Saturday, March 17, 2012

Obligatory Reading for Bishops

When I was fifteen years old or so, I started to get serious about my faith. And one day I sat thinking about the Catholic Church and why I should be Catholic and how it functions. The sad thing is that I didn't know because no one taught me. I really had to sit and think this through.

And I started to think about the pope and the priests and I realized that between those two layers of clergy, there was the bishop.

What struck me about the role of the bishop was how absolutely irrelevant he was to my life. Yes, he may have confirmed me, but that's it. Cardinal Louis-Albert Vachon didn't know me from Adam.

And this is something I really hate about the way the Church operates.

When you read the Gospel, neither Jesus nor the apostles act like Church bureaucrats. If someone brings them a problem, they deal with it as a personal problem, not as a "file". Although we tend to read the Gospel through the lens of identity politics, the main players did not treat people as members of identity groups, but individuals.

As I grew older and more orthodox and learned of the value of obedience, I became disillusioned with the bishops because although I was trying very hard to perform my role as an obedient layperson, I felt like (and continue to feel) that bishops don't do their job. Now in fairness, Archbishop Prendergast is one of the better bishops, and when you hear him speak, he does say hard things and he tries to explain what he's doing to the people of Ottawa, but he's the first bishop who has ever given me that impression.

The other ones I've had all struck me as church bureaucrats. If they ever said anything at all, it was through cliches and platitudes. Like a bureaucrat would.

So this article really struck a chord with me:
In view of these and other problems, the reality is that too many of the bishops in North America and Europe persist in functioning rather as managers than as pastorally minded shepherds, as executives of diocesan structures rather than as those who put people before plans, and as fundraisers rather than as spiritual leaders concerned for what Blessed John Henry Newman called “the apostolic rock” on which their authority is built.


Given that in an average diocese the teaching function of a bishop (apart from issuing pastoral letters) has nowadays been taken over by educational and catechetical professional persons, that in his governing capacity a bishop is usually assisted either by vicars general or episcopal vicars, and that in his sanctifying role a bishop essentially relies on priests to administer the sacraments for the laity, in theory this should release him to personally get to know and move among the people of his diocese and daily evangelise them, as my Bolivian host archbishop does.

How often, however, does an ordinary lay member in a diocese these days even personally meet his or her bishop, let alone find him as someone who can at least empathise with their situation in life? Many bishops are remote from the problems and lifestyle of those for whom they have been called upon to serve as shepherds.

More importantly, people don’t often experience bishops as evangelists, imbued with the Holy Spirit and as successors to the apostles in their zeal to convey the Gospel to others. Instead, too often they are seen as administrative functionaries who are usually only actually encountered when visiting a parish for Confirmation.

When you read about bishops in the traditional Catholic literature, and you compare what happens today, it's like two different worlds.

In the traditional literature, the bishop is supposed to feel solicitude for your situation. You get the impression that he's supposed to even know you-- by name! And that the laity are supposed to feel close to him.

Who feels close to their bishops? Honest, now. How many people really TALK to their bishops and have some kind of relationship with them?

Now, in fairness, it's a bit tough for a bishop to know the names of hundreds of thousands of Catholics.

But do you get the impression that they're trying? I don't. I get the distinct impression that bishops stay in their safe little world of Catholic institutions and commingle with the ecclesiastical staff and volunteer set.

Average bourgeois Catholics (not to mention the less bourgeois ones) are outside their little clique.

Bishops should be trying to communicate with their flock and not on that bureaucratese level either (Hooray for blogs and social media!). That's another thing I hate about the institutional Church. It's just so full of diplomacy. Can no one be authentic in this Church? I get that at times it's expedient to say things the nicest way possible so as to not hurt anyone's feelings, but MUST it always be so? Can't a bishop just talk like normal people once in a while and tell it like it is? Oh if only bishops could talk like this:

"Look, my friend, the fact of the matter is that while you may claim to love Jesus, the moral law says you can't shack up with your girlfriend; it's a grave sin that might land you in hell in the afterlife. "

Okay, so it doesn't sound pastorally sensitive, and maybe that's not how you should approach every one who's cohabitating. But some people need to hear that.

But bishops never get to that level of diction in this church because they never get that close to their flock. You can talk like that to someone when you get close to someone and they know you're doing it out of loving and pastoral concern, and not out of some power trip.

But it's precisely because they're never close and never authentic that our clergy is so darn ineffective.

The article mentions that the pope really hates the "franchise" model of the church. Heck, so do I! The Church was never meant to simply be a "structure" with clergy as sacrament dispensers and storytellers in the pulpit. There's got to be more to church than getting one's doctrine from the catechism and then tolerating an anecdotal homily from a priest on Sunday.