Nicole, thank you for asking me to write a guest blog post regarding our recent discussions. On October 17, 2015, at the close of the recent Synod of Bishops, the Holy Father told the Synod Fathers that "the spirit of episcopal collegiality [remember this word] has not yet been fully realized. … As I have asserted, in a synodal Church 'it is not opportune that the Pope replace the local episcopates in the discernment of all the problems that present themselves in their territories.' In this sense, I feel the necessity to proceed in a healthy 'decentralization.'" This statement by Pope Francis received immediate criticism, which argued that the “progressive Pope Francis” is now trying to undermine the unifying authority of Rome and the Papacy.
Some Catholic groups quickly pointed out that Cardinal Francis Arinze, one of the very respected, conservative, African prelates, expressed concern if such a “decentralization” would mean that a “national bishops’ conference in one country  would approve something, which, in another conference, would be seen as sin. … National bishops’ conferences are important and should have a clear role, but I don’t think it should include these areas. It looks dangerously like nationalizing right and wrong.”
We are left with the question, “is the very idea of ‘healthy decentralization’ something in direct conflict with the authority of Rome?” It appears that an answer may be found in a new book that George Weigel reported was very popular among the Synod Fathers: “Cardinal Robert Sarah’s God or Nothing is the talk of the town — Rome — at the moment,” Weigel said. Robert Royal, the editor of the Catholic Thing, told the National Catholic Register on October 7, 2015, during the Synod, that “Virtually everyone I know has been very impressed with [God or Nothing], so much so that many are already thinking [Cardinal Sarah’s] a prominent papabile at the next conclave,”.
See http://m.ncregister.com/daily-news/ignatius-press-and-its-high-profile-authors-still-inform-synod-debate/#.VjT5xrerS71. It is important to note that Pope Francis obviously thinks quite a lot about the conservative Cardinal Sarah, as the Pope appointed him Prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (one of the nine Roman Curia Prefects) in 2014.
So what does this very popular book among the Synod Fathers (maybe Pope Francis too?), written by a very respected, conservative Cardinal, have to say about “healthy decentralization” and a “Synodal Church”. Quite a bit actually.
In God or Nothing (“GN”), the interviewer, Nicolas Diat, on page 109 asks Cardinal Sarah, “Some commentators speak up often, calling for a new and authentic application of collegiality [there’s that word again] in the Church. How do you see this problem?”
In response, Cardinal Sarah begins by explaining that “[i]n the Church there has always been a willingness to consult with one another at the hierarchical level to examine important questions with a view to arriving at a common position of the bishops.” Sarah goes on to explain that “[n]ecessary collegial consultation therefore does not abolish the autonomy and responsibility of the bishop in his own diocese [read: healthy decentralization]. No one should feel obliged or forced by the collegial decision of the episcopate … . Each bishop is responsible before God for the way in which he fulfills his episcopal responsibilities toward the flock that the Holy Spirit has entrusted to his protection.” GN, p. 110.
“Synods, which are a highly successful form of implementing collegiality, are great moments in the life of the Church [read: synodal church]. But the various forums must not demobilize the bishops or give them the sense that their powers of evaluation are diminished. … Pope Francis would like to increase collegiality, and I think that he is right. Roman centrality has made important achievements possible, but it can also lead to a form of sclerosis. For if the bishop’s responsibility is weakened, there is a problem of trust. [again, read: healthy decentralization]” GN, pp. 110-111. Emphasis added.
After emphasizing the responsibility and autonomy of the bishops in their own dioceses, Cardinal Sarah, in differentiating between healthy versus unhealthy decentralization, goes on to explain that “Rome absolutely must keep the management of the apostolate as a whole. … [W]e would commit a grave sin against the unity of the Body of Christ and of the doctrine of the Church by giving episcopal conferences any authority or decision-making ability concerning doctrinal, disciplinary, or moral questions.” [See Cardinal Arinze comments, above] Cardinal Sarah then quoted Pope Pius XII’s statements of November 2, 1954 regarding maintaining governmental uniformity among the bishops via “frequent communion with this Apostolic See [Rome]. … “Pius XII concluded: ‘This union and harmonious communication with the Holy See arises, not from a kind of desire to centralize and unify everything, but by divine right and by reason of an essential element of the constitution of the Church of Christ. …” GN, p. 111. Emphasis added. What is implied is that the “centralization of everything” could “lead to a form of sclerosis,” as discussed above.
“[Pope Francis’] desire to foster synodal reflection is a fortunate initiative. Indeed, the synod should become a new Emmaus experience during which the heart of the Church is burning with the fire of the Scriptures.” GN, p. 112. Amen.
As I was reading pages 110 – 112 of GN it struck me that maybe Pope Francis wasn’t left out when copies of GN were distributed to the Synod Fathers…? If GN was (is) as popular among the Fathers as Weigel reported, when they heard the Pope’s statements of “healthy decentralization”, they may have thought quickly to these passages from GN and how both Pope Francis and Cardinal Sarah appear to share certain opinions regarding what valid reform can look like in the life of the Church.
Thank you for asking me to provide this observation. The observation was just one of the myriad of little things that make me love how hard our Church leaders work to make us a stronger Body of Christ.