Swiss Abbot Harshly Criticizes Church Structures, Calls for Reform in the System of Naming Bishops

The Benedictine abbot of Mariastein in the diocese of Chur in Switzerland, Peter von Sury, has harsh criticism for the system of appointing bishops in the Catholic Church. He spoke recently in the context of ongoing turmoil around the leadership of Bishop Vitus Huonder in Chur. He said, “A bishop is of central importance. He is a pontifex, which means ‘bridge builder’; he must be a person who integrates. Unfortunately, we repeatedly experience the opposite, as is the case now in the Diocese of Chur. Here the bishop is obviously not a bridge builder, but a divider.” The abbot said “It is disastrous in every respect when a bishop is divisive. In my opinion, he is morally obligated in such cases to resign from office. The same holds true for an abbot or a pastor.”

In an interview published at KIPA the abbot said, “In our church we have serious structural problems. It is important to me that questions [such as clerical celibacy and women’s ordination] simply be dealt with. Topics can only be solved when the structures are minimally functional and the procedures are worked out. One unresolved question concerns the selection of bishops. Many other problems in the church stem from this.”

On the naming of bishops, the abbot said, “Today only the pope names bishops. This practice stands in contradiction to many theological convictions. It must be changed. Through exclusive naming by pope the system reinforces itself and is not renewed. In these nominations, issues of church politics are oftentimes emphasized more than the good of the diocese. But that is what it is about. On this issue, bishops and theologians must offer decisive resistance. There were other criteria for bishops’ selection in the first millennium of our church. Three levels were decisive in the election: the faithful of the diocese, the clergy of the diocese, and the bishops of the region. Today this would be the Swiss Bishops’ Conference. Such a process makes sense.”

[Benedictine Abbot Martin Werlen of Einsiedeln Abbey in Switzerland recently called for church reforms, including greater involvement of all the baptized in the selection of bishops. See Pray Tell’s report.]

The Diocese of Chur was in turmoil in the 1990s under the highly controversial leadership of Bishop Wolfgang Haas. The Swiss bishops’ conference backed the statement of an auxiliary bishop that a new beginning was not possible under Haas, and at one point the Swiss government asked the Vatican to intervene in the diocese. When Pope John Paul II appointed two auxiliary bishops to diffuse the crisis the situation did not improve, and one of the new auxiliary bishops stated that it was not possible to work with Bishop Haas. In 1997 Pope John Paul II made the tiny principality of Lichtenstein, previously a part of the diocese of Chur, into an archdiocese and named Haas as the first archbishop. The pope claimed that the move was in recognition of Lichtenstein’s deep bonds to the Holy See historically, but it was obvious to most observers that the real reason was that the pope needed to solve the personnel problem he had created. Under Haas’s successor, Vitus Huonder, tensions have continued.

Abbot von Sury has strong criticism for centralism in the Catholic Church. “Even if it is denied, in fact the dioceses are treated by Rome as administrative entities. The problem is that bishops achieve their position through this system, and consequently they have no interest in questioning the current system. The church thus becomes a closed system. Perhaps it eventually has to collapse or fall apart before anything happens. Or the money runs out and brings the system to a still stand.

“A closed system is no longer capable of accepting critique or correction from the outside,” he said. “And then when the local churches are disempowered, it is especially dire.”

The abbot stated, “Church institutions, and also the pope, must have a counterweight. In economics or politics we speak of ‘checks and balances.’”  He lamented that this is lacking at the level of the universal church.

Abbot von Sury criticized bishops’ synods, in which selected bishops from around the world come to Rome every few years to discuss questions proposed by the pope. Because the questions to be treated are named exclusively by the pope, the abbot said that it is a “one-way street.” He said that the bishops should “rise up on their hind legs and defend themselves.” He suggested that any contingent of bishops or bishops’ conferences should have the ability to propose topics for discussion.

“In the monastery there are venerable procedures for this prescribed by the Rule of St. Benedict. They are not democratic in the contemporary sense, but all participants are engaged with a view to the whole when it concerns important questions. At the same time the abbot maintains his authority which he cannot delegate.” The abbot recalled that, according to canon law, the faithful have the right and obligation to express their opinions to their shepherds. “This is a good statement of intention. But when no implementation stipulations exist, it’s worth absolutely nothing.”

The abbot returned to his main point: “I emphasize forcefully that the important question of bishops’ selection is primary and absolutely must be regulated differently. In terms of church history and theology, the process now in force in the church stands on weak footing.”

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89 comments

  1. I hope the abbot enjoys good health in his imminent forced retirement.

    Meanwhile, his words will be ignored by everyone in authority from Pope Benedict the Great (Divider) down, as the Church gets leaner and meaner, in every sense.

    Any organisation, including the Church, which will not allow questions or discussion is doomed.

  2. Have we not seen these problems before? According to the Fr. McBrien writing in NCR (in the 1970s):
    “The pope wanted to move the Church in the United States in a different direction, one more pastoral in orientation and more in line with the teachings and spirit of the Second Vatican Council.” Paul VI used +Jadot to help him to appoint bishops who would implement his vision of the council.
    Fr. McBrien goes on to add:
    “Catholics who were threatened rather than exhilarated by Vatican II saw this pattern of (Paul VI’s) appointments as solidifying the reforms of the council. Consequently, they kept up a constant stream of complaints to friendly quarters in the Vatican, magnifying the smallest of problems to create the impression that the Church in the United States was running off the rails.” Fr. McBrien also explains that it was the Cardinal leaders of the US episcopal conference of that time that needed the new spirit brought by the new more progressive episcopal appointments. He stipulates that these same older bishops then repeatedly complained to Rome about the new bishops.
    This is exactly what we seem to be seeing in Chur and in other quarters of the Church. Catholics who are threatened rather than exhilarated by the reform active in the life of the Church today magnifying small problems to create an impression that the Church is “running off the rails”. It seems somewhat traditional for those opposing reform to view needed reform as divisive.

    1. @Daniel McKernan – comment #2:
      I think most observers would recognize the great differences between now and the 1970s. The voices calling for reform are getting stronger, but the crackdown by authority is also increasing. It’s a new situation, and I wonder where it’s heading.
      awr

      1. @Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #4:

        As a South African, I see a fascinating (and hopeful) parallel here. I vividly remember the decade of the 1980’s, when calls for reform, and active resistance, were rapidly increasing – and the government responded simply with increasingly harsh security legislation, and police/military action.

        Then just as it seemed that peaceful change was impossible – in February 1990 the State President announced the end of apartheid, the release of political prisoners, and the start of real negotiations towards a new constitution. What he was in fact announcing, was not an intention to end the system, but recognition that to all intents and purposes, the system had already ended – ordinary people were simply ignoring the rules.

        In the Catholic church – calls for reform are increasing and becoming strident, the Vatican’s response is to crack down on dissent – and most people not directly dependent on church employment simply ignore the rules.

        I would not be at all surprised if sudden, dramatic change should arise in the Catholic church equally unexpectedly.

      2. @Terence Weldon – comment #7:
        Thank you, Terence, for this witness. You’ve lived through such a profound change. There is much in what you say, I think. That is, that before things change outwardly and visibly in a system, they are indeed undergoing a ferment within that is profound, and will bring about the outward change in time. Unjust systems do die from within. But that death can be painful for all concerned.

      3. @Terence Weldon – comment #7:

        We have started our own Intentional Eucharistic Christian Community because we were sick of the unloving, lying and brutal tactics that the heirachy and their new brainwashed Opus Dei priests that are filling up the parish and bishop positions.

        We are sick of the Vatican’s agenda and lack of love towards everyone that doesn’t agree with them. We are a very educated generation and we see through their Medieval tactics. I wish that people would stop giving thier money to the Catholic Church and just give it directly to healthy organizations that support those who are poorer in society. There is so many things they can help with. But I do think as Fr. Ruff states above that the Holy Spirit is lurking and will give us the grace and direction to bring Vatican II and justice back to all of us.

  3. Surely there has to be a better way than appointing people whose only modus operandi is to confront and crush.

    Wolfgang Haas’s appointment was never recognized by the Liechtenstein government or by the Prince. When Haas attempted to take possession of his diocese and cathedral in Vaduz, he found people lying across the entrance way, 50 persons deep. He was forced to enter the cathedral by a back door. Not an auspicious beginning for a man who has just carried on anyway and ignores the laity of his diocese. They too ignore him as much as they can. The congregations at his Masses in the cathedral are principally attended by folk bussed in from Switzerland and Austria.

  4. Where are the similar voices in the US? Are there men with this kind of moral integrity in similar positions of power? If not, why not?

  5. I should have asked if there are men and WOMEN with this kind of moral integrity in similar positions of power. Of course, from what I have seen the women have very little of which to be ashamed. The men, however ……

  6. Fr. Ruff:

    From your lips to God’s ears:

    “I would not be at all surprised if sudden, dramatic change should arise in the Catholic church equally unexpectedly.”

    Go, Go, OSB’s!

