It’s worth re-reading a post we wrote five years ago on this topic, in which we quoted the writings of a fellow named Cardinal Ratzinger:
We must not forget that the episcopal conferences have no theological basis, they do not belong to the structure of the Church, as willed by Christ, that cannot be eliminated; they have only a practical, concrete function.
What does he mean that they have “no theological basis”? It means that they weren’t instituted by Jesus Christ.
Jesus founded the Catholic Church. He ordained the first bishops (the 12 Apostles). Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Apostles ordained priests and deacons. All of this was instituted by God Himself and cannot be changed by the will of any man, woman or dog.
Nowhere did Jesus or the Holy Spirit create episcopal conferences. That’s a purely human invention. They’re not essential. They could be eliminated without compromising the Great Commission of Jesus in the slightest. They serve only practical functions like collecting funds for social justice (and even that part hasn’t worked out so good).
The notion that doctrine can be delegated to a human-made body is nothing short of schismatic because it seeks to create a federation of churches which are independent of Rome. Doctrine could be different between nations under that scheme, as Cardinal Arinze points out.
That would take the “catholic” out of our Church. As you know, “Catholic” means universal. It means that Christ and His Church are fundamentally the same across time and space. Anybody advocating the contrary is a schismatic.
Let me remind you that Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium, paragraph 32, spoke about the independence of episcopal conferences:
A juridical status of episcopal conferences which would see them as subjects of specific attributions, including genuine doctrinal authority, has not yet been sufficiently elaborated. Excessive centralization, rather than proving helpful, complicates the Church’s life and her missionary outreach.
This statement isn’t schismatic because it’s too vague and falls far short of the bolder proposals being put forward by the German bishops. Frankly, Pope Francis isn’t recommending anything in that paragraph. He merely laments that episcopal conferences don’t have more freedom. That’s nowhere near what the Germans are seeking, but the text is nonetheless troubling.
We need to pray and fast more. Otherwise we’ll get what we deserve.