Bishop Joe Imesch is a former secretary to Cardinal Dearden who is now the Bishop of Joliet, Illinois. He recalls that Cardinal Dearden’s Church was “never hierarchical, but rather collaborative and participatory.”
See Archdiocese of Detroit website (PDF document).
There are two problems with Bishop Imesch's statement. First is the reference to "Cardinal Dearden's Church." This phrase cannot but help to bring to mind a comment by Cardinal Ratzinger correcting the errors of post-conciliar thinking: " ' it is [H]is Church and not ours' " (Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth [Ignatius Press 1997], p. 80). Of course, what Ratzinger is saying is that the Church ultimately belongs to Christ, not to us so that we can do with it as we wish.
The second and more significant problem with Bishop Imesch's statement is the assertion that Cardinal Dearden's Church was " ' never hierarchical.' " Well, if that statement is in fact true then Cardinal Dearden's Church was not the Catholic Church. The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium has an entire chapter, Chapter III, dedicated to the Church as heirarchical. Here is how three different translations word the title of this crucial chapter:
1. The translation of the National Catholic Welfare Conference, the forerunner of the Catholic Bishops' Conference: "On the Hierarchical Structure of the Church and In Particular on the Episcopate";
2. The virtually identical translation in the collection of the documents of Vatican II edited by Walter M. Abbott, S.J.: "The Hierarchical Structure of the Church, with Special Reference to the Episcopate"; and
3. The succinct translation in the collection of Vatican II documents edited by Austin Flannery, O.P.: "The Church is Hierarchical."
Some say that this chapter of Lumen Gentium may very well be the most important one produced by the Council because it completes the work of Vatican I (1870), which focused on the papal office, by presenting the teaching on the role of the bishops in general and the role of the bishops in conjunction with the papacy. Yet, here we have the direct implication by Bishop Imesch that somehow "hierarchical" is bad because it is the opposite of the virtues of participation and collaboration.
Some will understandably say that my analysis is a bit too picky in focusing on an informal, non-doctrinal statement in a press release. In defense, I will say that I am not imputing any heretical or dissenting intent or even consciousness to the statement of the bishop. But what I am pointing out is that this statement is an example of the sloppy thinking and description of the spirit of Vatican II that has confused the laity and misrepresented the Council's work. It is not too much to ask that a bishop, one of whose central roles is to teach the faith, be careful and accurate in the impressions he gives his audiences, especially about Vatican II whose misperception has been the cause of so much division in the Church. This type of sloppy thinking is what creates the phenomenon of organized heresy that includes groups like Voice of the Faithful who wish to remake the Church into a larger ethnic version of the democratically-run, collaborative, and participatory Episcopal Church U.S.A. We do not want to go down that road.
The bishop's informal statement is an expression of American culture, not of Catholic culture. The word "hierarchical" refers to a sacred order or rule and is derived from the Greek heiros meaning "holy" and the Greek archein meaning "to rule." Thus, to say that the Church is hierarchical is to say that it is characterized by "sacred ruling" -- although Cardinal Ratzinger himself argues that a better translation would be "sacred origin" with "origin" emphasizing that the priest or bishop is merely a conduit for the power of Christ (See Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth [Ignatius Press 1997], pp. 190-91). In either case, certainly, Bishop Imesch does not mean to reject the idea of a sacred rule or sacred origin in the Church. What he most probably means to reject is the idea of non-participatory, non-collaborative one-man rule. That restricted and typically American meaning of the word "hierarchy" is a chimera. Most, if not all, bishops do not exercise their authority in that manner. Such a caricature of episcopal rule is just not possible in running a complex organization like a diocese.
Yet, the local bishop does have ultimate authority in the diocese as a representative of Jesus Christ who did in fact rule in a sovereign, hierarchical fashion that shows no trace of being participatory or collaborative in the gospel accounts. To my knowledge, we have no record of Jesus consulting democratically with his disciples prior to setting the direction of his ministry. In fact, Jesus famously responded to Peter's rebuke with his own harsh rebuke: "Get thee behind me, Satan . . . ." (Mt. 16:23, KJV).
The sloppy words of Bishop Imesch may certainly be forgiven, but they should not be overlooked because they serve, however innocently, to misrepresent the work of the Council and the very nature of the Church herself. Such informal remarks merely add to the popular misrepresentation of Vatican II which has caused so much confusion.