  7. Bishops rely on pastors who will meet the most important spiritual needs of their flocks. Pastors rely on the people they serve to provide the time, talent, and treasure to chart a steady course en route to the coming kingdom. These bishops, priests, and people have been conditioned to be compliant. Then there are prophets like the Abbot who are unable to be intellectually dishonest and must point out structural anomalies which hinder the whole church from pursuing the mission of Christ. I have a good bishop produced by the present system and I know of many others as well. But let me tell you even the good bishops should not be counted upon to exercise the office of prophet. My own bishop will preside over a dwindling number of priests and resulting parish closings before daring to state publicly the need to broaden the eligibility requirements for priestly candidates. They will themselves stumble occasionally over the prayers of RMIII before asking their priests for their experience with the texts. At 71 I take some relief from realizing I’m riding the crest of the wave. God, help us.

  8. Abbot Peter deserves a great deal of credit for his courageous and forthright description of the problem of structure that has caused such sclerotic and unhelpful responses from the Church authorities on whom the faithful depend. He joins Abbot Martin in my book as among the prophets and leaders who actually bear the mantle of authority by speaking and acting as Jesus would.

    It was also a refreshing dose of realism to hear him acknowledge that the bishops who get their jobs from the current system are unlikely to want to challenge or change it. That’s exactly right. The situation is so inbred that it takes faithful voices who are both credible from the inside, and yet not so beholden to the system, to challenge it.

    My only other question is that which Jim raised above: Where are the American counterparts to this witness?

  9. Is Abbot Sury, then, proposing ending any role by the Pope in the naming of bishops?

    And if he is proposing the election of bishops by “the faithful of the diocese, the clergy of the diocese, and the bishops of the region,” how much weight should be accorded to each element? What if there is a deep division reflected between two or more cohorts?

    1. @Richard Malcolm – comment #12:
      What if there is a deep division reflected between two or more cohorts?

      Discernment. It’s not a competition. And people, any people, who begin to see it as such, don’t belong in the discernment process. You then get new lay people, new priests, new bishops, and maybe a new roster of candidates.

      1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #13:
        Or do what the Copts did recently in electing their Pope. Blindfold a child and have him or her select the bishop from a fishbowl of names. The bishop of Rome doesn’t have to be involved in the election process and only became involved in the process very late in the middle ages.

  10. Hello Todd,

    With respect, that’s not really the kind of division I had in mind. The problem is not just personal clashes of ambition, but opposing theological (and even political) agendas.

    The use of elections in the patristic era often presents a troubling (and even violent) picture, not least because such divisions can be seen at work. Melitius of Lycopolis, for example, likely had the support of the laity and clergy of his diocese, but was opposed by most bishops in Egypt. The divisions seem to have been more about genuine theological issues than ones of personality.

    More likely, however, the divisions would cut across all three groups now, and elections would only make them more apparent. I wonder also about expanding the role of bishops’ conferences in the selection of bishops, given the dubious role they have played in perpetuating the sex abuse scandals (and obstructing efforts to address the same).

    There aren’t easy answers to all this. The Church has certainly used different methods in its selection of episcopal leadership through the years. It’s just far from clear to me that giving the clergy or bishops’ conferences, for example, greater roles in choosing bishops (and the Pope less) will really give us what we say we all want, i.e., better, holier bishops. It’s impossible for me to look at a region like, say, Quebec, and imagine for an instant that a method such as that proposed by Abbot Sury would lead to anything but disastrous selections, given the appalling state of the clergy and lay catechesis and observance there.

    1. @Richard Malcolm – comment #15:
      Richard Malcolm raises many important points. No solution is clearly obvious, and there are many things to consider in the reform of our present system.

      But all these concerns are no reasons to avoid reform or dismiss the issue or ignore the problems in the current system. The current system doesn’t work and is badly in need of reforming. The daunting challenges in doing so should not prevent us from taking up the task.

      awr

      1. @Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #16:

        But all these concerns are no reasons to avoid reform

        It being far from clear that any particular proposed reform is better than the current system is, in fact, a good reason to avoid reform.

        or dismiss the issue or ignore the problems in the current system.

        But no one’s doing that.

      2. @Samuel J. Howard – comment #17:
        “But no one’s doing that” ?

        On the contrary, I think you are. Claiming that proposed reforms are all worse is precisely a way to dismiss the issue and ignore the problems in the current system.

        Or perhaps I’ve missed where you’ve spoken of the problems in the current system – do correct me if I’m wrong. I’ve only heard you defend, never critique.

        awr

      3. Anthony Ruff, OSB : @Samuel J. Howard – comment #17:“But no one’s doing that” ? On the contrary, I think you are. Claiming that proposed reforms are all worse is precisely a way to dismiss the issue and ignore the problems in the current system.

        It’s my first and heretofore only post in the thread. I said “No one’s doing that” referring explicitly to “dismiss[ing] the issue or ignor[ing] the problems in the current system.” Therefore, it’s quite plainly my meaning that I (as Richard did in the comment to which you were replying) acknowledge the existence of problems in/with the current system (though I expect we disagree about what those problems are to some degree). You’re going hunting for some hidden subtext in contradiction to the plain meaning of my comment.

        That a form of government can have problems and not be apt for change is a famous principle ennunicated by among others, Winston Churchill, regarding democracy as a civil form of government:Many forms of Gov­ern­ment have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pre­tends that democ­racy is per­fect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democ­racy is the worst form of Gov­ern­ment except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

        Or perhaps I’ve missed where you’ve spoken of the problems in the current system – do correct me if I’m wrong. I’ve only heard you defend, never critique.

        The first place to look would be in the comment you’re replying to. I’m not sure whether there’s another place I’ve done it on PrayTell. But I don’t really see why that matters all that much? So what if I’ve never done it before? That doesn’t make what I’ve said here less true. You can’t just assume my…

      4. @Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #18:

        “But no one’s doing that” ? On the contrary, I think you are. Claiming that proposed reforms are all worse is precisely a way to dismiss the issue and ignore the problems in the current system.

        It’s my first and heretofore only post in the thread. I said “No one’s doing that” referring explicitly to “dismiss[ing] the issue or ignor[ing] the problems in the current system.” Therefore, it’s quite plainly my meaning that I (as Richard did in the comment to which you were replying) acknowledge the existence of problems in/with the current system (though I expect we disagree about what those problems are to some degree). You’re going hunting for some hidden subtext in contradiction to the plain meaning of my comment.

        That a form of government can have problems and not be apt for change is a famous principle ennunicated by among others, Winston Churchill, regarding democracy as a civil form of government:

        Many forms of Gov­ern­ment have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pre­tends that democ­racy is per­fect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democ­racy is the worst form of Gov­ern­ment except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

        Or perhaps I’ve missed where you’ve spoken of the problems in the current system – do correct me if I’m wrong. I’ve only heard you defend, never critique.

        The first place to look would be in the comment you’re replying to. I’m not sure whether there’s another place I’ve done it on PrayTell. But I don’t really see why that matters all that much? So what if I’ve never done it before? That doesn’t make what I’ve said here less true. You can’t just assume my opinion.

      5. @Samuel J. Howard – comment #23:
        Samuel,
        Sorry. Your last thousand posts all pointed in the same direction, and I rashly assumed there was a pattern to your thought.
        OK, your turn to nitpick about something or other.
        🙂
        awr

  11. Hello Fr. Ruff,

    Some long conversations with Russell Hittinger once upon a time brought home to me the context that’s usually forgotten about how we ended up where we are – to wit, with a fairly centralized system of episcopal appointments.

    In Hittinger’s understanding, much of the history of the papacy has really been a long, long struggle to retrieve something imprudently given up, ius patronatus. Forced to concede a role, often the only role, in appointing bishops to Germanic warlords and kings in the early Middle Ages, the Church fought a long and sporadic battle to remove the State from its role in naming bishops. It was only in the 19th century, as states began more aggressively secularizing, that popes made a more concerted effort along these lines. And centralization in other spheres (like canon law) seemed to carry over naturally to episcopal appointments, especially as popes came to fear centrifugal forces in an ever larger Church more and more. In one way, the real marvel (I might argue) of the modern age is not that the Pope appoints almost every bishop, but that in all but a handful of states, the state plays no or very little role in naming or approving bishops.

    But the results were haphazard, even when new communication and transportation technology made such centralization possible. The Pope is only one man; the curia is only a few hundred people (mostly clergy, not all of them vigorous). There are thousands of dioceses, and over a million priests to familiarize oneself with. So we ended up with a a system of ternas and nuncios and a papal congregation, and no one seems entirely pleased by it.

    What we see in the Anglican communion reminds us that a more popular model is not without its own pitfalls and dangers. I don’t mean to propose one model or condemn others, but only to suggest that we got where we are now through a long and bloody slog, and going somewhere else isn’t as easy or unproblematic as we would like to think. But we can certainly discuss it a lot more.

    1. @Richard Malcolm – comment #19:
      Richard,
      Thanks and I very much agree with your thoughtful post.

