Thursday, July 19, 2007

A must

This article is a definite must read for anyone, Catholic and otherwise, who is upset, discontent, defending or otherwise concerned about the way the bishops and Pope interact. Why Doesn't the Pope Do Something about "Bad" Bishops? (This Rock: February 2006)

Read the whole article, it isn't very long, but is very thorough. Here are a few highlights.
Misconception #1:
The Pope as CEO

...One reason the Church is different from a corporation is the sacrament of holy orders. When a man is ordained, he is changed in his very being; he is "configured" to Christ as head and shepherd. This new identity is permanent and cannot be removed. Even if a priest is removed from the priesthood ("defrocked"), he remains a priest, sacramentally speaking, so a priest or bishop can’t be fired in the sense that a corporate employee can.

A department head or vice-president of a corporation has authority by delegation: his authority is given from the next higher level of the organization and ultimately comes from the president, CEO, or board of directors. The department head has authority only insofar as it is "borrowed" from above; it does not belong to him.

But this is not the case regarding the Church. The bishop enjoys the fullness of the sacrament of holy orders (cf. Lumen Gentium 26) and as such is head of the local Church, the diocese. A bishop’s authority within his diocese does not operate by delegation: The bishop is not merely exercising a power "borrowed" from the pope. Canon 381 of the Code of Canon Law states: "In the diocese entrusted to his care, the diocesan bishop has all the ordinary, proper, and immediate power required for the exercise of his pastoral office."
So don't expect any mergers or acquisitions soon.
Misconception #2:
The Bishop as Manager

...But the Church sees the bishop as the father of his diocese. In the Second Vatican Council’s document on bishops, Christus Dominus, the Church, "the Lord’s flock," is compared to a "family of which the bishop is the father" (CD 28). Elsewhere, the bishop’s office is defined as "father and pastor" (CD 16). This identification of the bishop as father goes back to the earliest Church Fathers, such as St. Ignatius of Antioch (c. A.D. 115), who, in his Letter to the Trallians, described the bishop as "the image of God the Father."

... when we say that the Church is a family, we mean it quite literally. The Church is not a reflection of the reality that is "family"—quite the opposite. The family is a reflection of the reality that is the Church. We must always bear in mind that spiritual realities are more real, not less real, than physical or natural realities. In Christ we are more truly connected, more truly in communion with people than we are with our own family members.

So if in Christ the Church is truly a family, then the bishop is truly a father to his flock. Now think about fatherhood for a moment: Is a father’s identity dependent on how well he fulfills it? Not really. A father is a father, almost regardless of how well he fulfills his responsibilities. We might say that John is a better father than Sam, but we don’t say that Sam is therefore not a father. There are some very good fathers; there are the majority of fathers who muddle along doing the best they can; and, unfortunately, there are a few bad fathers out there.

Now, in the natural sphere, a father has to be very bad indeed before he is relieved of his office. Mere incompetence is insufficient. While we may look at him as a sad case, most reasonable people wouldn’t say that the father who lets the house get run down or who doesn’t effectively discipline his children should be removed from his family. No, in order to justify separating a father from his family, we require substantial evidence of actual abuse or neglect. The father of a family is so integral to its identity that before removing him we have to be sure he is actually causing harm to the family. That determination is made in a court of law, with evidence and witnesses, and the father has an opportunity to defend himself. To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, removing the father from his family is not so much like firing a bad manager as it is like amputating a limb from one’s body: It’s justifiable only under the direst circumstances.
And as a father, we owe him our respect. For even the son of a lousy father is bound by the 4th commandment to recognize the father derives his authority from God the Father.
The Danger of Schism

The third reason popes are reluctant to depose bishops is the danger of schism. Whenever a bishop is removed, there is at least the possibility that he may elect to leave the Church altogether and set up on his own church, taking many of the faithful with him. Going back to our Lord’s prayer that "they all be one" (John 17:20–21), the Church regards schism as great evil and precipitating or fomenting schism as a grievous sin. Ignatius, in his Letter to the Smyrneans, wrote "Shun divisions as the beginning of evils." As long as people are kept within the Church, even tenuously, there is the possibility of correction and conversion. But if they depart, they may be lost for good.

And the larger the dissenting element, the more prevalent the heterodoxy, the more grave the danger. Msgr. George Kelly, in his book The Crisis of Authority, argued that, because dissent had become so widespread, the danger of schism was very real in the United States in the 1970s and ‘80s. Any papal "crackdown" against dissent, he argued, likely would have led to the separation of a large body of the faithful from communion with Rome. And so John Paul II seems to have adopted a "gradualist" approach: He largely avoided direct confrontation, save in the realm of ideas. He taught, corrected, and exhorted his brother bishops, and all of the faithful, to holiness and to the embrace of the fullness of the faith.

The gradualist approach may turn out to have been a mistake, but I don’t think so. The majority of episcopal appointments under John Paul II have been very good, even outstanding. Bishops of unquestioned orthodoxy, such as Raymond Burke of St. Louis and Charles Chaput of Denver, are now to be found in many of the major U.S. sees. And in a host of smaller sees one can find many excellent young bishops who are zealous and courageous exponents of the faith.
So much to be optimistic about with our Church. But we must avoid the temptation to shoot our generals in the back.

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