"Well, the Bishop hates those tedious ecumenical services, as much as he hates tedious technical meetings, so he asked me to go in his place, then he thought sending an ordinary priest was a bit insulting and seemed to suggest too openly that he couldn't be bothered, so he thought a faux bishop with a bit of purple and an exotic title might help"
This was the rather disarming response to a question to a friend when I asked him why he was made a Monsignor. The same priest said it is a bit of litmus test, "When priests write to me, if they use the full title they are normally angry with me, whereas if they use my Christian name they are normally being friendly.
I must say titles and the right to wear a purple doesn't get me excited one way or the other, lay people like these things, priests tend to regard it as bit meaningless, even silly. As a friend of mine said after being given a title, "Ah sure, it'll impress the postman!" In one diocese when four or five clergy who had been given such titles left the priesthood or 'retired' early, such promotions became a sign of the Bishops poor judgement.
There is certainly a different attitude in different parts of the world to such things as titles, in the Spanish speaking world they are a bit like the family jewels or medals that come out on a particular occassions and then are ignored, in Italy they seem to be a class thing, in Britain like life peerages or more likely OBEs and MBEs they are a bit silly but harmless, I suspect in other parts of the world they are taken a little more seriously.
Sometimes these things can be useful, for example where a Bishop is needed but can't be had. The most obvious example is with the Ordinariates, or to head various Vicariates or even diocesan Curiae . I can't help thinking that the abolition of such honours in these situations hasn't been thought through, it is a bit of a papal tinkering, another example of 'micromanagement' from a limited perspective. Monsignors, 'faux bishops' can be useful, if we don't have them we are likely to appoint real bishops in their place, indeed I expect every priest upon reaching 65 will be given the title Monsignor. The obvious question is what will happen to the Ordinariates when their present Ordinaries retire, will they -they are supposed to be the equivalent of a diocese- be replaced by simple priests or will their Ordinaries be ordained Bishop. Rather than sending a simple priest to represent them will bishops have to attend unproductive meetings and events, will this not mean an increase in the Bishop's workload in administration and therefore end up by increasing the necessity for yet more Auxiliary Bishops?
at one time a high ranking Monsignor would carry the Papal close-stool in procession
I don't think ecclesiastical baubles on this level are the real problem, the real problem is the theological nonsense of real bishops, who are not bishops. I mean what is an 'Auxiliary Bishop', a sort of Bishop's curate in Episcopal orders? A Bishop is supposed be the head of a local Church with people and clergy, the Episcopate is above all a pastoral office, he is the bridegroom, married to his own Church. What sense is there in a Bishop 'for the Forces' who has borrowed clergy who will never ordain a priest for his own 'diocese'. Why should Vatican apparatchiks who have little connection with ordinary people be Bishops or Archbishops, they have no clergy and no people. Why should the Pope's Secretary of State, or for that matter the Prefect of the Papal Household or the Prefect of the CDF or the other dicasteries, or Papal Nuncios be made Archbishops? In what sense do they fulfil their sacramental office?
There was a time when the holders of such high offices were deacons or even sub-deacons.