Thursday, December 02, 2010

Torn between Peter and the Local Bishop

I was a bit afraid of putting up a link to an article by Dominic Scarborough who I like a great deal and for whom I have a great deal of respect for him, it deals with tensions between the Bishop's Conference and Rome.
This is how Fr Tim summarises it:
Dominic Scarborough has written an article for Catholic World Report Outside the Magic Circle which is subtitled "Tension builds between the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales and orthodox Catholics." He looks at the way in which the BCEW presents a common front on every issue, the ostracism of Bishop O'donoghue, the Soho Masses, the designation of "Taliban Catholics", and the response to Summorum Pontificum. It is an interesting article in that we all know this stuff but having it set out clearly in Catholic World Report is a step forward
For my part, because their works and actions are so secret I never know quite what the Bishops as a Conference are saying and doing, and what Ecclesdon Square and the CES are doing and saying in their name.

Una Voce have published, or maybe it has been leaked, their report on Summorum Pontificum which was prepared for the Pope and presented to Cardinal Canizares an abridged version of its special report sent by its presidency to the Holy Father on the third anniversary of Summorum Pontificum. The section dealing with British Hierarchies makes interesting reading, there is praise but on the whole it is pretty sad. It speaks of priests being intimidated, the desires of the laity being ignored and the wishes of the Pontiff being frustrated.
Again there seems to be quite a gulf between the Bishops and Rome, and consequently priests and laity who support their own reading of what Rome is saying feel a distance from their own diocesan bishop or local episcopal conference.

The bishops are not the Pope's altar boys, it is not their role simply to slavishly implement every directive that comes from the Holy See. The Pope is the servant not the master of the Church. Since the Apostle Paul's rebuking Peter to his face there is a necessary tension within the Church.

However, Paul always seeks communion with Peter. The problem for many traditionally minded Catholics is that there is a sense in which they are torn between loyalty to Peter and their local bishop. The post VII debate about the standing of the local Church and the universal Church characterised by the very public conversation between Kaspar and Ratzinger was more or less settled by the 2005 conclave in which the Cardinals elected the latter to the throne of Peter.

The problem today is that we hear Peter more clearly than the local bishop. We know what the Pope teaches and we trust his authority often much more than we know what our own local bishops teach and so often it is too easy to dismiss local bishops teaching as "merely personal opinion", often because it is merely that, rather than being deeply rooted in the Catholic faith.

The exraordinary thing about the Catholic Church is that what holds us in communion with it is nothing more than Love, ultimately, here is the Mystery of the Church, an affection between individuals. It is a familial realationship symbolised by the bishops ring is bridegroom to his Church and Father to his clergy and people. If a bishop lacks the personal qualities of affection and concern for his priests and people, communion with him suffers, similarly if he appears to lack affection for those things his people hold dear, like God or the deposit of Faith, for example.

It is certainly difficult for people to have affection for an anonymous committee such as an episcopal conference; it is perhaps easier today to love the Pope and to be in communion with him because, through the media, we know him. The old scholastic adage, "one cannot love what one does not know" is as true of bishops as it is of God or one's spouse.


Stephen said...

I was thinking about this very thing earlier today (in between making snowmen), after I read a comment on a blog elsewhere. For the Orthodox, the notion of communion (as opposed to Communion) begins with the question "Who is your bishop?"

It would be nice if we could recover that sense of communion, but I think that the bureaucratic structure of our Church doesn't help us that much. There is a perception, that the Pope appoints diocesan bishops, and that they are therefore Papal extensions who have little by way of independent voice. Consequently, the error of seeing the Pope as Chief Executive of Catholicism plc, grows roots which are hard to shift, a bit like Japanese knotweed. The CBCEW could certainly do much to improve matters, if they'd stop being so gosh-darnedly secretive.

Just another mad Catholic said...

I hear you Father; whenever the Holy Father speaks I get clarity; at the dioceson pilgramige to Glastonbury I hear bees buzzing.

Jackie Parkes MJ said...

The only thing is some priests of a traditional mind seem to know more than the Pope!

An English Parish Priest said...

“The bishops are not the Pope's altar boys, it is not their role simply to slavishly implement every directive that comes from the Holy See. The Pope is the servant not the master of the Church. Since the Apostle Paul's rebuking Peter to his face there is a necessary tension within the Church”.
Agreed, but we should not forget that Bishops receive their Apostolic Mandate to Govern from the Pope as Universal Shepherd. They always retain the sacramental character of the Consecration as Bishops but no power over the faithful without the Apostolic Mandate. We should also remember that when their directives or local legislation contradict or fail to implement Universal Directives from Rome that they place themselves in a position in which they might be accused of lacking integrity by demanding from inferiors a loyalty they refuse to give to their superior. Indeed, where there is a conflict between Peter and the Local Bishop Peter must always win, for we cannot be loyal to Peter by acquiescing to the disobedience of a local Bishop who, by his own disobedience, cannot give us that Communion with Peter we (should) desire and actively seek.