      Yes, going somewhere else isn’t easy or unproblematic. There is no obvious answer, there is no perfect system. I’m confident that we will need to reform our system (I hope sooner rather than later, but I have no sense of when something will move), but I’m also pretty sure that even a good reform will bring about unexpected problems and will need further revisions.

      The most important thing at this point is to try to diagnose as accurately as possible the nature of the current problems, and to begin considering all manner of possible reforms.

      awr

    2. @Richard Malcolm – comment #19:
      “Forced to concede a role, often the only role, in appointing bishops to Germanic warlords and kings in the early Middle Ages, the Church fought a long and sporadic battle to remove the State from its role in naming bishops. It was only in the 19th century, as states began more aggressively secularizing, that popes made a more concerted effort along these lines. ”

      This is a severe misreading of history, I’m afraid. First, the notion that before the Germanic warlords there existed a centralized means of selecting bishops, by Rome, is a complete fantasy.

      Second, during the much-lionized “Catholic Middle Ages” there was no such centralized control either.

      Third, the 19th Century “concerted effort” of which you speak was made successful by the weakening of the Church in its local assemblies, not because of the big effort it made to triumph over its ancient enemies.

      Fourth, canon law developed out of a desire to emulate the Code Napoleon, so if centralization of episcopal appointments can be said to conform to this general impulse, it must also be judged to correspond to the movement toward imperial rule, and absolutism — neither of which is gospel.

      The rise of a monopoly on the episcopal appointments did not correspond to a perfect pastoral desire for regaining something lost. It was a new thing. There is every reason to re-evaluate it in light of the needs of today’s church.

      Look at the argument you are making as a whole. In today’s world, when Catholicism is hardly ever in the position of being an “established church” why do you think that the state will intervene in electing bishops? The very idea is a joke. That was yesterday’s problem.

      Today we face the problem that local churches are disenfranchised by such centralization, and Catholics themselves are being ruled in ways that don’t correspond to our best efforts at working together. The idea of state interference in the west is a red herring.

  12. Richard – helpful history. But, the issue in the 18/19th century was undue political influence/control over the local church and Rome chose the episcopal appointment process as their perogative as the means to an end.
    Would suggest that (esp. w/VII, immense changes politically, societally) that the issue of undue influence has shifted and changed. Rome continues to apply a 19th century solution to a situation that rarely exists today. In fact, you could make an argument that Rome’s over-centralization (applying a long past method to current situations) mis-reads both the times and the church. One can argue historically that Rome had no choice in the 17/18/19th century but it does now. Wonder if what we are experiencing now is that the undue influence of political figures has been replaced by an undue influence of an internal, over-centralized government that has some of the same marks – desire to control; need to exert authority; etc.
    And we also know that this Vatican method changed the 1st century and Patristic traditions impacting the way we are church. (and not necessarily for the good)
    In some ways, history tells us about the anti-Modernism Vatican methods – another example where Rome applied long past methods to a current situation and not for the best. It took more than 50 years and a council to begin to correct some of the anti-Modernism actions – wonder if the same will be true for this issue.

    1. @Bill deHaas – comment #21:

      Would suggest that (esp. w/VII, immense changes politically, societally) that the issue of undue influence has shifted and changed. Rome continues to apply a 19th century solution to a situation that rarely exists today.

      Interference in the appointment of bishops by governments is, in fact, still a massive problem today in China. The close ties between the Russian Orthodox Church and the current Russian government mean that de facto there are issues with governmental interference in appointments there (e.g. in 2000 in the refusal of visas to apostolic adminstrators.)

      But even if we agree that undue government influence is largely a thing of the past, it’s largely a thing of the past in an environment in which the bishops are centrally appointed. If that’s the reason that it’s largely a thing of the past, there may be a signifigant danger of a return of political pressure in a decentralized system.

      1. @Samuel J. Howard – comment #25:
        The situation of the Russian Orthodox Church cannot be usefully compared to the situation of the Roman Catholic Church in this respect. It is far different from China as well. These are apples and oranges.

        There is one thing in common with your two examples, however. Do you notice that both of the societies you raise as the ones likely to interfere are either communist or post-communist societies?

        The rest of the Catholic world is in a far different mode.

      2. @Rita Ferrone – comment #34:
        The situation of the Russian Orthodox Church cannot be usefully compared to the situation of the Roman Catholic Church in this respect.

        It was perhaps a bit unclear, but when I wrote: “The close ties between the Russian Orthodox Church and the current Russian government mean that de facto there are issues with governmental interference in appointments there (e.g. in 2000 in the refusal of visas to apostolic administrators.)” This is in reference to the topic under discussion, the appointment of Roman Catholic bishops and ordinaries.

        Because of the close ties between the Russian Orthodox Church and the current Russian government, the Russian Government has interfered in the appointment (or administration) of Catholic officials there in the not distant past.

  13. Hello Bill,

    But, the issue in the 18/19th century was undue political influence/control over the local church and Rome chose the episcopal appointment process as their prerogative as the means to an end.

    That’s a fairly accurate summation, actually. You’re right: Rome could have chosen other solutions to the ius patronatus problem. You’re also correct that, at least outside of a few places like China, it’s not a problem now like it was back then – at least for the time being.

    The difficulty I have with these discussions of Church governance is that ecclesiology is usually a mask for more fundamental theological disputes. On the surface, it’s about mere process; but it’s also a means to an end for deeper arguments about what the Church really is, and what it stands for.

    Let us be even more candid. What has happened in Chur is the same thing that has happened in a number of dioceses across the West. In these dioceses, most of the clergy were products of the Council (or should I say, a particular reception of it), or the years of its implementation, and they were/are quite progressive. Likewise, so are much of the laity, or at least those most involved in parish and diocesan governance and ministry. A more traditional (my gloss) bishop is appointed, perhaps a rather vocal one, and friction immediately ensues. There is loud grumbling that Rome is imposing an ordinary alien to their sympathies, and who does not play well with others. But at root, it’s because there are two (often quite) different theological perspectives clashing. This seems to be what is going on in Chur, just as (to name but a few notable examples) it has happened in St. Louis, Kansas City, and Quebec.

    And while I might even agree with you that there is an ideal in a greater local role in these matters (down to the parish level, even), I think the reality is that if we moved to anything like Abbot Sury’s model, these deeper theological divisions would simply erupt much more visibly – and…

    1. “The difficulty I have with these discussions of Church governance is that ecclesiology is usually a mask for more fundamental theological disputes. On the surface, it’s about mere process; but it’s also a means to an end for deeper arguments about what the Church really is, and what it stands for.”

      Richard, can you say what “fundamental theological disputes” ecclesiology is a mask for?

      The rest of your statement says it is a mask for “arguments about what the Church really is, and what it stands for” — but that is what ecclesiology is.

      Who is the Trojan in the horse, as you see it?

  14. …and violently.”

    And to follow up on that last post:

    Some might say, even on both ends of the theological spectrum, that perhaps such a convulsed situation resulting from more local control would still be preferable, because it would be better to have these divisions more out in the open, rather than simmering as barely concealed schisms.

    It’s interesting, for example, that traditionalists in the SSPX and Campos in Brazil, for all their trumpeting of papal supremacy, have been fighting, in the concrete, for a principle of local autonomy. In the 70’s and 80’s, it was Campos (however understood, since we know the diocese fractured pretty quickly) resisting Rome’s attempt to appoint a liberal bishop over them; in places like Chur, it’s the liberals resisting a conservative appointment, and now it is Bishop Huonder who confronts (with a few exceptions) an angry, sullen clergy who find his theology outside their sympathies.

    So that’s where we are. I find this a fascinating and even urgent topic, but I also think it’s not as urgent for the more fundamental theological disputes that lurk underneath.

    There is one concrete change I could recommend right now, one that could be done more easily: end the USCCB rule limiting pastoral assignments to six years.

  15. Richard – your points are well made and agree. But, then, think that Fr. Ruff was stating the same thing ….need to discuss and in some cases try modifications but realizing that unintended consequences do happen.
    That being said – following VII and a ressourced vision of collegiality and letting local conferences determine their own local affairs, it may be time for change (not necessarily from one extreme to the other).
    Mr. Howard – as I said….*a situation that rarely exists today* and yes was thinking about China (but that is also much more complex – would suggest that an accurate historical research would indicate that the church’s over-centralization dating back to the Chinese Rite controversy set the stage for what we are seeing now). Would suggest that China is an exception and legislating or reforming by exceptions or not reforming because of exceptions is never a good idea.

    Pastoral assignments – my experience is that any US bishops can determine this policy….we have assistants and pastors who may be looked at least every six years but may not be moved. My understanding is that the USCCB does not legislate or enforce a strict rule on this – it is collegiality – each bishop decides.

  16. The incorporation of lots into different levels of the discernment, nomination and selection process can be beneficial in introducing some randomness. It has the benefit of Apostolic practice as well.

