Wednesday, 3 November 2010

On Bishops [from a comment on Bishop Roche [Dec '07]]

We were discussing Bishop Roche of Leeds and his 'despicable and saddening ' response to the Motu Proprio; including Fr Z's response on the WDTPRS blog:

What is a Bishop these days ?
What makes him special ?
I mean in his self-identity ?
Everything occurring around him is glaring in his face that he is 'nobody special, nobody unique': In fact when it comes to the majority of things ecclesiatical , he is quite lacking in knowledge, experience; and the authority that consequentially comes with it.

The canonical judge and the few diocesan DCLs will have to embarassingly instruct him on canonical procedure.
The paper-shufflers in the finance office will be constantly reminding him how economically ignorant he is.
The diocesan liturgists and catechists [even amongst the professional laity] will be using acronyms and a Newspeak he can hardly be expected to be 'au fait' with.
The National conference of bishops' lackies present in every diocese will be shoving in his face how new initiatives and educational procedures/programmes [of which he is invariably oblivious and 'out of the loop'] must be implemented.

The vicar general, the vicar for the clergy and the occasional dean and monsignor/canon will be a lot more capable, experienced and talented for the episcopal role in certain aspects [theology/ethics/scripture/real parish life/ the attitudes of the ordinary laity;the rural/urban priest; the youth, the schools etc ] and this unwittingly demeans the notion of self-worth of the bishop: who more often than not feels like a fraud, a phoney, and not exactly the most qualified for the role he has been given.

The pastoral commissions and their initiatives, the educational committees, the adult formation , the RCIA, the youth groups etc - they all continue with the bishop as the nominal head - but how involved he becomes is optional and utterly discretionary - they can all get on without him very nicely....

All this results in a major identity crisis for the bishop - he never feels that he is who he should be...

Ok so what about the traditional roles of being a spiritual leader, a grandfather-teacher, the overlord shepherd ?

No-one is naiive enough to believe that on the ground anything remotely like that occurs:
he isn't exactly respected in the way the mere title afforded in days past, he isn't really 'liked'; and any conversation is so laden with either sycophancy or hidden agendas, so loaded with nervous feelings of discomfort or underlying motives - that ultimately he has no shoulder to rest on ; no-one in whom to confide - nobody whom he can ever truly trust or rely upon. Surrounded by so many - the Bishop is lonely beyond imagining!

All too often the whole life of a bishop can revert to a phoney comedy of manners. I've witnessed it at first hand so many times it brings me close to tears of both sadness and frustration at the whole ridiculous scenario.

So how does a bishop react ?
Nine times out of ten they play the game - they adopt a role to cover-up the inauthenticity they feel inside - a mask to obfuscate the feelings of inadequacy.

a] the Grandad/Santa Claus - always surrounded by kids - oh so devoted to the youth !
b] the dalai lama - spouting the same few epithets and placatory pietisms - forever implying he has either some universal wisdom or some ethereal empathic knowledge of what is going on all around him - sheer mystagoguery.
c] the chairman of the board - adopting the role of being the head honcho - overlord of everything that occurs in the diocese [even if he has no idea what is really occurring or has no knowledge or experience in how anything should be run] he becomes the outspoken figurehead [to keep the shareholders happy. sic !]
d] [the new phenomenon] Uncle Dave ! Open shirt, jeans -wearing , one of the lads being pastorally relevant and not afraid to join in , rolling his sleeves up, going in the stocks at the local fete, waving his arms in a t-shirt at the charismatic renewal , building a raft with the kids at youth camp, sitting gossiping about eastenders with the young mums at the creche; kicking a ball around with the lads at the remand centre - you know the type ?
e] The expert - the bishop who is nationally renowned in some small way on some issue - be it the liturgy /youth/ethics/ecology/politics/ pastoral ministry etc and devotes most of his time writing vast tomes/addressing conferences /attending committees or appearing on the today programme regarding that single issue....

But ultimately it comes to the crunch -and what does the bishop have when everything has been laid bare and it's now down on the line?

Ecclesiastical authority !
Above everything else - no matter how ignorant he may be ethically, theologically, scripturally, canonically, liturgically, experientially, pastorally - one thing they - 'No, No , they can't take that away from me' - is his authority...

