The leaders of the “school of Bologna” have a very ambitious new project in the works: a history of the movement for Christian unity aimed at a thorough reform of the Catholic Church, starting with the dismantling of the papacy in its current form. They believe they have an ally in Pope Francis
ROME, November 3, 2014 – At the end of October, Pope Francis received a delegation of Old Catholic bishops of the Union of Utrecht.
Numerically this is a very small group, but it is the bearer of a model of Church that pleases not a few progressive Catholics. It recognizes a primacy of honor for the pope, but it does not accept that he is infallible or has jurisdiction over the bishops. It has its bishops elected by a synod composed of clergy and laity. At Mass it gives Eucharistic communion to all, as long as they are baptized in one of the various Christian confessions. It administers collective absolution of sins. It allows second marriages for the divorced.
It also advocates a return to the early faith and recognizes as fully ecumenical only the first seven councils, those of the first millennium, when the Churches of West and East were still undivided.
And on this last point it converges with what is maintained by the Catholic “school of Bologna,” founded by Giuseppe Dossetti and Giuseppe Alberigo and directed today by Alberto Melloni, famous all over the world for having written and spread in five volumes translated into multiple languages the history of Vatican Council II that has undisputedly been the most successful, although it has been repeatedly excoriated by the Vatican.
For the “Bolognese” as well, in fact, only the councils that preceded the schism between West and East are fully ecumenical, as can be seen in their multi-volume edition of the “Conciliorum oecumenicorum generaliumque decreta,” criticized precisely for this reason by “L’Osservatore Romano” of June 3, 2007 with an unsigned official note attributed to Walter Brandmüller, today a cardinal.
That year and in subsequent years, Professor Melloni made no small effort to repair this breach and the other one provoked by the history of Vatican II.
In 2011, he came up with everything he could to ingratiate himself with Benedict XVI. He proposed that the pope pray in front of three Russian icons brought from Moscow to celebrate the critical edition of the Second Council of Nicaea edited by Melloni himself. He asked for a public audience to have him bless a facsimile edition of the Bible of Marco Polo to be sent to China, “where we have significant contacts.”
But without success. “There appears to be no possibility of an involvement of His Holiness in the initiatives mentioned,” was the frosty message to Melloni written by the substitute of the secretariat of state, Angelo Becciu. In part because “there remain reservations of a doctrinal character.”
But this happened under the reign of Benedict XVI. Because with the current pope, the “school of Bologna” is convinced that it has a clear road ahead.
An appointment, an international conference, a grandiose editorial project. These are the three acts that have inaugurated the new “Bolognese” course. All three under the banner of ecumenism.
The appointment, decided by Pope Francis last July 22, is that of friar Enzo Bianchi, founder and prior of the interconfessional monastery of Bose, as adviser of the pontifical council for Christian unity.
Bianchi, 71, was born in Piedmont and lives there, but for years he has been the true and undisputed leader of the “school of Bologna.” He is the only lifetime member of the administrative board of the “John XXIII Foundation for Religious Studies” that he oversees. And he is also the only one whom Melloni - very authoritarian with his subordinates - obeys with reverential fear.
Immediately after the appointment, in an interview, Bianchi revealed his expectations in the matter of ecumenism:
“I believe that Pope Francis wants to reach the unity of Christians in part by reforming the papacy. A papacy that is no longer feared, in the words of ecumenical patriarch Bartholomew, with whom the pope shares a bond of friendship. The reform of the papacy means a new balance between synodality and primacy. This would help to create a new style of papal primacy and of the governance of the bishops.”
The international conference that the Bolognese institute captained by Bianchi and Melloni have convened in Bose from November 26 to 28 will have precisely the task of preparing the terrain for this reform of the papacy, which in its current form is maintained to be the main obstacle to Christian unity.
“Historicizing Ecumenism”: this is the title given to the conference, which will also be attended by many high-level scholars, like the Germans Jürgen Miethke and Franz-Xaver Bischof.