  17. It seems possible that instituting some relatively modest reforms that increase the transparency and widen the scope of consultation with local clergy and laity, would go a long way toward restoring and building trust. And this could be done without fundamentally shifting authority or power. For example, when a seat is open, the Holy See could publish the schedule to have it filled; it could make known who the candidates are; and it could have open, formal meetings to get feedback from the local church on its local needs, and even solicit suggestions for nominees. Even these relatively modest steps could be fraught with complications and problems – but so is the murky status quo.

  18. Massimo Faggioli in his new book, True Reform, suggests that SC, at heart, was a theological work (you can not limit it to liturgy only) and a template for VII theological statements.
    Thus, he posits a comparison – SC laid out the fact that liturgical decisions start with local bishops and episcopal conferences – it implements a collegiality that came from ressourcement (how the church operated in apostolic and patristic periods and before investiture, Roman institutional impact, national/political impacts). This collegial idea is carried over in other VII documents – it partially influences reformed definitions of church, ordained ministry – bishop/priest/deacon, papal authority. Faggioli indicates that Paul VI and curial pressure minimized and limited both the pope with bishops concept and the post-VII implementation. (examples are the 1983 Code of Canon Law and subsequent papal MPs/Synods that squashed the collegial ressourcement.)
    What we are left with, then,. is an unfinished and imcomplete task – the over-centralization of Vatican I is not the *ideal*; rather, it is a skewed concept of authority in the church.

  19. Hello Bill,

    That being said – following VII and a ressourced vision of collegiality and letting local conferences determine their own local affairs, it may be time for change (not necessarily from one extreme to the other).

    Conferences, however, don’t have any canonical or magisterial status.

    At any rate, when we look at the record of the conferences in, say, the U.S. and Ireland in obstructing investigation of sex abuse scandals and putting in place new rules in dealing with them (such as the very weak sauce Dallas charter), can you really say that you have much confidence in such bishops’ conferences to fill their ranks with good bishops?

    I’m not making an argument against any role or voice by local bishops in episcopal selections. That role already exists in the formation of ternas, after all. I’m only saying that many will look on with skeptical eyes at proposals to expand the role of bishops’ conferences in appointing new bishops.

  20. Hello Rita,

    In the first place – I said nothing to suggest that there was a centralized system of episcopal appointments in place before the Middle Ages. Obviously – there was *not.* The point, however, is that, notwithstanding sporadic imperial interference (more in the East than the West), the Church took care of its own episcopal appointments – by whatever means. Whatever fantasy I may be guilty of indulging, a high centralized papal appointment system isn’t it. That wasn’t my point.

    The reason I brought up all that history is to remind everyone of how we got to where we are – and how hard it was to reach that point. In large part, it was, as you note, a reaction to a problem which is no longer really present, save for a handful of states (like China). There’s no guarantee that will be the case forever, however.

    I also agree about the code of canon law’s formation. The Code was modeled on post-Napoleonic European law codes, which is to say, it was a quite *modern* (and, in the view of my canon law professor of old, quite dubious) development for the Church. And certainly it was motivated by the same concern – to centralize Roman control in the face of increasing state hostility, as well as other centrifugal forces for a Church not only grown much larger, but also faced with growing philosophical and theological challenges of the sort highlighted so often in 19th century papal encyclicals.

    In an ideal world, I agree: There would be a larger role for local churches in the selection of bishops. In the practical world, I greatly fear how any attempt to do so would play out. The Church is in a disastrous state, and I fear the result would be the de facto establishment of national churches not only administratively independent from Rome, but forging their own quite different doctrinal paths.

    1. @Richard Malcolm – comment #36:

      Richard: In an ideal world, I agree: There would be a larger role for local churches in the selection of bishops. In the practical world, I greatly fear how any attempt to do so would play out. The Church is in a disastrous state, and I fear the result would be the de facto establishment of national churches not only administratively independent from Rome, but forging their own quite different doctrinal paths. {my emphasis, italics)

      A redux of Gallicanism would certainly not be the first instance of the tug-of-war between state and papal interests, as you and Rita have noted earlier. There are other valences as well. While I often have disagreed with the many French bishops who opposed Summorum Pontificum, their logic was nevertheless sound in some respects. Ancedotally (and probably incorrectly) I have heard that in France half of those who attend Mass every Sunday hear Mass at a SSPX church. Even if this figure I have quoted is incorrect, and actually a quarter of Mass-goers attend a SSPX church, then the French bishops still have a serious schism with which to contend.

      The renewal of local election of bishops might allow bishops to manage the mix of forms within the diocese. Traditionalists might cry, “oh, but all those French bishops are modernists!” Perhaps more French bishops, elected from the community, would be more willing to offer the EF and reconcile schismatics to the Church if he knew how best to balance the many and complex issues in his jurisdiction.

  21. Rita – thanks for your four historical points. The best example of this is probably the 1930’s and Pacelli’s Reich Concordat with the Nazis/Germany.
    It provided papal recognition of the German government & supposedly protection of the German Catholic church. But, in reality, it weakend the Catholic Centre Party and the German bishops.

    Richard – your point about no canonical status – that is what I meant by saying that the collegial concept was not fully implemented – per Faggioli, because of a minority/curial bias and because the 1983 Code ignores it.

    Can’t agree with your characterization of conferences especially your example of abuse, Dallas Charter, etc. Why?
    – collegiality/conferences began to change by the early 1970s and with JPII by 1980 and 1985 Synod – we, for all practical purposes, have the end of collegiality.
    – episcopal appointments – speaking just about the US, with the departure of Jadot and JPII’s litmus tests (via ternas or whatever) the complexion of the USCCB began to change so that when you get to the 1990s, you have a set of bishops (not all but a growing majority) who owed their positions to Rome…thus, they did nothing without Vatican approval. Abuse scandals began in 1985, increased in the 90s, and exploded in Boston in 2000. Fact – centralized CDF/Papal policies limited, restricted, and forced conferences to toe the line e.g. Australia had to get Papal approval to report to civil authorities in limited circumstances in 1998; Dallas Chapter in 2002 – this was the best the USCCB could get Roman approval for, etc.
    What would have happened if Rome/Curia had actually empowered conferences since 1970? What could conferences do? Other examples – Latin American bishops at Medellin, etc. were forced to undergo a papal investigation and then oversight even as they tried to implement their episcopal conference decisions.
    Sorry, the failure of conferences is not conferences; it is Roman over-centralization.

  22. Hello Bill,

    Abuse scandals began in 1985, increased in the 90s, and exploded in Boston in 2000. Fact

    Wait. You’re seriously blaming the abuse scandals on . . . post Jadot appointments?

    The abuse scandals we know about go back well before that. And Weakland, Mahoney, Grahmann, Tschoepe, Bevilacqua, Law, Medeiros, Johnson (Orange) . . . I could go on and on with this list . . . were appointed as bishops (if not always to their highest see) while Jadot was still nuncio/apostolic delegate.

    I just can’t agree with your notion that a more “collegial” bishops conference, empowered to appoint men to its own ranks under canon law, would appoint the kind of men we need to put an end to the kind of mentality that created this scandals. The track record is far too grim for that, both here, and in much of Western Europe.

  23. Richard – you either chose to miss my point or you are putting words in my mouth.
    Your statement was about episcopal conferences. My first point commented on that; my second point addressed a collary – which is the current USCCB has a majority of bishops who choose, for whatever reason, to buy into the concept that they are just company reps of Rome, period. The Jadot bishops (by and large) were chosen using a different criteria and produced as an episcopal conference some outstanding church pastorals in the 1980s (which the current episcopal crop has not been able to come close to in terms of conference unity on shared projects, goals, etc. e.g. think the recent failures of FOCA, immigration statements, FforFreedom, the abortive attempt led by Imesch on a women’s pastoral).

    Never *blamed* the abuse scandals on post Jadot appointments – what I said was that the abuse that became public with cases dating back to the 1950s was not handled well by any conference of bishops because of papal centralization and curial incompetence. Weakland did a wonderful job on the economics pastoral and many other things during his life – his handling of abuse; well, it was a failure. Mahoney, Grahmann (close friend of the current pope), Tschoepe (pastoral but had no concept of abuse and suffered from dementia by the time things became public), Krol, Bevilacqua, Law – the records indicate their guilt in cover-ups, etc. and manipulating the SOL laws; Medeiros – mystery in terms of his appointment given lack of administrative/pastoral skills.

    There currently is no accountability via Rome for abuse, cover-ups, etc. Example – Rome can force the retirement of Wm. Morris for mentioning discussing female ordinations but a convicted bishop on current criminal abuse charges, Finn, Rome does nothing. Would suggest that an empowered USCCB that had the local decision to act on folks such as Finn (and given US media attention) would take action long before Rome. Think folks such as Burkeswitz, etc. who have ignored the Dallas…

  24. Hello Bill,

    I am very sorry if I misunderstood you.

    Alas – the character limit in the combox does limit us.

