Monday, August 01, 2011
Breaking the Magic Circle
Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Austria once the most faithful of Catholic countries have become deserts. George Wiegel, worth reading, looks at Ireland and suggests that even if the number of dioceses are significantly reduced, it is most probably impossible for Ireland to find good native bishops amongst the homegrown sons of Eirin.
The problem is the Magic Circle syndrome, like selecting like, faithful servants of national Churches appointing their faithful servants. It is indeed a circle, symbolised by the post-Concilliar stance at the liturgy, bishops, priests and people looking at one another celebrating, as if it is worth celebrating, their own community. It is self celebrating, self serving. It lacks the faculty of self criticism and self evaluation. Ultimately it lacks direction and vision and is incapable of redirecting itself. It is by its very nature conservative and illiberal and therefore intolerant of criticism. Like any self perpetuating group it easily becomes totalitarian and ultimately unjust.
This we have seen in Ireland, and elsewhere.
Breaking the Circle seems to be a priority, in Ireland it needs to happen now, as Wiegel says.
Some of the Irish clergy, as much in panic or desperation as anything else are suggesting electing bishops by clergy and laity. The problem with that is the most popular candidate is unlikely to be the best. Mandates given can be taken back. Although election by popular acclamation is an ancient model, it only worked when clergy and laity held the faith, or when the Bishop was expected to be a political figure. In Ireland that will merely perpetuate the problem and eventually lead to a schismatic national church, even more self serving than what exists at the moment.
Wiegel suggests sending in foreign Bishops. In the past the lineage of the Catholic Archbishops of Canterbury was peppered by Greeks and Italians, it was not unusual, perhaps it was easier in a Church with a single language. In Ireland it might be a temporary solution. The Pope's solution for Ireland, set out in his letter was first of all a year of penance, a visitation, then a mission be held for all bishops, priests and religious.
It is well worth thinking of this as a solution for other Churches:
Penance reminds us that the solution for our problems lies in Christ and perhaps it is a way of breaking down the sese of we are okay, the problen lies elsewhere.
Visitation is a way of reconnoitering and evaluating the present Church structures, it presumably is about looking for future bishops.
Mission is a way of changing minds and hearts and underscoring the Catholicity of bishops, priests and religious.
The problem with our present structures is that they are essentially feudal, a Bishop is Lord in his own domain, in reality against him there is no appeal, except to a Roman dicastery which is understaffed, often not very efficient and generally dependant on the Bishop's good will. The Bishop's Conference structure was supposed to be a counter to this feudalism but is actually part of the problem.
Perhaps there needs to be a permanent Visitation of dioceses, a group of proven senior foreign bishops, who have an ongoing interest in the local Church, getting to know the local Church, and therefore offer advice on future bishops, being able to offer critical and supportive advice to the bishop, being able act as a court of appeal if necessary, ensuring proper procedures are followed and being able to offer some gentle fraternal correction to the clergy.
There is a need for accountability.
Again a regular Mission to the bishops, clergy and religious also seems a good idea, actually to break through a self approving theology, that often goes for "ongoing formation". Now, we are perhaps in a situation where such a Mission might actually pass on the Catholic faith, rather than some destructive alternative form.
There is a need for an outside voice.
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