution quotes a lot from the Bible and Tradition to show that the Church should be governed by the College of Bishops in union with the Pope.
Subsidiarity means that responsibility should always be taken at the lowest possible level. So it is only when things go seriously wrong that the Pope has to step in to make a decision that a Bishop should be able to make without him.
This means there are many differences in living out a Catholic way of life. The Constitution on the Church says that such diversity is something positive. “Holding rightful place in the communion of the Church there are also particular Churches that retain their own traditions – without prejudice to the Chair of Peter which presides over the whole assembly of charity and protects their legitimate variety, while at the same time taking care that these differences do not hinder unity, but rather contribute to it.” (13)
So we have a communion of particular Churches led by Bishops in union with the Pope, who together as a college have oversight of the whole Church.
Next: Some chain reactions