Fr Barry Tomlinson said...

If there are differences between the Pope and English RC Bishops, could they petition the Archbishop of Canterbury for groups of Roman Catholics to become Anglican

Anonymous said...

What I have read time and again over the past few days is alarming. In essence, 'I have faith in The Pope but not in my local Ordinary?'
If this constant barage of criticism against the BCE&W continues we will effectively destroy the Catholic faith in this country.
This is disturbing and those among the clergy who promote this should think very seriously where this path will lead.
And to Mrs Jackie Parkes MJ. There are those of us who feel that the traditional Catholic bloggers like to think they know more than the Pope and God himself!

Sixupman said...

As a somewhat uneducated Catholic, I rely upon what I was taught in my childhood and youth. Such is now taught to be, by and large, nonsense and redundant. But if the clergy and teachers who provided my religious grounding were in error, why should I now believe clergy and teachers who denigrate those of my upbringing.

I was taught that the line of responsibility of a priest was bishop, pope. No intermediaries.

Post Vatican II, we then had: collegiality; bishops' conferences; association of priests (further collegiality); diocesan bureaucracies; parish councils, et al.

To whom is the priest now responsible?

Restore the papacy to what it was and if you do not like it - depart to the CofE, or wherever.

Newminster said...

The "Bishops Conferences", as i understood them, were typical 60s/70s management-think constructions (and the start of that bureauphilia (?) which sees our priests everywhere but in their parishes for half the week) which have no ecclesial authority.
The bishop himself is the pastor within his diocese; he should not be looking over his shoulder to see what some "conference" has decided but the result of such an organisation will always tend towards the mediocre just as there will always be the temptation for everything to be done (or more likely not done) at the pace of the laziest.
There are criticisms to be made of some bishops but it is the conferences that enable those bishops to hide behind some sort of collegial responsibility that need to be done away with.

Dilly said...

I read on Bones that your bishop wants to re-instate the Friday fast - I read the whole letter, and it seemed sensible and straightforward. And now I have a terrible confession to make. I was present on Sunday at Mass when our own Diocesan letter was read, and I switched off after about 30 seconds, because it was couched in what Damian Thomson refers to as "Bishopese", and it went on far too long, repeating itself along the way. I found myself giving it marks like a school essay - and I so longed to take a red pen to it and cut out the verbiage. I re-read it on the Archdiocesan website before posting - and I modified my view. It came across much better in print, and contained much sense. I could not fault the teaching in it - but it is very hard for an ordinary parishioner to be inspired by a too-long letter read out by a third person. Perhaps (after a long and rather verbose post of my own) our problem with the Bishops is their mode of communication.

santoeusebio said...

Galgani: You cannot be serious! If the Bishop's Conference were to disappear the Catholic Faith in this country would go with it? Perhaps you were being ironic?
My experience of the Conference is that the actions of certain of their incumbents tends to undermine my faith. This contrasts with Bishop O'Donoghue's Fits which tend to confirm my faith.

As to whether I prefer my ordinary to the Pope when they are in contradiction, after due ratiocination on the particular issue I plump for His Holiness every time.

I sometimes wonder whether some of our Bishops have not lost the faith and are just making the best of what they see as a hopeless case.

Nicolas Bellord

Peter said...

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
It is the role of the bishop to supervise the clergy under his authority. It is not so clear who supervises the bishops. I suggest that there should be better training for bishops and senior clergy and subsequent supervision.
Let us remember that the bishop reports to the Pope so he is likely to report how well he is doing and gloss over his failings. It seems that a bishop must be very poor to be removed.
One also wonders what direction is given to individual bishops as to their objectives and against which their success may be measured. By publishing his Fit for Mission series one bishop, P O’Donoghue, set out an agenda that seems to have won high praise in Rome. Have other bishops been called to present their own plans and policies?
Without a suitable policy framework the individual priest is left with the uncomfortable choice between following the policy of a bishop he believes to be wrong or taking on the bishop and appealing to Rome. Meanwhile the bishop can shelter behind the bishops’ conference to justify any failings.

pelerin said...

I think I shall have to give up looking at the Catholic blogosphere for Advent - it is all too depressing.

Anonymous said...


