Better Bishops


From the Tablet, via Rock.

If the truth were ever told …

There are clearly outstanding pastors among the bishops of the Church, but for too long and too often, safe but second-rate men have also been promoted: men whose mediocrity caused them to be perceived as safe by control-minded curial officials.

This issue spans way beyond the liberal/conservative divide transplanted into the Body of Christ. The failure of the current Catholic hierarchy as a body, I would lay out as follows:

1. Failure to diagnose: One cannot return to simpler times merely by force of will. We live in an increasingly complex society. Science, culture, communications, terrorism, and any number of other factors influence the ordinary lives of the First World Upper Crust, the Third World slave, and everybody in between. We can’t eliminate such factors from consideration because we don’t understand them. That is the path to ignorance.

2. Lack of perception: Complexity demands a certain ability to read the signs. It is much harder for the ordinary person to move from 2005 to 2006 than 1905 to 1906. Agrarian folks might have thought about an elder son who could work harder next year. Today, global markets might render production of any sort obsolete in a matter of months, if not weeks. And it wouldn’t matter if that Guatemala village had one or a hundred more workers. That said, it’s not entirely impossible for smart people to get a sense of where things are heading. In the managing of the sex abuse and cover-up crises, bishops have shown themselves consistently unable to read the signs. People are ticked off. Lawyers and accountants are not fit to provide the pastoral leadership of a diocese, yet that is exactly what too many bishops have permitted. In a phrase: they don’t get the big picture.

3. Jealousy: Some of the curia seem to perceive bishops as threats to power. Ditto lay people. It benefits the curia to elevate second-rate priests to the episcopacy. Not everyone, of course, but enough to cripple national conferences and regional associations.

4. Confusing authority with power: A human failing, but they should really teach this in bishop school. I knew teachers and bosses who could command order, and looking back, it’s hard to see how. They never seemed to overtly bully and punish to get it done. And I knew ineffective leaders who tried harder and harder to impose their will, but somehow, they were always outperformed by other leaders, if not their own subordinates. Just because a person can do something, doesn’t mean that person should do it. And just because a person can make decisions and back these up with threats, doesn’t give that person any more authority than a toadstool. Power to kill the body perhaps, but the soul remains untouched, even strengthened by unjust trial. Real authority invites and leads people to the right path.

I don’t think the synod needed to endorse a progressive agenda to be successful. But they came up with nothing outstanding or inspirational to move the Church in a direction it needed to go. I was reading somewhere online a lament this synod wasn’t covered well in the secular media. What the press did focus on was the occasional controversial blip. Let me clue you in: this synod was irrelevant. The press knew it. I know it.

Why do I know it?

- It didn’t address the re-evangelization of Catholics: people raised in the Church, or at least baptized in it, but who choose to absent themselves from the Sunday liturgy.

- It challenged few if any bishops to be better preachers, presiders, etc.. It was all focused on presbyters and deacons.

- Most especially, it produced no outstanding new ideas besides the same tired calls for more adoration, more Latin, more viri probati, more inculturation, more Vatican II, yada yada yada.

It’s time to clean house in the curia and get going with Vatican II in today’s world. Can we have some real bishops, please?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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