    If I understand you correctly, you *seem* to be saying that the appointments during Jadot’s tenure were producing a conference which, had it continued to develop and been allowed to exercise a more independent role by Rome, could have been capable of exercising the role you have in mind – notwithstanding the flaws of some of its number, which you properly note. Correct me if I am mistaken, however.

    Well: our mileage may differ on that. At least on this point: the sex abuse scandals. Here, you do seem to be inconsistent, which is why I wonder if I have misunderstood you in some other way. On the one hand, you seem to want to pass the buck entirely to Rome when you claim that the scandal “was not handled well by any conference of bishops because of papal centralization and curial incompetence.” On the other hand, you freely admit that certain “Jadot bishops” dropped the ball pretty badly, and it doesn’t seem like you’re excusing their failure on Roman malfeasance. Which, if that’s what you’re saying, seems correct. Whatever their other virtues, these men *must* accept *some* responsibility for the abuses that occurred on their watch, especially when they knowingly moved these priests to new assignments, free to abuse again.

    But whether we are talking about Jadot men, Laghi men – pick your period – I think we can agree on this much: Hardly any of them covered themselves in glory on this, and the failure is deep enough that it calls into question just how effective they could be at having charge of replacing themselves, regardless of what Rome does or doesn’t do. Now, perhaps with a better crop of men, that might not be the case…

    As a sidebar, I’ll note that I think (as you probably suspected) that the Jadot men were almost unmitigated disasters across the board, and I deprecate, I think, the very USCCB/NCCB documents you admire. But that’s a rabbit hole perhaps best left for another day.

    1. @Richard Malcolm – comment #41:
      Rome is as much to blame. Post-Jadot bishops seem just as bad. The “new” orthodox bishops have largely covered themselves in muck: Finn, George, Walsh, Rigali, McCormack.

      The current system is broke. I’m thinking that the longer it stays anchored in place, the more discredited it will be. The best thing real orthodox believers can do is sideline the bishops as much as possible, and do our best to cast into the deep. The longer Robert Finn stays on the cathedra in Kansas City, the longer the world remembers that so-called conservatives have just as much to offer in the department of criminal immorality.

      1. @Scott Smith – comment #43:
        I think the laity already do. We dismiss the silliness, the deck-chair rearranging. Some withhold donations. Kansas City’s plans for a $40M high school took a 60% hit.

        Bishops are going to have to get serious about authentic leadership. I think they will still ordain seminarians and confirm teens. But when a bishop writes a pastoral letter on pornography (thumbs up on that, btw) but then is found to need schooling when the problem surfaces in a big way with one of his own priests–that’s a serious credibility problem that will be a long time in going away.

        Conservatives already track bishops they don’t like. The role is certainly important. The men who people the role may not be.

  25. Maybe what the Holy Father has just done today for the Eastern Rite might be a model for the Latin Rite at some future date?

    (The Holy Father, today, December 19th)”–Accepted the resignation from the pastoral care of the Chaldean Church presented by His Beatitude Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, patriarch of Babylon of the Chaldeans, Iraq, and convoked the Synod of Bishops of the same Church in Rome on 28 January 2013 to elect a successor. The Synod will be presided by Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches. The Holy Father appointed Archbishop Jacques Ishaq as administrator of the Chaldean Church pending the election of the patriarch.”

    1. @Fr. Allan J. McDonald – comment #46:

      I am unclear on what you mean?

      Do you think the US should have its own Patriarch who could be selected at a synod in Rome?

      I like the Coptic Orthodox method, with a child picking a name out of a hat. A lot of politicking about the names in the hat, but it echoes Mathias in Acts.

  26. Hello Todd,

    Rome is as much to blame. Post-Jadot bishops seem just as bad. The “new” orthodox bishops have largely covered themselves in muck: Finn, George, Walsh, Rigali, McCormack.

    1. Rome has to take some blame, sure. But “as much?” Sorry, I can’t agree. They’re too easy a target.

    “Rome” is – what? The Pope, several hundred clergy. Who, as I said before, aren’t always the most energetic bunch. So they are expected to stay on top of 2,800 odd dioceses and thousands of religious orders? Could Rome have put in place more streamlined canon law and procedures for sex abuse cases? Could it have pushed the bishops much harder on rooting this out? Could it have been more vigilant in screening appointments on this score? Sure. No question. The Vatican has been a day late and dollar short.

    But what happened in America and Ireland happened in America and Ireland. Right here. Among us. Our bishops. The ones who had the information. The ones who covered up for them. Whatever our anger at Rome, we can’t say they’re just as much to blame.

    2. I don’t really consider myself a “conservative,” but I take your point about Finn, George, at least, since I have admired certain aspects of their ministry. As with Bill & Weakland, you can’t just overlook or shrug it off when “your guy” or at least a bishop you admire in some respect, fails badly on sex abuse cases. It really wipes out so much good that (you think) he does. If I were Finn, I’d have resigned. His leadership is compromised. His transgressions with Fr. Ratigan weren’t in Paul Shanley or Rudy Kos territory, but they were bad enough. It’s astonishing to me that he didn’t get how little margin for error he had on these things.

    But whether it’s Jadot “social justice” bishops or milquetoast Laghi “JP2” men, my question remains: Do we trust these men to replace themselves?

    Does anyone here trust the Irish bishops now to choose their colleagues? Anyone?

    1. @Richard Malcolm – comment #47:
      Richard,

      I think you may have made my point. Thank you.

      Rome is the Congregation of Bishops and the pope for starters. The former is populated these days with many of your “milquetoast” bishops who, as you say, post-1987, had the opportunity to know better. And didn’t.

      Additionally, Rome has spoken loud and clear that it sees talking about women’s ordination as more of a threat than the antigospel of mismanaging predators. In my book, Rome gets a pretty heavy hammer from my pen. And justifiably so.

      As long as we’re being sporting, for the snickers he attracted on it, I did think Bishop Finn was on the right track in confronting that silent killer of marriages. Problem is, he was one of those “JP2 bishops” strutting around suggesting “I’m good, you laity are bad.” I’m not okay, you’re not okay is more accurate, but at some point a leader has to have a fair confidence some people are lining up behind him to follow, and not to chase him out of town with pitchforks and torches.

      Tackling difficult pastoral situations is not easy. Who had a tougher week, B16 or Fr Bob Weiss? Why can’t we expect more heroism from bishops? Instead we cross our fingers and hope they don’t blow up the Barque’s engine room. Is that the kind of Roman Catholicism you want? Really?

  27. Richard – agree with much of what you say but not all (as you guess).

    My convictions come from my belief in what the council fathers ressourced – local bishops are the church, they are the center around the eucharist and the local church acts (not in separate priests, parishes) but acts as a community of faith. (Yes, we still need to work out the bishop of Rome and local bishops, conferences but the answer is not papal over-centralization).

    Thus, for theological and sacramental reasons, believe we need to ressource apostolic and patristic models and begin to empower conferences to control their own affairs. (yes, grant Jordan’s concern about national churchs or balkanization but that can be worked on – let’s not stop the good because of a fear of an extreme).

    At one time in our history in the US, church structures were such that there were regions under the leadership of an archbishop – that archbishop exerted influence with their assigned diocesan bishops. e.g. San Antonio’s archbishop had the dioceses of Dallas, San Angelo, Amarillo, El Paso under its responsibility – that archbishop had the authority to work with and impact what those bishops did. Yes, it was primarily tradition, old respect for authority, etc. and not codified but it worked at times. Now we have bishops such as Vasa, Olmsted, Morlino, Jenky, Naumann, etc. who go off half-cocked with no accountability.
    Rome ignores their antics unless they touch one of their hobbyhorses – women’s ordination, abortion, etc.
    We need a middle ground that makes conferences accountable and responsible. We need to change the structure so that it is the bishop of Rome, then bishops/conferences and a vision that the curia is only an administrative function of the bishop of Rome. Cardinals are honorary. The current hierarchical system is not scriptural, is not traditional in terms of aposotolic and patristic experience, and is lined up so that we have pope, curia/cardinals, bishops and continued minimization of conferences.

  28. Hello Bill,

    All right. That’s fair enough.

    I don’t really dispute your characterization of how things worked in the earlier days of the American Church. Especially very early on.

    Perhaps a larger role for local bishops would force them to be more responsible for these things. One might, as Fr. McDonald suggests, look at how the Eastern rite churches do it. Their results are not always edifying, I’m afraid, but not always disastrous.

    There are just two difficulties I might point out. Lumen Gentium really is a bishop-empowerment document. That was really the whole point of it – to restore greater power to bishops to run their own shops, not just be local branch managers for Rome. There’s no real discussion of the sorts of relationships you’re referring to there. It’s also far from clear that metropolitans exercised that kind of power and control over other bishops in the patristic period, and not just because communication and travel were so primitive. So if you want to restore these powers of the metropolitans (and whatever local synod or structure of their bishops they might choose to set up), that’s something new and different, and not explicitly contemplated by Lumen Gentium.

