The Exercise of Authority in the Church and
the Challenge of Cyberspace

The way that authority is exercised in the Catholic Church today breeds resentment and fosters immaturity. The Pope and the Roman bureaucracy make decisions and tell the bishops who, in turn, tell the priests who tell the people, and along the way the bishops and priests act in the same authoritarian way as Rome. This top down scenario is so ingrained in the life of the Church that it is hard to imagine that it could change. But it can, and it should. It has little to do with the faith, itself, and much more with human weakness. Jesus as we see him in the Gospels never acted like this.

Here is where the challenge of cyberspace comes in. The technology now exists – in a form of digital video cameras hooked to laptop computers – and is rapidly improving, so that any meeting anywhere in the world can be broadcast around the globe. There is no technological reason why an ecumenical council or a meeting of one of the Roman congregations or of a national council of bishops could not be opened in this way to those whose lives it effects so they can participate in it.

Is there any intrinsic theological reason why this should not happen? I can’t think of one. But it would take a tremendous act of vision and imagination in which we turn the present authoritarian structure on its head. The real place of power in Christian life should not be some vast external organization, but in the minds and hearts of the faithful. The offices of the Pope, bishops and priests exist only to serve that inner life.

The first step in transforming this old authoritarian structure is to open the doors of the church at every level for all to see how decisions are arrived at, and the web is a wonderful way to do this.

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