Wednesday, 8 January 2014

What are Monsignori for?

The announcement of the New Year's Honours a week or so ago prompted me, for the first time I recall, to ask myself: what is an honour really for? It was the media reports of an award being made to a lady "for services to bell-ringing" that prompted me to ask myself what other areas an award might be made for. The question has recurred in the last two days with media reports of an award "for services to hairdressing", which appears to the slightly cynical to be at least something to do with the recipients work to cover the Prime Minister's balding crown.

Pope Francis has at the same time set about reforming ecclesiastical honours, with the (kind of) abolition of appointments of "Monsignori". According to Vatican Radio:
By circular letter sent to the world’s Nunciatures, the Secretariat of State has informed Bishops’ conferences that, in the world’s Dioceses, the only ecclesiastical title henceforth to be conferred shall be “Chaplain of His Holiness”, to which the appellation, “Monsignor”, shall correspond. The title shall be conferred only upon priests who have reached the age of 65.

The circular further clarifies that the use of the title, Monsignor, in connection with certain major offices – where this is a cultural practice – (eg . Bishop , the Vicar General of the Diocese, inter alia) remains unchanged. With regard to the Roman Curia, no change has been made either in the titles or in the use of the appellation, Monsignor, these being connected to the offices entrusted, and to the service performed.
If I am reading this correctly, it suggests that either Monsignori will be so called because of their holding a particular office or carrying out a particular service in the Church to which the title is customarily attached; or because of their reaching a certain age, when the title will be used as a recognition of a past life of service in the Church.

I do have some understanding of a particular title or form of address attaching to a particular office in the life of a local Church, or the life of the universal Church. I suspect that the best amongst the clergy might be quite happy to forego the use of such title, or at the very least, experience the sting of conscience that Pope Francis' announcement causes should they still wish to continue with its use.

I do find it much more difficult to see a value of the title Monsignor used as an honour, in the sense of the system of honours that we have here in the UK. The practice of the Legion of Mary in this regard seems to me very sensible. The making of presentations to members is explicitly forbidden, and the formation of praesidia that are formed exclusively from a particular group in society is equally forbidden. Instead, a spiritual bouquet provides an alternative way of recognising the contribution of a member. This practice also avoids the potential scandal, seen too frequently of late, where someone honoured by the Church has proven not to have lived up to that honour. Given that we all share in the mix of good and evil that is the drama of Christian life, it also seems a much more practical thing to do.

Perhaps Pope Francis will continue to reform the use of other ecclesiastical honours, too.


Patricius said...

Indeed! There have been some interesting recipients of Papal Knighthoods like Jimmy Saville and Rupert Murdoch.

Fr John Abberton said...

I have just turned 65. I was thinking of letting His Holiness know, but since I have publicly said that I do not believe the title of Monsignor should continue in the Church I had better put on by biretta and hide in the Lady chapel (or something). My hope is that this will be extended to laity so that we will get rid of those ridiculous knight and dame honours. I have NEVER been able to accept these things and wondered if it meant I was somehow a bad Catholic. What on earth (this is perhaps the right question) is it all about?