How Bishops Can Get It Right


Hello to all the traffic heading here from Rock’s place. If you’re new, you might especially want to read over Neil’s contributions. They’re worth returning for.

Nobody’s consulted me, but unlike some folks, I’m not going to whine about ecclesiastical misfortune. I’ll just go ahead and offer my opinions anyway.

In the thread below, someone does ask what bishops can do to get out of their mire. I do believe Catholic conversation can and should be about offering productive solutions rather than just criticism. For the bishops, I might suggest the Twelve Steps would be a start. And I’m more than half-serious about that. Aside from that, I can make these suggestions for the boys in red trim:

1. Pick your battles. (not original, but excellent advice)

2. Start easy and work your way up to hard.

3. Make direct and personal amends to every abuse victim (mindful of the 9th step), whether it was your fault or not. Some bishops have done this, and while it can be painful, remember that a healing process is not about the bishop, nor exclusively about the victims, but about the Church as a whole. A bishop who spends more time with donors than victims is making his priorities all too clear, even if people aren’t counting up the hours.

4. I think it’s a good idea for a bishop to get around. The guys who sold their epicopal residences and lived in parishes or nursing homes were on the right track. I’ve never been to daily Mass at a cathedral. Do bishops take their turn in the schedule? Why couldn’t the bishop take a turn presiding at daily, Sunday, and Holy Day Masses in parishes? If people see their bishop in ordinary circumstances and see him operating as a simple priest where liturgy is concerned, I know that would make an impression.

5. Along the lines of number 2, bishops need to find an easy project that unites the flock that would be simple to achieve. This has been my main criticism of my bishop and especially his advisers: all his public moves have been controversial ones. Even when he did something positive, like instituting a Eucharistic procession in Kansas City last year, he managed to alienate the St Joseph, Missouri folks, who have had such a procession for years and were asked to cancel theirs and send their people seventy miles down the river to KC. If nothing else, a bishop wants to mix it up occasionally so people don’t go running for the liquor cabinet or antacid bottle when caller id or a return address tells you he’s in touch.

Eventually, bishops will make hard choices that will alienate a portion of the flock. The point is not to avoid these, but to pepper the ministry of a bishop with opportunities for unity. At the very least, sow doubt in the minds of the eternal bishop-detractors.

If you pressed me, I could probably think of more. I think we talked about this last year when we looked at Christus Dominus. But maybe you have your own ideas.

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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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