    The second difficulty is that a knife like that can cut both ways. I’m guessing you’re not happy with the likes of Olmsted, Morlino, and Vasa et al because they’ve taken a hard line on liturgy, sacraments, discipline, etc. But what happens when the Metropolitan is of like mind? When the Metropolitan is a Burke or a Cordileone? You’ve now just expanded their influence and power over their bishops in their province (and, I might suggest, make it harder for local bishops unhappy with a Burke to get him kicked upstairs). And it’s pretty clear that we’re getting more and more of that kind of bishop now, not least because we’re getting more and more of that kind of priest now.

    I am all for greater accountability and transparency – as I think we all are. I’m struggling with how to accomplish that.

  29. Agree – but then, would suggest that Metropolitans would convene and decide within a conference and its leadership – thus, the US, for example, would have multiple Metropolitans who would make up the leadership of the US conference.

    Not sure I would characterize my list by saying they took a *hard line* – evidence suggests that their leadership style is not exactly pastoral, scriptural, or even historical. And the *hard line* for me was that in some cases, their directives were completely wrong – based upon their own incorrect interpretation or reading of directives from Rome (shoot, they couldn’t even get the over-centralization correct); their assuming too much certitude on some issues; ignoring pastoral responsibilites by exercising excessively jurdical authority; no balance in their sacramental ministry.

  30. Provinces still matter. (isn’t that the arch in archbishop?) But middle management never fares well.

    And Cardinals are a part of Rome. What could have been done was take Law off the congregation for bishops instead of leaving him til his retirement.

    1. @Jim McKay – comment #51:
      Agree, Jim, and the current situation reflects all the negatives in terms of middle management and company men. VII did not envision or recommend that but Paul VI edited Lumen Gentium and then added a footnote that eviscerated the collegiality discussion and directives. We have limped along ever since.

  31. @Todd Flowerday – comment #54:

    I don’t think the composition of the curial office really changes my point. Most of the responsibility remains with the bishops who actually made these decisions. Not all of it – but most of it.

    Additionally, Rome has spoken loud and clear that it sees talking about women’s ordination as more of a threat than the antigospel of mismanaging predators. Well, I see *both* as grave threats. But I would add that one involves heresy – no other word for it – and the other, violations of Church law (rather than open denials of it). They are both threats to the health of the Church and the salvation of its souls, but in different ways. Nonetheless, I would join you in asking for a lot more episcopal resignations.

    Bishop Finn…never struck me as what I would call a “JP2 bishop.” The typical “JP2 bishop” to me was someone like Rigali – toed the party line, but didn’t shake up the ship, or cause a stir. Such men weren’t really memorable for much of anything. Finn, on the other hand, was quite willing to kick up some hornet’s nests, ones that generally needed kicking. Unlike JP2 bishops, he was sympathetic to liturgical traditionalists, rather than being utterly hostile to their requests. He was willing to clean out the chancery and the appalling pastoral education program. Unfortunately, he then dropped a torpedo into the hold of the ship he’d been building with his mishandling of the Ratigan case. Whatever credibility he had built up through his courageous leadership (my gloss, if not yours) became deeply compromised.

    1. @Richard Malcolm – comment #58:
      Richard, from afar, Rome is significantly at fault–it calls the shots on appointing bishops, from bishops promoted to Rome or embraced as “consultants.” Kingmakers, if you will.

      Speaking of Bishop Finn, having served in that diocese for a number of years, I can add another torpedo for your thoughts. Part of his “clean-up” program was to pink-slip the person, his chancellor, a woman religious, who was responsible for Charter oversight and compliance. Upon discovering this a week or two later, he sent his new chancellor, a priest, begging the person to remain on staff and coordinate with the new regime.

      The blunder and subsequent scramble set the diocese back to non-compliant status by 2007. Bishop Finn struck me as earnest, reserved, and prayerful. He was also naive, inexperienced, and inattentive. A whole year to figure out a diocese as a coadjutor? Seems like he needed more seasoning–like maybe more than zero years service as a parish pastor.

      Talking about women’s ordination, to my knowledge, hasn’t chased anyone out of the Church. But if you want to ponder the impact of criminal and immoral mismanagement of bishops, look at Ireland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, northwest Missouri, Austria, Germany, Australia … Has Fr McDonald’s parishioner chased anybody out of that Macon parish lately?

  32. Bill deHaas : @Todd Flowerday – comment #54: Richard – this commentary may explain why I do not agree with your analysis of handling sexual abuse and Rome: http://www.richardsipe.com/Doyle/2008/2008-04-01-Commentary_on_Crimen_Solicitationis.pdf

    Thanks for that, Bill.

    I don’t agree with all of Sipe’s analysis – I don’t have time to go into it now – but he makes some valid points. Rome *did* move too slowly on this.

    But at the end of the day, these bishops still had responsibility for actions they took, even allowing for canonical limitations. Archbp. Rembert Weakland *knew* that William Effinger was a serial pederast, yet reassigned him from parish to parish. Nothing in Crimen sollicitationis forced him to do that. No one in the Vatican forced him to say “Not all adolescent victims are so innocent. Some can be sexually very active and aggressive and often quite streetwise.”

    And I’m not trying to pick unduly on Weakland – he’s just a good case in point. The same thing happened with Law’s handling of Shanley and Geoghan, and it was just as unforgivable. Or even to take Cardinal George, who seems like a decent man in other respects…to see how late it came to him that these men were recidivists who could not be trusted in ministry.

    It’s dismaying. And it’s been a problem with so many bishops, “liberals” and “conservatives” alike.

  33. Hello Todd,

    Richard, from afar, Rome is significantly at fault–it calls the shots on appointing bishops, from bishops promoted to Rome or embraced as “consultants.” Kingmakers, if you will.

    That’s a fair point.

    But if you are looking for fans of John Paul II’s record of episcopal appointments, you will have to keep looking past me. I just don’t think it was very important to him.

    Part of his “clean-up” program was to pink-slip the person, his chancellor, a woman religious, who was responsible for Charter oversight and compliance. Upon discovering this a week or two later, he sent his new chancellor, a priest, begging the person to remain on staff and coordinate with the new regime.

    Yes, I knew about that. I lived in Kansas City at the time.

    I favored the chancellor’s removal. But it must be said that if you’re going to remove someone (on no notice) with such responsibilities, you must be prepared to make sure those responsibilities are met.

    I liked the idea of cleaning house. The execution left something to be desired. I’m not sure why that is. I don’t know Finn well. I know that he was not a pastor, which I think is regrettable; but he had administrative assignments previously in St. Louis.

  34. Richard – have done some added thining about this issue.

    – keep in mind that Jadot worked with a much larger pool of US priests in which to choose bishops (by late 1980s tens of thousands of pirests had left active service). He did not use some type of litmus test beyond a desire to find qualified, pastorally experienced, and good leaders (you may not like the social justice leaning but that echoed the times, culture, and needs). In some ways, Jadot and Paul VI more closely followed some of the recommendations that the National Leadership Roundtable of Church Management have made about Episcopal leadership candidates;
    – 80% of current US bishops were educated in Rome (in some ways more a weakness than a strength – 70% have canon law degrees. Yet, canon law degrees do not appear to have helped them in confronting sexual abuse?);
    – In Pastores Dabo Vobis, Pope JP II singled out four dimensions essential to priestly formation:

    1. Theological formation: a priest has to be intellectually alert to current theology and aware of the Church’s rich tradition.
    2. Pastoral formation: a priest must know how to exercise leadership in dealing with individuals and groups.
    3. Spiritual formation: a priest must nourish an authentic life of prayer and reflection.
    4. Human formation: a priest must be able to relate to people in a healthy way—a dimension the Pope singled out as crucial to all the rest.

    Any review of good leadership qualities indicates that you need balanced, innovative, creative, intelligent, and confident qualities in leaders. IMO, suggest that the Rome educational experience creates a clerical bubble that is insular, limiting, stagnant, institutional (in a negative way), and freighted with clerical, sexual, and institutional baggage (it is difficult for me to imagine how a clerical student attains JP’s goals 2 & 4?). Add to that JPII’s demand that ternas/lists had to meet a certain litmus test and the result was that you got *company men* who knew the inner Romanita culture but had difficulties with typical society, cultures, management, diversity, etc. They all learn to parrot the same company line (not necessarily even the church Tradition but its latest institutional manifestations). Thus, like any group that is turned inward, your leadership choices are limited, inbred, and lose the ability to respond creatively. In many ways, this experience does nothing to achieve Iranaesus’ famous – “….to live fully human, fully alive”.

    Couple that with a smaller and smaller pool of qualified men; candidates that meet lower and lower academic standards and you can see the issues for the future of episcopal leadership. Also, scuttlebutt states that many very qualified men reject any notion of being appointed a bishop. For a period of time, Rome tried to appoint men from religious communities but this met with resistance and other issues.

