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“Good” Bishop Calculus

June 9, 2015  0

A close friend was telling me the last few days that he had had a chance encounter with a solid bishop (who shall remain nameless), and he was saying to my friend that Church Militant needs to know there are a good number of "good" bishops who just stay silent.

This line of reasoning brings up a question: What does "good" mean exactly when it comes to being applied to a bishop? Or a priest, for that fact? Some people want to give a very broad understanding to the word "good" to include a cleric who simply believes the Church's teaching. So he believes the teachings, says his prayers, has profound thoughts during meditation, maybe even shows up for good causes every now and then. And for many people, that's good enough. What a good bishop have we! they say.

Wrong. Sorry. That is only the beginnings of being a good bishop — all necessary ingredients, but certainly not sufficient.

It isn't enough for a bishop, or priest for that matter, to be a privately orthodox prelate — not in the face of the evil threatening his sheep these days. He must say all that needs to be said. He needs to have the fortitude to stand in front of the sheep and say in no uncertain terms everything they don't want to hear.

He needs to tell them that they have become slaves to the demon of sex, having given up self-control to their animal instincts, no matter how well received they are in polite society. He needs to tell them, thunder at them, that their contraceptive minds are leading them to Hell. He needs to pour himself out, even to the point of his life, to save them from themselves, regardless of what happens.

Many bishops secretly know this. But they are afraid to say the real deal, because when they do, the real state of affairs will become very clear to them. When they say that, they fear — with good reason and good instincts — that huge numbers of the few that are still lingering around the edges will walk out.

And that's true. There's not a reason in the world to suspect that wouldn't happen. And then, of course, what follows from that is yet another mass wave of parish closings and all that — to which the fearless, truly good bishop would say, "So what?" It's very sad, but we have to deal with reality. The people who would leave have already left. They don't accept the Church's teachings. They believe only what they want to believe. The rest they ignore.

So given that having their hand forced by a full-on bishop would make them leave (and the bishop knows that), "good" bishops then enter into a little bishop calculus. It goes like this: If I don't say anything challenging, they will stay. As long as they stay, then the door remains open for them to return to a full life of faith. So my bishop calculus concludes: Stay quiet, don't rock the boat and hopefully something good will happen.

That is a little else than rationalizing cowardice. There are a number of serious flaws in that bishop calculus.

First, people need to be directly challenged on a personal level. If you don't say you need to stop contracepting, apologizing for your child's cohabitation, your nephew's gay lifestyle, then everything remains in the realm of the theoretical, the other guy's sin — not mine.

Secondly, the presumption is totally unfounded that if they hang around "feeling" welcomed, then things will turn out OK in the end. Not a shred of evidence to follow that line of thought. If anything, there is a mountain of evidence to the contrary. Bishops have pretty much kept their mouths shut for decades — as many have openly admitted — and people are still leaving in high numbers.

You don't confront a crisis by not facing it and then hoping it will subside on its own. That's not leadership — and a good bishop is a man, a father who leads his spiritual family to Heaven, as their leader.

When we were in Cleveland last week to ask CRS President Carolyn Woo some questions after a talk at a parish, we asked various Catholics after the talk what they thought of the Church's teaching on contraception — and they all, every one of them, said they didn't give a rip.

How can a bishop let this situation persist? That's not the mark of a good bishop. It's the mark of a weak man, who quietly retires to his room at night, knows he believes, but is too scared to express those beliefs full-throatedly when duty calls him to — which is just about always. Instead he rationalizes and makes up excuses.

So what makes a "good" bishop? Certainly not just faith — because faith without works is dead.

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Taking THE Pause!
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