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Rethinking “Mission Territory”

In his June 1908 apostolic constitution, Sapienti Consilio, Pope Pius X decreed that, as of November 3 that year, the Catholic Church in the United States would no longer be supervised by the Vatican’s missionary agency, the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith (Propaganda Fide). American Catholicism had grown up. The U.S. Church would now be a mission-sending Church, not “mission territory.”

This pattern has long characterized the organization of the world Church. Young local Churches begin as “mission territory,” and their bishops are chosen in consultation with what’s now called the “Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples” (but which everyone in Rome still refers to by its old name, “Propaganda,” or simply “Prop”). After these young Churches demonstrate that they can stand on their own spiritually, organizationally, and financially, they cease being “mission territory” and relate to the Roman Curia as do the older local Churches; the bishops of these newly “graduated” local Churches are thus chosen in consultation with the Congregation for Bishops.

The rapid de-Christianization of Europe, however, prompts a thought-experiment: What should the Church do when this process of ecclesial maturation slips into reverse? Where do venerable but collapsing local Churches “fit” in their relationship to the Curia, the central government of the Catholic Church? If there can be a (sometimes lengthy) period of ecclesiastical apprenticeship during which a young, growing local church is supervised by Propaganda Fide, might there be a parallel arrangement for decaying older local churches, in which they’re taken into a form of ecclesiastical trusteeship aimed at rebuilding their evangelical, catechetical, and pastoral strength? And if we can imagine that (admittedly bold) move, which Roman agency should be the trustee?

Read more at First Things. 

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