Comment on the Pope's foot washing seems to go and on. I suspect never has this aspect of the Gospel's been discussed so much. Fr Hunwicke has done a good analyses, that is well worth reading.
The Lord did not, as people sometimes carelessly assert, "wash the feet of his disciples", who were many; He washed the feet of a much more limited group, the Twelve. He did not wash the feet of the people who flocked to hear Him teach in the fields or on the Mountain or beside the Lake or in the village square, or even the feet of the Seventy He sent forth or of the women who ministered to Him; when He washed the feet of the Twelve, it was behind the closed doors of an exclusive Meeting arranged in almost 007-style secrecy. And the implication of S Peter's words was that this had not been the Lord's regular custom.If one takes the Tradition seriously, then the Twelve were clergy at this moment, it is Christ the High Priest washing the feet of his bishops. It is as Fr Hunwicke points out an intimate act with intimates. In the liturgy it happened rarely before the Bugnini reforms but I suspect the the most perfect parallel would have been the Bishop washing the feet of the Canons of his diocese, it would have happened in the intimacy of the Chapter House, during Prime, well away from the popular gaze.
The clergy of the diocese of Rome are not a happy bunch, three years ago they lost their bishop in events surrounded by mystery, there are hints of intrigue, 'mafia' involvement, a curia 'out of control' and of course 'the lobby' with its enormous power. I think I would feel rather like child of a father who finds it easier to show kindness in the pub or to strangers rather than at home to his wife and children.
Closer to home I met with a gang of Westminster clergy recently, most anticipate their own bishop to resign in the next few months. Because of his significance the Archbishop of Westminster has always been a distant figure to his clergy and fear who his replacement might be. Being a Cardinal he tends to only have half an eye on his diocese, unlike other bishops he is forced to rule by diktat or through others. Rarely do his priests sit in the intimacy of his apartment and just chat, nor would a priest with anxieties feel free to ring him up and spend time chatting late at night. None would expect him to drop round for a cuppa and a chat. This is not a criticism of the present incumbent it applies to practically all of Westminster's Archbishops.
Neither is Westminster an exception, most bishops are not on 'foot washing' terms with their clergy. The humble service of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples is the model of charity of a bishop towards his priests and amongst themselves. Bishops who get into trouble are invariably treated as non-persons by their brothers, and more likely to receive a cold shoulder rather than Christ-like charity.
A friend, a student of the Venerable English College at the time, told how the students themselves took pity on a former Archbishop of Cardiff and took him out for a drink when he was ostracised by his brother bishops a few months before his resignation.
The act of foot washing is a reminder that charity that binds the Church together, it goes with Jesus' own words to the Apostles, "I give you a new commandment: Love one another. In the same way that I have loved you, you are also to keep on loving each other". It is charity expressed in the seclusion of the Upper Room that is the basis of Communion within the Catholic Church, it really is an illustration that charity begins at home and then sets the world on fire, A good bishop is one who cares above all for his clergy and his brother bishops with Christ-like compassion.
The morale of many clergy, especially the elderly is very low. Many priest suffer from the festering wounds and are travel sore. Child abuse and the other clerical scandals that have hit the Church have their obvious victims but the more hidden victims are the innocent clergy. Many of us have a sense that our life work will simply vanish, that no-one will be left to continue it, that we will leave nothing behind us. A bishop is not a chief executive, or an administer, he is above all the washer of feet in his diocese, and the feet he is called are the feet of his brothers and sons, the clergy.