Recently Pope Francis said bishops are to serve, not dominate, their people. These words have generated a lot of commotion. I think, though, if I really believe that Jesus is with the Church always even to the end of time, and that the Holy Spirit is guiding the Church, there are certain consequences and responsibilities.
Let me begin by saying up front that I have made several complaints and registered my concerns about our local bishop to the Nuncio and to the Vatican, and I will do so again if I think it is appropriate. None of these have been acknowledge, which shows that common courtesy does not apply to the church bureaucracy which claims to act, as some documents begin, “in the name of God”. So I am writing these words primarily for myself. If I think there are problems with what a given bishop is doing or not doing, I believe I have a responsibility to speak up somehow, I have and I will.
In the Spirit of docility to the Holy Spirit, I think I have to posit good will with our bishops. They love the Church in their own way, which may not be my way, or the way I think a given bishop should. Just because I do not like the way a given bishop is doing things I cannot say he is not a good bishop, or that he is a bad bishop. I have been misjudged and misinterpreted many times myself, and I know it is not an enjoyable experience. This does not mean that I must agree with everything a given bishop does. If I feel I have solid grounds for registering a complain or a concern, it is my responsibility to do so. I believe I can posit good will to myself, too.
Like all priests I made a promise of obedience to my ordaining bishop and to his successors. I do not consider that promise to be one of blind, unquestioning obedience or subservience. After just shy of fifty years serving as a priest I think I am qualified to have my own thoughts and opinions, and to choose my own courses of action, to say what I think needs to be said. I am thankful to be “independent” in that I take no support from the diocese or any places I help out. I feel both a freedom and a responsibility to say and do what many other priests might be hesitant about. There is a big difference between what priests say among ourselves and what is said publicly. This is understandable in the light of the perceived power the bishops have over their priests.
There are bishops, though, whose mindsets seem to be in another historical era, who really think they are princes. Without attributing to them any malice, they just don’t know that they don’t know.They have no contact with their folks’ lives. They really think they know better than everybody else. Some even seem to practice medicine. Their idea of following Jesus seems to be one of limiting access to him to those who follow their own crippling ideas. They seem to be more interested in protecting their own power and prerogatives at the expense of folks having access to Eucharist. Many of them choose to protect and value the image of the church above ministering to folks, especially children, who have been hurt by their malfeasance or nonfeasance. They really seem to like their bling and finery, so Francis’ mode of simplicity might be generating some angst in them.
There are some bishops who seem to believe that people are made to serve the law, and so are less important than the law. The law is paramount regardless of the suffering it causes, and real live people seem secondary. They forget, if they have ever known, that the folks they are abusing (and I don’t think this is too strong a word) are the “consequence of a thought in the mind of God, are important and necessary, and none of them is an accident”. Perhaps some bishops might think about trying to learn from their folks and stop dictating and threatening.
One of the very common remarks I heard over and over gain in the Army was, when a person came in with some sort of difficulty, “We’re going to help you with this, but I don’t know exactly how right now; can you come back in an hour or so?”. This reflects a military attitude of helping folks. Too often the attitude of the church system seems to be, especially with couple in second marriages, “we’re not going to help you; you did this to yourself”. To me the military attitude is much closer to the Gospel. Good leaders want to help their people move forward, not keep them down. I have known some very caring and creative military leaders. There are probably some in the church, too, but they are keeping their heads down and caring for their people quietly under the radar. Then, some folks and couples are making their own decisions and caring for themselves. I believe the Holy Spirit is at work in all this.
While a given bishop may be personally caring and pastoral, he might not be able to translate this into pastoral leadership. Perhaps folks are expecting him to do something he just cannot do. Some bishops just do not know how to listen to the folks. They go through the motions of listening, but it is obvious that they have already made up their minds on whatever issue is at hand. Something has to be done. In some dioceses it will take a very long time to recover from the damage and harm certain bishops have inflicted on their people, and especially on the priests. In some places the deteriorating morale of the priests is manifesting in varying degrees of physical and emotional sickness.
Just saying . . .