There were days when the appointment of a bishop in a faraway diocese was no news at all, and barely news within the diocese. A bishop might–might–matter to the clergy. The people? Pshaw.
These days, too many episcopal appointments are big news. The Catechetical One descends on Washington. The Jovial One gets the Apple. The commonalities you can count on is that ordained bishops move from smaller cities to larger ones. Almost never are they appointed from the clergy of a diocese. And sadly, many bishops lack experience as shepherds. They’ve taught in seminaries. They’ve “edited” the diocesan organ. They’ve been in Rome. They’ve taken up desk space in the chancery. Few have pastored large parishes with school, staff, and fifty funerals and thirty weddings a year. And after appointment, many of them rack of frequent flyer miles over continent and ocean. I don’t think this is a good state of affairs for the vitality and leadership of the diocesan Church.
dotCommonweal takes a look at the latest career move, a shift from a small Connecticut city to the mother see of the United States. The comments were even more informative than David Gibson’s short essay. Carolyn Disco provides a tart assessment in two movements treating Bishop Lori’s approach to financial and sex scandals. The overall commentary there is rather bitter. What would have produced shrugs just a generation ago today gets nationwide attention. And sometimes beyond. Is it good for the Church to have episcopal appointments undergoing such scrutiny before the installation incense is ordered? Count me a skeptic. But the truthsaying on these guys, on Bishop Lori, seems clear enough. On finances:
In my opinion, Lori revealed the kind of person he is, never mind the kind of bishop he is, by personally humiliating a whistleblower priest to save his own reputation.
And on stonewalling abuse victims:
Lori fought for the entire first decade of his Bridgeport assignment to keep 12,500 pages of documents secret from the public. The legal meat grinder went all the way to the US Supreme Court where Lori lost.
Still, the bishop unilaterally held back 12% of the total documents to fight on under another creative legal strategy.
Lori is so removed from pastoral concern for victim/survivors that he does not even inform them when their perpetrators die. He knew a priest had died but never let the survivor’s family or anyone else know. A justice department official told me that is a pattern for bishops. Tell no one.
We probably need all sorts in the college of bishops. Canon lawyers. Theologians. Liturgists. People good in front of a camera. Pastors. Especially the latter, for that’s more or less what Jesus was, and what he appointed the Twelve to do. Heal the sick, expel a demon or two, build up a local Church here and there. Biblical things.
Now, I certainly understand that as administrators, bishops feel loyal to the material amassings of the institution. As priests, they were formed in a Catholic sub-culture reinforced by communal living at a very formative time in young adulthood. So I appreciate the culture, even if I might see a problem or two in how that culture–and the administration of it–has run off a bit from the original mission.
I don’t offer this essay with much more than the observations. Bishop Lori may or may not have a fine ministry in the years ahead of him in Baltimore. And he may have made a mistake or two in Connecticut. Mistakes are not always sinful. And even if they were, a person may be forgiven, right? On the other hand, in an age where authentic leadership is lacking, it is more than understandable people have questions about their leaders. Nothing’s been quite the same for the past two generations, and people of all ideologies have developed a pervasive lack of trust. I wonder when the bishops will realize the situation.
* Careerism in the Episcopacy