...and when a bishop feels like he has absolutely nothing else to validate his role, justify his self-worth - he will use that power!
...and more often than not it will not be in order to do something - it will be to accentuate the fact that the power is being used - that the authority is there and is being actuated !
This is a question of vindication by using power for power's sake.

Normatively the easiest way to exercise that authority is with a strict adherence to the status quo - which is at present enmeshed within the liturgical , catechetical and doctrinal catastrophe inflicted upon us in the seventies and eighties - yet please remember : the present bishops weren't the instigators of the 'liberal' change - they were merely the participants being brainwashed into believing this was the ONLY way - and it's now their perceived role to perpetuate it - and they have more than enough of the professional laity and clerical inner ring in the eschelons of the National conference of Bishops etc to reinforce that position - but now it's different - the voices that stayed silent for twenty years are now resurging and are growing - and ultimately these 'disruptive voices against the enforced homogenised unity' have the backing of a papacy and a long-suffering 'dispossessed' laity/new young clergy - unwilling to roll over and play 'dead from the neck up' just to placate the implementors of the progressive travesties....
So whom do they back ? Do the bishops stay with their friends in the inner ring of professional clergy and laity; who want everything to be business as usual ?
Or do they reach out to the clerics and the majority of the laity who are desperate for a reformation and renewal, a resurgence reclaiming that which has been lost ?
Either way they have to compromise in some way and have to endure some form of hostility which may undermine the stability the bishop clings to - like the dead salmon in the stream going with the flow and not making the big splashes a live one would.

Yet again it all lies in self-identity - and how authentic the bishop is willing to be, and how much of a price he is willing to pay ?

Sure, a good bishop who had been part of the modernising agenda would be a little self -deprecatory, realise that certain things went beyond the pale and things lost need to be reclaimed to maintain tradition in a new light - but to acct in such a manner requires a bravery and a willingness to endure the pretty nasty reaction of his associates and even more than that - a nasty backlash from the conference of bishops ! - They had few scruples in decimating the liturgy and catechesis and the concepts of pastoral ministry/parish life - how do you think they would react to one of their own who has 'gone over to the other side' !!??

Certainly it may be ostensibly cowardly for the bishop to just go with the flow ; but is he getting any support to act contrarily or stand against it all with integrity ? Or are we who constantly affirm he would receive all our support , yet again "all mouth and no trousers " ? Refusing to acknowledge any offering of the hand for unity and reconciliation ? Rather we adopt the mantra of 'once a heretic/modernist/liberal/reprobate/opportunist/ delete as applicable...always one !'

I pity them too - but I do understand their sensibilities of feeling trapped in the whole system they helped support and maintain - and the prospects of abandoning it looking pretty bleak and unwelcoming - as well as unforgiving on all sides....

More often then not a bishop will fall back upon the security of the collective - the "professional clergy and laity" of the inner ring - and when they ever exert their will , it is to re-inforce everything the eidolon of the 'renewed' National Conference of Bishops [and all its pervasive contaminating exigent branches] hold dear....

...and this is basically what Bishop Roche is doing - admittedly he has many other reasons for his letter - the fear of the latin and its 'Tridentinist' overtones, the ignorance of the extraordinary form , the potential subversion of his diocese by clerics and laity, and the grief that may ensue from a disrupted antagonistic liturgical committee or hostile clerics...but this isn't the main motivation....

Fr Z noticed it in the letter - Bishop Roche's use of the episcopal subjunctive - the desperate cling for personal validation - the use of the authority to ameliorate all the misgivings and incapacities and disillusionments and feelings of futility.

Bishops who write letters like this show distinct signs of feeling disenfranchised from their true role. He is certainly not alone. The Conference of Bishops may seem like a bunch of ignorant bullies - but beneath the surface it's filled to the brim with more than a modicum of paranoid narcissists with identity crises so severe they can no longer act remotely like spiritual leaders or teachers - merely collective initiators of procedure ! Their spiritual and evangelical impotency becomes subsumed with merely exercising their authority for its own sake; then spending hour after hour in committee and debate discussing that authority.

Our Bishops desperately need our prayers - but more they need a bucket of ice water over their head, a reassuring hug ; and then a kick up the backside ! Followed by a long long frank discussion regarding who they really are - with each other, with His Holiness, with the priests, the laity -but most especially - with God.