Thursday, March 27, 2003

What I want from my bishops

Tom at Disputations and I have been having a small back-and-forth in the comments box here and on his blog about what I want. I thought I would try to sum up my answers more broadly. You can infer from these things what I think many bishops are not doing, but do understand that I am aware there are good bishops and bad bishops, and that most of them do at least some part of what I have listed here.

What I want from my bishops, in something like the order of priority I would like to see:

1) I want them to be pastors first and foremost, who speak the Truth.
2) I would like them to teach the authentic faith, not just the comfortable parts, or the social justice parts, but the whole, one, true, apostolic faith.
3) I would like them to do this in plain, everyday language, suitable for even the meanest understanding. For the life of me I cannot understand why the magnificently beautiful faith and religion we practice is so often deliberately hidden under the bushel basket of obscurantist language. The most complex idea ever expressed in all of human history can be stated in five words, none of them more than two syllables long: Jesus died for our sins. There is no good reason that simpler ideas can’t use words as simple as those.
4) I would like those statements to be as limiting and binding as necessary. Not more binding, and not less. I want blacks black, whites white, and grays gray. Yes, we are all human, and yes, life is hard, and sometimes things we want to be gray are actually black and white. No duh, Einstein. That’s why we need Christ in the first place. Stop writing epigrams and start teaching us how to do moral reasoning.
5) I would like Bishops to show that they are willing to hold public figures to account. I don’t want to be invited to the Cathedral to hear Jennifer Granholm speak: I want to be invited to her last chance to recant before her excommunication. At that point, I might begin to have the ability to discern the difference between what the Bishops really mean, and what is just the fluff they feel obliged now and again to say.
6) I would like Bishops to live their own lives as though they, too, will be judged on the Last Day.

Without most bishops doing the first four most of the time, the constant temptation to suspect that their statements are caused by something other than the Holy Spirit becomes almost impossible to resist. It must be resisted, of course, for the Holy Spirit has often made beautiful garments with much shabbier cloth than Bernard Cardinal Law. But the fact that a temptation must be resisted does not relieve the tempter of the obligation to cease being an occasion of sin.

As I re-read this, it sounds a more negative, more pessimistic assessment of the Bishops than I had intended, or than is truly fair. One infers from such a listing that most people being addressed must not be doing the items presented (just as one infers from the Holy Father reminding both sides in a conflict to protect civilians that both sides must be abusing them). I only have meaningful first hand knowledge of a small number of archdioceses, and the bishops I knew of are now serving the Church in other ways. My own is presently administered by a caretaker whom I knew when I was an altar boy, and of whom charity demands I ought not speak too specifically. (And who, in any case, has served for so short a time that any opinion of mine on his service would have no value.)

Nevertheless, the things listed above are, provisionally, the things that would seem to define a bishop as something more than a politician by other means.


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