The immediate task of the conference will be that of reconstructing the history of the movement for Christian unity from the 19th century until today, gathering and analyzing sources, documents, events, personages, projects.
But in reality, the conference will act as a prologue to a much more ambitious project: a monumental history of ecumenism, in three large volumes written by dozens of specialists all over the world, to be published in 2017.
With this large and expensive editorial enterprise Bianchi - who is its real architect - Melloni, and the “Bolognese” count on repeating the success of their previous history of Vatican Council II, with which the new work is placed in direct continuity.
A continuity above all of method. Because in this second case as well, like in the previous one, the history will be constructed “by design,” meaning aimed not only at describing but also at advocating and implementing a precise form of ecumenism, the one already anticipated “in nuce” by the monastery of Bose.
It is in fact Bianchi’s conviction - as can be read in his preface to the recent volume by Brunetto Salvarani entitled “We cannot help but call ourselves ecumenical,” published by Gabrielli - that after the “ardent” years of Vatican Council II ecumenism “has been repeatedly contradicted, and now must start again from the beginning.” Because for the prior of Bose, true ecumenism is not only neighborliness between one Church or denomination and the other, but “should be simply the modality, the form of being Christians.” Of all Christians in the one Church of Christ.
A highly ambitious project that implies a thorough reform of the Catholic Church, starting with the deconstruction of the papacy in its current form.
There is an illuminating document with more information on this project. It is the dossier delivered to the cardinals by the “John XXIII Foundation for Religious Studies” of Bologna, on the eve of the last conclave in March of 2013.
Also before the conclaves of 1978 and 2005, the “Bolognese” delivered memorandums to the cardinals, setting down point by point what they believed the new pope should do during his first hundred days and after.
The difference is that the dossier of 2013 is not entirely unified and organic, nor signed as a group like the previous ones, but is a collection of disparate contributions, each one signed by its respective author. With Melloni, who - in the sibylline introductory chapter - takes umbrage with the “dissolution of the bonds of responsibility” perpetrated by some of his subordinates who refused to sign off on the enterprise.
In any case, the “Bolognese” dossier given to the cardinals in March of last year is offered for all to read, in its entirety, on this page of
> Agenda per il papa da eleggere
The conclave, of course, saw the election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio. Who revealed in the plainest way possible his idea of ecumenism in the address he delivered in Caserta on July 27, 2014, in the course of his visit to his Neo-Pentecostalist friend Giovanni Traettino:
"We are in the epoch of globalization, and we think about what globalization is and what unity would be in the Church: perhaps a sphere, where all points are equidistant from the centre, all equal? No! This is uniformity. And the Holy Spirit doesn’t create uniformity! What shape can we find? Let us consider a prism: the prism is unity, but all its parts are different; each has its own peculiarity, its charisma. This is unity in diversity. It is on this path that we Christians do what we call by the theological name of ecumenism."
Pope Francis had already used three other times - particularly in “Evangelii Gaudium” - the metaphor of the prism, but only to apply it to the Catholic Church and its unity in diversity.
This time, instead, the metaphor makes one think of a more vast and ecumenical Church of Christ, of which the Catholic Church is a part, on a par with the other Churches and denominations.
It is not easy to harmonize this vision with what is stated in the 2000 declaration “Dominus Iesus,” a cornerstone of the magisterium of the two previous popes, John Paul II and Benedict XVI:
“The Christian faithful are not permitted to imagine that the Church of Christ is nothing more than a collection – divided, yet in some way one – of Churches and ecclesial communities; nor are they free to hold that today the Church of Christ nowhere really exists, and must be considered only as a goal which all Churches and ecclesial communities must strive to reach. In fact, the elements of this already-given Church exist, joined together in their fullness in the Catholic Church and, without this fullness, in the other communities.”
But the prismatic ecumenism hinted at by Pope Francis certainly has much in common with that which is advocated by Bianchi and Melloni.