Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Sons and Brothers
Several people have asked me about the silencing of 'Protect the Pope'. I have no inside knowledge and I must confess that I haven't kept up with all Deacon Nick's posts of late.
However, what does concern me greatly is that an issue between a deacon and his bishop is placed in the public forum. Again, I don't know who is to blame for this, but it seems unfortunate and contrary to the spirit of the Gospel. The relationship between any cleric and his bishop should be that of father and son, it is certainly not one of employer and employee or master and servant, and what goes on in that relationship should not appear in the gossip columns of the Tablet which appears to have inside information.
All relationships within the Church are based on charity, it is the bond that holds the Church together, it is the bond that unites the bishop and his clergy under Christ. Pope Francis has spoken of a priest smelling of his sheep, well a bishop should positively reek of his priests and deacons.
This year I hope Pope Francis rather than being photographed washing the feet of those 'on the peripheries' gets down on his hands and knees to wash the feet of the priests and deacons of the diocese of Rome who should be at the very centre of his pastoral concern. It is an important sign for the world's bishops, it is sign not of a renaissance prince, who were much given to public footwashing, replete with rosewater and nosegays, but of a servant-father.
The Bishop is above all the 'Father in God' of his clergy, it is a great scandal if he cannot find time to spend visiting and caring for them, not just because he has a function to perform in the parish but because he actually has a deep love for his priests and deacons. It is obviously a scandal if he does not show love for the elderly, the tired, the mad and the plain bad or even the irritating. If they are sick or dying, or in trouble, yes even in prison, above all clergy in trouble, even those who make trouble for their bishop, should be his chief pastoral concern.
I really do welcome Pope Francis' demand that bishops should above all be Pastors. The Pope is an excellent example of a caring Pastor, who as Archbishop took into his apartment an elderly priest to cook for, care for and eventually nurse, apparently he would do the same in parishes of his diocese for other sick priests. The Vatican Council reminds us of the Bishop's role as the exemplary pastor, and no-one needs more pastoring than the 'co-workers' of the Bishop, his priests and deacons.
I am sure that one of the fall outs of the clerical abuse scandals is that Bishops started to see their clergy, not as sons, but as liabilities, who can cost their dioceses a great deal of money and do their own reputations a great deal of damage. It is easy for a bishop to retreat from them, to put a wall between them and himself but the model we are confronted with is the easy relationship of Jesus and his apostles.
When a bishop complains publicly about members of his clergy, especially in the religious or even secular media, he is behaving in a way that would be unacceptable amongst secular employers, their employees have legislation, unions and tribunals to look after them, the clergy do not. There are many things which clergy endure that would be unacceptable 'in the world' but seem quite acceptable in the Church. The feudal relationship between a Bishop and his clergy means that a priest is entirely in the Bishop's hands, if he is petty enough he can send a young priest to a curate-breaker or move an older priest away from a place where he has put down roots and is surrounded by friends, if he likes a priest he can appoint him to a wealthy comfortable parish or if he dislikes him or disagrees with him he can do the opposite, or else he can brief against him or deal harshly and cruelly with him or just ignore him.
There is a story about Archbishop Amigo, the legendary Archbishop of Southwark, sending a troublesome priest off to be a military chaplain during one of the World Wars, with the words, '... and I hope you get shot', but then I have heard stories from Liverpool priests of being visited by the dying Archbishop Worlock, too weak even to get out of the back of his car but concerned enough to visit his sons. In a age when priests often complain their letters go unanswered by their bishops, I remember being told at the beginning of his ministry in Westminster that Cardinal Hume told his clergy they were his principle concern and giving his personal telephone out to them, telling them to ring him night or day if the needed to talk. When he was my Bishop, I was always touched by Corrmac Murphy O'Connor's kindness, he always found time for his sick and dying clergy. When, with his agreement, I went off to try my vocation as a monk he simply came to make a retreat and spend time with me, it was a deeply appreciated gesture by a concerned father, who in the diocese of Arundel and Brighton was a kind and caring pastor.
Pray for Bishops who find fatherhood difficult.
Posted by Fr Ray Blake