    (Ireland – would separate this from your list. Ireland is unique in terms of the link between the church and government which only enabled the abuse situation and failure to manage. Ireland is even more of a *bubble* in terms of education, society, catholic rules/stigmatism, etc. You also have the historical situation that Ireland (about the size of a large US archdiocese) has more than 15 dioceses and bishops – why? Another issue to be addressed)

    Richard – NCR posted a complete list of Finn’s arbitrary and immediate changes to the diocese when he was appointed (way beyond the one case you two are citing). Keep in mind – he received his college seminary education in STL at Glennon; then was chosen to go to Rome (surprised some of his teachers; rumor has it); in Rome he became linked to Opus Dei and made connections that resulted in his return to STL in admin positions (no pastoral experience) and his connections led to his KC appointment. To say the least, he meets the JP litmus test; has Romanita connections; but little else marks him to be a bishop – but, this is typical of many of the current appointments.

    1. @Bill deHaas – comment #62:

      (Ireland – would separate this from your list. Ireland is unique in terms of the link between the church and government which only enabled the abuse situation and failure to manage. Ireland is even more of a *bubble* in terms of education, society, catholic rules/stigmatism, etc. You also have the historical situation that Ireland (about the size of a large US archdiocese) has more than 15 dioceses and bishops – why? Another issue to be addressed)

      Part of the problem with bishops is that we have too few of them since dioceses are too large. If parishioners and bishops had more actual contact with each other, perhaps we’d have a different sort of bishop. As it is, the average parish sees a bishop only once a year (at confirmation) when he comes to lay his hand on people. As it is, I see the president of my workplace only once a year (at the Christmas party) when he comes to shake hands with people.

      The Archdiocese of New York has 1 archbishop and 4 auxiliary bishops. Maybe the archdiocese should really be 5 separate dioceses. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles has 1 archbishop and 5 auxiliary bishops. Why not have 6 separate dioceses instead? Even then, the dioceses would still probably be too large given the number of people and parishes they’d be expected to contain. Perhaps a diocese should really be the size of a deanery in one of these places.

      1. @Bill Logan – comment #66:
        The auxiliary bishop concept needs to die except perhaps in mission dioceses that cover a large area; it’s mostly a recipe for avoidance and plausible deniabiility by ordinariate, as well as careerism of course. Administrative functions that would benefit from being rolled up to another level should be rolled up to the metropolitan province level, under the collective governance of a metropolitan synod.

  35. Hello Bill,

    For the moment, I’ll pass over the rest of your post, just because I only have time to single out one remark I am in some agreement with:

    Couple that with a smaller and smaller pool of qualified men; candidates that meet lower and lower academic standards and you can see the issues for the future of episcopal leadership.

    I have a number of seminarian friends (and recent ordinands) around the country, and a few seminary faculty as well – including at Kenrick-Glennon. I have cause to believe that this question of quality is starting to improve again – though I would not claim that it is what it was, say, a century ago – and not only because vocations are ticking back up again in many places.

    But I have long worried about this. Once upon a time the Church was getting the best and brightest for its priests from Catholic society. That ceased being the case generations ago. And it’s been apparent for a quite a long while now that the pool we’ve been drawing from is alarmingly small. And the same is true of the bishops, obviously.

    1. @Richard Malcolm – comment #63:

      Richard: But I have long worried about this. Once upon a time the Church was getting the best and brightest for its priests from Catholic society. That ceased being the case generations ago. And it’s been apparent for a quite a long while now that the pool we’ve been drawing from is alarmingly small. And the same is true of the bishops, obviously.

      One must also remember that the Church in past years garnered the “best and brightest” often because for many intellectually gifted young men a seminary or a house of formation was the only path to higher education. The great expansion of higher education initiated by the GI Bill might have indeed contributed to a change in the demographics of vocations in the postwar period, as men who would otherwise attend seminary sought a university degree instead.

      Postscript: I initially wrote decline in the quality instead of change in the demographics. “Quality” is quite a loaded word. It is entirely inaccurate to say that today’s seminarians are uniformly not intellectually gifted. There are certainly not a few talented men, in intellect and artistic gifts, who are attracted to the priesthood.

      Were I able to be a priest, I would consider a vocation. Even so, I find the idea of seminary confining in some respects. Perhaps not a few men decide not to pursue a vocation because the highly-structured life of the seminary is not for them. Placing the decline in vocations on a supposed slackening of intellectual standards captures a very small picture of the vocations crisis and the reason why more and more Catholic men today choose not to attend seminary.

  36. I appreciate the dialogue with Richard on Kansas City and other matters.

    There are certainly bishops in each crop (Paul VI, JP2, B16) who I thought were disasters. I generally have a higher regard for bishops who, if they weren’t pastors, came from religious life. I used to admire Archbishop Weakland. I had an involved and friendly chat with him once for close to ten minutes. That a monastic would stray so far from celibacy–well, just say I felt personally betrayed and I’m not even a associated formally with Benedictines. I like my own archbishop, an appointee from the abbot’s chair at a monastery.

    I thought Finn an improvement in some ways over his predecessor. I don’t think that as an ideologue, he makes for a good bishop. And now he has a lay person in the chancellor’s seat again. Maybe he’s gone through the clergy willing to work with him and nobody’s left–who knows?

    It’s clear to me that more Catholics these days are concerned about bishops not for ideological reasons, but just because they are ill-equipped for the ministry. If the Vatican were really interested, they could ask the clergy. But I don’t think they care. It’s a magic formula for B16 and his CofB: put yes-men on the cathedra, even if you have to go down several spots on your list. One church commentator with connections told me that Rome is batting about .300 on its first choices for the episcopacy. And that was six years ago. I don’t think many of these guys would see the signs if someone slugged them in the puss with a red octagon.

  37. The whole system from the first moment a person enters seminary is designed to reward conformity and punish those who fail to conform, so is it any wonder that we are in the shape that we are in now?

    Some people function quite well in this kind of system, but they are usually not the most creative or pastorally capable. Priests trained from the late 60s to the early 80s were trained to embrace the “spirit of the council,” but what that often produced were priests who advanced their own political, social and liturgical agendas. Those of us who went through formation in that period were exposed to some wonderful things but also some things that exhibited remarkably bad taste. In everything there needs to be a balance.

  38. We need to get the bishop and priests out of things like education and Catholic Charities which are the responsibilities of the laity. All these things belong in corporations separate from the diocese, run by laity appointed by and responsible to boards of trustees not to bishops or priests.

    Then we need to locate all the helping people (RCIA, Liturgy) out in the parishes where they interact with the parishes and go to parishes rather than having parishes come to them downtown. (In the mental health system my practice was always to meet with agency people in agencies, never have them come to my office. It sends a strong signal of who serves whom.)

    Seminarians need to be sent to Catholic Colleges and Universities so they are educated like other Catholics and become invested in Catholic Higher Education. I have taken courses at both John Carroll and the local seminary here. Have the seminarians live in the parishes; provide them with a center on JCU campus to interact with students and faculty. Seminarians need to live with, thoroughly understand and begin ministry to their own generation during formation. Seminary center on campus would enable seminarians to involve students in parish ministry throughout diocese.

    Administer confirmation in parishes with first communion, mostly by pastors. I have seen it done and it works well.

    Once you do all the above, the bishop does not really have that much to do other than be out in the parishes, preaching, teaching and celebrating the Eucharist, moving around the diocese.

    Doing two parishes a weekend (one of Saturday, one of Sunday) a bishop could see a hundred parishes a year, two hundred in two years. Dioceses with less than two hundred parishes would not need an auxiliary bishop. Those with more than two hundred parishes could have one as a training ground for bishops who would become pastors of large dioceses. Even smaller dioceses could have coadjutor auxialiary bishops. When a bishop nears retirement age or becomes ill, simply ask for (or better elect) a coadjutor and begin the transition. In most cases I would see bishops being elected from their own diocese though occasionally electing someone from another diocese. Make it easier for priests to move between dioceses and more difficult for bishops to move between dioceses. A bishop should throughly know his diocese as priest or auxiliary bishops before becoming bishop.

    Consider ten year term limits for bishop. Bishop emeriti could do a variety of “staff” like jobs on the diocesan, national and internation levels.

  39. Hello Jack,

    We need to get the bishop and priests out of things like education and Catholic Charities which are the responsibilities of the laity. All these things belong in corporations separate from the diocese, run by laity appointed by and responsible to boards of trustees not to bishops or priests.

    I am minded to agree, after seeing the wreck that my recent ordinary made of the school system in the archdiocese. His predecessor’s benign neglect almost looks good now.

    And yet: *someone* has to ensure that the schools are authentically Catholic in their curriculum and formation. A board of staunch lay Catholics *could* do this, and probably could do it better than many bishops I could name. Nonetheless, it’s someone’s job, and if it is not the bishop’s job, I don’t know whose it is. He’s the shepherd of the flock, after all. Or he’s supposed to be.

    But – if we go your route – there might be a way to set up that lay board corporation, and make him an ex officio member, giving him some limited role in approving policies…perhaps even require some lay equivalent of a mandatum by board members. I think there’s also something to be said for more independence by individual schools, especially the ones that are successful.

