Monday, 30 May 2011

Just what does a Bishop do?

Well, ermm.......he confirms of course, but he also does much more than that.
In commercial terms a Bishop (in England and Wales) would equate to a Chief Executive of a County Council or, maybe, a large multi national company.
But are such comparisons helpful?
 I believe that they are because, as well as valuing Bishops as Princes of the Church and Christ's representatives around the world, we need to be assured that they are loyal, trustworthy, capable and competent in all that they do.

Their remit is a wide one but no wider than the CEO of a Healthcare Trust or a Life Assurance Society; with a Bishop, of course, we expect a person who is strong in the faith, true to the Magisterium and a capable evangeliser.
But that is, arguably, 15 or 20 per cent of their work. The remainder of their responsibilities are on a more mundane but no less essential level.

First and foremost, a Bishop must be able to handle a workforce; he must have a talent for human resources and be able to assess character and personalities, both religious and lay. He must, for example, be able to weigh up a priest and determine where he will be be placed. No square pegs in round holes.
He must also be able to galvanise his priests and any religious answerable to him in such a manner that they too reflect the teachings of Holy Mother Church in all that they do.
And if a priest is found wanting it is up to his Bishop to take him on one side, assign him to a training programme or give him a good kick up the seat of his pants. All of the Bishop's men and women must proclaim the truth; no dissent regarding contraception, homosexuality or women priests, no alignment with any political party or lay organisation with dubious origins.

Most major organisations also have a dress code (although this, sadly, is undergoing a change). The Bishop should require of his priests that they appear as priests as well as behaving like them. No jeans and T shirts, no baggy shorts and sandals...just good old fashioned and irreplaceable black and white (and certainly no Baptist blues or Anglican greys!).

The Bishop, to use another metaphor, is a Colonel-in-Chief, and his regiment must be consistent in style as well as content. Uniforms serve a purpose, instant recognition, discipline and unity of intent; there can be no error or chance of error when it comes to the salvation of a soul. How many people, in a state of crisis, are likely to walk up to a slob on a shell suit and ask him: "Are you a Catholic priest?"

Symbol of authority -
the Bishop's crook
(or crozier for Australian
To continue with the military metaphor (which is not a bad one as we are at war) all ranks would be united in a common purpose, all would be bound by the daily training routine (at least one hour on their knees in front of the Blessed Sacrament). And all would be assigned targets and missions to perform - and report back on their successes or failures. And, most importantly, all would be expected to affirm their unwavering belief in the doctrine of transubstantiation.

The Bishop also must be something of an expert in Estates Management. An average diocese may have anything from 50 to 300 churches to maintain and that figure will double when presbyteries are taken into account. Then there are the schools and the odd convent or, even, commercial property that may be in the diocesan portfolio.
How well are they doing in terms of church maintenance? Not too good locally as most of our churches are taking on a distinctly musty and mildewed look - unloved would be another way of putting it. But it may be different in Northampton or Liverpool - I can only speak for Menevia.

Then there is the public persona of the post. Communications and inter- personal skills. A Bishop must display a multitude of talents when it comes to evangelising, public speaking, mixing equably with all levels of society. He must communicate well both verbally and via the written word, he must inspire and aspire in his words and works and....he must not be afraid of maintaining the truth, even to the point of trial and a prison sentence. The caving in over the homosexual adoption issue is nothing less than scandalous; what Government would have stood up to the prospect of 25 Bishops and Archbishops going to jail?

And, finally, part of a Bishop's role and a vital one at that, is to ordain, to confer the Sacrament of Holy Orders on young men. That is a process that does not begin on the day of ordination; it begins in primary schools, with altar boys, with the youth of the parish with young men and women who have worked in the world and found it wanting.
It does not begin with recruiting priests from alien cultures, from the developing world where their pastoral care and teachings are needed more than in comfortable middle England and Wales - that is a cop out! and, what is more, it is unsustainable. We need a strategic plan aimed at rejuvenating our seminaries so that they become full once more. Are the Bishops huddled in a group working on this project? Oh, please let me be wrong, but I do not think that is even on their agenda......I am happy to be contradicted here!

So how well do you think that your Bishop is fulfilling the duties outlined above? Is he an outstanding leader of all the priests and religious in his diocese, a communicator extraordinaire, a follower of all the Holy Father teaches a dynamic force for new vocations and well tended churches, a firm supporter and guide to Catholic schools on his patch, a tactician who has firmly set the salvation of souls as being his raison d'etre?

No?.......................I didn't think so,

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