"If this constant barage of criticism against the BCE&W continues we will effectively destroy the Catholic faith in this country."

I agree that disobedience poisons faith. But I don't believe that criticism of 'Conference' where justified is remotely damaging and is possibly the opposite.

What the faithful want is to hear their bishops' clear, orthodox and loving voices raised vigilantly in the defense and propagation of the Faith. Charisms and bureacratic structures are incompatable. We should ask ourselves why it was that so clearly a good and true man as +Patrick O’Donoghue only found his voice shortly before retirement.


GOR said...

One of my pet peeves for some time has been the ‘invisibility’ of the local bishop. No, I’m not referring to some special powers of ‘being heard, but not seen’, rather to not being either heard or seen - especially the latter. In my younger days in Ireland one seldom saw the bishop. I can recall perhaps two occasions in my young life and both had to do with Confirmation - mine and my sister’s.

As part of the ceremony, a number of confirmands would be carefully selected by the nuns to “answer the bishop’s questions”. This consisted of the bishop being seated on his throne in the sanctuary and the chosen ones arrayed in a line in front of him. The bishop would then ask a catechetical question of each candidate – and woe betide anyone who answered incorrectly! At my confirmation I was one of the ‘chosen’. I don’t recall the question I was asked any more, but I’m pretty sure that – overawed by the occasion – I flubbed it. However, the bishop always sought to allay any fears – or repercussions – by ‘helping out’ with the answer, if there was hesitancy in the response. I believe that was the last time I ever saw the bishop - much less spoke with him.

Now, one understands that a bishop has a lot on his plate, administrative matters, meetings, commitments, etc. But he is the spiritual father of the diocese – and one does like to see one’s father betimes. Given the explosion of administrative/chancery staffs - not to mention auxiliaries in many dioceses - is it too much to ask that the father of the diocese not make more time to visit his children? Our Lord said He would not leave us orphans, but apparently some bishops haven’t gotten the message.

Less bishops’ conference meetings, committees and sub-committees might be a good start in freeing up his time!

Ma Tucker said...

Is anyone torn between Peter and the Local Bishop really? Maybe I have a simplistic view of it but I was baptised a member of the Roman Catholic Church. I was not baptised into Bishop X's Catholic Church. The Bishop is only a Bishop in communion with Peter. When he steps outside that communion in the preaching of Faith and morals he steps out of his bishopric and can demand no obedience from anyone.

As regards the Saint Peter and Saint Paul incident I think it should be pointed out that mutual agreement on the truth was established here. It was not simply a case of Paul disagreeing and going off to do his own thing. He contacted Peter and between them they settled the matter for the good of all. This incident should be looked upon as an example of humility, the requirement and responsibilty to discern and defend truth. Why it is always bandied about as an excuse for rebel bishops to do as they please I do not know.

It is always very sad when a bishop is like a negligent father of a family. Everyone suffers and the weakest members become prey for the wolves he lets into the family home. The danger can be physical but far more serious is the spiritual danger. Having said all that, the fact is they are what they are. They cannot be proper fathers without the fullness of the faith and there's no point beating them up over it. They simply can't help the fact. Also, they are attacked more on a spiritual level because of what they are. I think it is better to pray and do additional penances for them since conversion is the only cure.

Mike said...

If you want to be cheered up have a look at page 20 of this:
Okay, it was written three years ago but in the meantime have things got better for these people or worse?
“A look around us can evoke a certain gloominess as we notice the thinning out of our ranks over the course of the years.”
“We have not had much success in engaging with our hierarchy.”

Fr Ray Blake said...

We do not go down that route!!!
You can, I can't!

Fr Ray Blake said...

Mike, Link doesn't work.

Martin 1 said...

'' similarly if he appears to lack affection for those things his people hold dear, like God or the deposit of Faith, for example''

Yeah, those things are kind-of important! But you are so right Father.

Joe of St Therese said...

I really believe that the Bishops' Conferences in most countries have done more harm than good.

Perhaps it's time to re-take a look at them

Peter said...

Mike has given the correct address. Try doing an advanced search on Google with all these words ccc4vat2 and the exact wording renew144 and you should get the file as a pdf download. Or I can e-mail it to you. It is exceptionally dreary. This should be a comfort.
I find interesting the sentence on pages 14 - 15: "Most importantly of all, in determining what defines a Christian, the emphasis should not be on what is believed, orthodoxy, as on orthopraxis, the living out of the Gospels."

The Lord’s descent into the underworld

At Matins/the Office of Readings on Holy Saturday the Church gives us this 'ancient homily', I find it incredibly moving, it is abou...