    Certainly we’ve seen the dangers with too great an autonomy by Catholic Charities, more than once. Someone has to make sure the “Catholic” stays in the more than just the name.

  40. “Certainly we’ve seen the dangers with too great an autonomy by Catholic Charities …”

    WT …

    We’ve also seen the danger when a defender of the faith enters a conversation critical of bishops, and before you know it, everybody but the pastor’s dog has been criticized for something. It must be tough to live amongst such imperfection.

    Agreed with KLS on auxiliary bishops. One bishop for about fifty parishes. Period.

    1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #71:
      Agreed with KLS on auxiliary bishops. One bishop for about fifty parishes. Period.

      Ah, if it was so easy someone would have done it already. There are 96 Catholic parishes in Manhattan. Where will you be drawing the boundary line? You’ll cross 42nd street and be in a different diocese? The linking of dioceses with cities is ancient and there are good reasons for it. We happen to already have a city that’s split into two dioceses and, frankly, it’s a bit of a mess. Recently they’ve been working towards more integration, combining the Brooklyn, New York and Rockville Center seminary programs.

      1. @Samuel J. Howard – comment #74:
        Brooklyn used to be a separate city. Didn’t JP2’s curia split up Sao Paolo?

        I’m not surprised that a conservative curia appointing conservative bishops would elicit criticism from liberals. But it’s illustrative to note how embittered self-described “loyal Catholics” are to bishops these days. Cardinal Dolan sure had a lot of explaining to do for going to dinner with the president the other month, didn’t he?

        Speaking for myself, and getting back to the topic, I’d rather see a better, more spiritual, more traditional process of selecting bishops.

      2. @Todd Flowerday – comment #77:
        Yes, Brooklyn used to be a separate city (and the diocese once covered all of Long Island), but it’s not now. The diocese of Brooklyn covers the Boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens and for the most part it’s not even that easy to get from one Borough to the other, often you have to travel through the Archdiocese of New York to take the fastest route from one part of the Diocese of Brooklyn (in Brooklyn) to another part of the Diocese of Brooklyn (in Queens). Many people live in one diocese and work in the other (and not just outer boroughs to Manhattan, I know a permanent deacon for the Archdiocese whose “day job” is in the Diocese of Brooklyn), many people attend sunday services in the other diocese for language or other reasons, many high school students are enrolled in schools in the other diocese.

      3. @Samuel J. Howard – comment #78:
        Same kind of thing happens in Kansas City. But that division is set up by a political boundary, not a city line.

        No reason why the Church can’t be better informed by tradition and the Fathers in applying good discernment in these situations. Manhattan could have one or two dioceses. Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx each their own.

      4. @Todd Flowerday – comment #81:
        Or changing realities…..example, France has fewer and fewer catholics with some dioceses having no more catholics than we might find in a few large US city parishes. Yet, France has a large number of dioceses reflecting a much earlier period of church history.
        This is another area that needs to be *changed or modernized*. Populations, catholic populations increase and decrease. Question – do we tie or understand bishops/dioceses as something laid down in concrete that can never change? We accept the fact that geographical locations and significant increases in catholic populations/parishes justify creating new dioceses – why can’t it work in reverse? If the theology is that bishops are called to serve a people and people migrate, move, change, grow and die – then, are we maintaining bishops/dioceses that consist of buildings or old geographical constraints or are we looking at the reality that catholic parishes, dioceses, regions die and rise over time and episcopal ministry is linked to a living pilgrim people – not to zip codes.

      5. @Samuel J. Howard – comment #80:
        Manhattan may be an island, but it’s hardly monolithic. Indeed, until the first generation of the 1800s, the County of New York was comprised of two municipalities: the Town of New Harlem covered the upper half of the island (on a very sharp diagonal across the island).

        People living in the densely settled borders of Queens and Nassau Counties confront diocesan boundaries, too. Et cet.

        The modern practice of auxiliary bishops does not produce enough good to justify its continued general use (and produces too much that is bad for that matter). Smaller dioceses where an ordinary can actually know his flock and it know him are a more traditional and better path. Along with wider adherence to the centuries of Christian practice that looked askance at transferring sees (at least laterally, as it were).

  41. “there’s also something to be said for more independence by individual schools, especially the ones that are successful”

    Successful?

    In the black?
    Educating the children of poor people?
    Transforming society?
    Producing seminarians and sisters?

    what did you have in mind by successful?

    This is a broader than just your remark. Bishops should be the ones making this choice, which is why they, rather than laity, have been in charge. Do they always make the best choice? Not many think so. But have laity?

  42. Isn’t the diocese of Chur directly under the Pope? I seem to remember something about its anomalous position of not being affiliated with any archdiocese. It does not make much of a difference in most things, but it could loom large for this abbot’s perceptions of Roman involvement in local affairs.

    1. @Jim McKay – comment #73:

      I don’t think this is right. The Swiss have the right to elect their own bishops, which Rome then rubber-stamps. The problems in recent times have been when Rome has tried to put in its own candidate over the choice of the electorate. That’s why Wolfgang Haas had to be moved out of Chur. He was simply not accepted by the diocese. (Not that he has been accepted in Vaduz either.)

  43. Hello Todd,

    We’ve also seen the danger when a defender of the faith enters a conversation critical of bishops, and before you know it, everybody but the pastor’s dog has been criticized for something. It must be tough to live amongst such imperfection.

    Strikes me that most of the criticism of bishops that happens around here seems to come from those of a more progressive bent – I dare say, in this very thread.

    But undoubtedly you spend more time here than I do. I could have missed something.

  44. Jim McKay : “there’s also something to be said for more independence by individual schools, especially the ones that are successful” Successful? In the black? Educating the children of poor people? Transforming society? Producing seminarians and sisters? what did you have in mind by successful? This is a broader than just your remark. Bishops should be the ones making this choice, which is why they, rather than laity, have been in charge. Do they always make the best choice? Not many think so. But have laity?

    Hello Jim,

    Certainly those are all valid measures. “In the black,” certainly. You won’t last long if you can’t pay the bills.

    What I had in mind was the process by which, in this diocese, successful schools were forcibly merged with failing ones – failing not just financially, but academically, too – in hopes that both would be lifted up – and without any real consultation with parents or staffs involved. The results have not been what was hoped for.

    I do agree about the need for a role by the bishops, which is why I think Jack goes too far with his proposals. Ensuring the Catholic identity and formation of education within a diocese seems pretty central to a bishop’s job. This doesn’t mean that a bishop will always be the most knowledgeable man at every aspect of Catholic education. But there must be a role for him.

  45. Isn’t Rome, the modern city, divided into a number of dioceses? Actually formed out of areas that were once several independent dioceses?

    How is that different from NY and Brooklyn?

    Don’t comparable combinations dot Europe, where metropolises were formed from smaller ancient cities? I don’t know anything about this, just asking a converse question.

  46. Another take on the selection of bishops

    Persons and groups of persons are motivated to act–or not to act–by forces. Forces can be internal (such as emotions, desire, fear, anger, hatred) or external (pressure from others to act or to desist from acting).

    To give favor to the forces of good (according to the prevailing set of axioms defining what is good) and to weaken the opposing or contrary forces, you design 1) organizational structures and 2) processes and codify these into laws.

    In a diocese the naturally-occurring structures are the groups of: A) priests, B) deacons, C) women religious, D) laypersons who hold office in the various diocesan and parish pastoral and finance councils or as directors of liturgy or music, E) laypersons active in the life of the church but who hold no office within the parish or diocese.

    PROCEDURE
    1. Create a search committee, similar to the search committees universities form to fill a vacancy in a university or department position. The priests elect two (2) committee members. Each of the groups in the previous paragraph elect one member. Thus the committee has 6 members. The members elect a chairperson from among themselves.

    2. The committee writes a description of the diocese’s current and specific needs and requirements that the next bishop must meet. [There are general position descriptions for a bishop, but every diocese in this point in time needs a bishop with certain specific strengths and a bishop without certain specific weaknesses. The description is thus specific to the current situation of the diocese, with a view to its future.] The requirements document becomes the criteria for evaluating candidates, is clearly important and essential, and should be widely discussed within the diocese and agreed upon by the majority of the five groups mentioned above.

    . . . continued . . .

  47. . . . continuation . . .

    3. The search committee invites nominations and applications (from inside and outside the diocese), interviews and vests the candidates and evaluates them according to the requirements document. All in the strictest confidence and secrecy, a la American jury.

    4. The search committee creates a list of no less than two and no more than three candidates for bishop of the diocese, each of which in their prayerful judgment would have been selected by the Lord Jesus himself to be one of his own Twelve and would make a good servant-leader and pastor for his flock in this diocese.

    5. The list of candidates is submitted to the Bishop of Rome, from which he selects the name of the next bishop of the diocese.

    ===

    The procedure takes advantage of natural structures within the diocese and strives to balance the forces within those structures for the good of the people of the diocese.

    If something like this were codified into canon law, . . .

    just imagine.

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