3 February 2011

Tesco zucchetto

Continues a series on Episcopacy
Anglican Diocesan Bishops are, formally, the pastors of the congregation which meets in the building where they have their cathedra. But that congregation will in fact only see them on major occasions and at the main festivals. Otherwise, the congregation will be pastored ... not even by the Dean or Provost, who is himself a grand functionary running a large and expensive piece of heritage ... but by a priest sometimes called a Precentor. However, in the case of diocesans, at least the technical proprieties of episkopos, ekklesia, kathedra, are, on paper, maintained.

With suffragan bishops and 'area bishops', even this fictitious memory, this pretence, is absent. A suffragan bishop does not even formally have a congregation of which he is pastor; nor does he have a building in which you can go and look at a piece of furniture which - even if he never sits in it - is his cathedra. I do not find it easy to think of a more corrupt perversion of Episkope than this. No wonder the Free Churches are (except for some of their aspiring bureaucrats) so resistant to it. Unless one believes that, underneath the prelacy, the pompous dysfunctionality, the unreformed medievalisms, the sheer corruption, we Anglicans still do, in Episcopacy, really possess that Apostolic Ministry with which the Lord wished to endow His Church, only a fool would put up with it all. What it amounts to is episkope conceived purely as management; as our own Patrimonial Dom Gregory Dix put it with his characteristically lapidary accuracy, "the business-man in gaiters" [perhaps this could be translated into RC-speak as "the Tesco Area Boss in a zucchetto"]. For the Modern Church, there are senior managers; there are junior managers; there are the managed; and from time to time we ask the question 'How shall we make this management system work better?'

Why is such a corrupt system not reformable? Let me tell you a story ... or is it a myth?

The First Vatican Council gave expression to the ambitions of a centralising papacy; power, both in terms of government and of teaching, was concentrated in the hands of the Roman Pontiff and his collaborators. This needed to be balanced. In fact, it needed to be balanced by the Ordo Episcoporum. So we had Vatican II, which recovered the truth that bishops are themselves successors of the Apostles and not merely Vicars of the Roman Pontiff. Thank the Lord! So we moved into Broad Sunlit Uplands. The bishops returned from Vatican II, their faces wreathed in broad, sunlit, complacent smiles of self-satisfaction. Propriety ... balance ... embodied in themselves and their own perception of their own corporate importance ... had been restored.

Nowhere, as far as I am aware, did the conciliar documents of Vatican II, while they were busily and cheerfully 'balancing' the papacy, show the least awareness that the current expression of Episcopacy, at least in the Western Church, was itself arguably in need of reform. Nor, in the decades since, has there been any substantial movement for rethinking this episcopal system. In fact, matters have in some respects become worse. The aggrandisement of Episcopal Conferences has brought in its wake - people say - bureaucratic structures of Advisers and Committees, vast enough - so I am told - even to rival the bloated bureaucracies of Anglicanism. The old dream of the Bishop as the Man of, the Father of, his own Church ... what has become of that? Indeed, I can't help feeling that it may have been easier - especially before the advent of modern instantaneous electronic communications - to ignore the diktats of a pleasantly, gloriously, remotely, distant and ineffectual Roman Curia, than it is to be one's own man (or rather, the Man of One's Church) when enmeshed today in the structures of an Episcopal Conference. But, as a mere Anglican, I know I ought not to express views on this.

As far as I can see, not many people have any sort of inkling of any endemic weaknesses in the structures of modern Western Christianity. One man does; the man who shared responsibility for John Paul II's document (1998, Apostolos suos) reminding Episcopal Conferences of their very limited nature and status: and, my goodness, how the pair of them were vilified for that overdue and very necessary reform. Curiously, or perhaps not curiously, it is that same Bavarian gentleman who has legislated that the Ordinariates should, in 'episcopal' vacancies, submit their own ternas directly to the Holy See ... rather than going through the Nuncios.

There is a paradox in all this. Undoubtedly - in my view - Churches should choose their own bishops. But is this the historical moment to effect such a change? Perhaps this Pontiff's aim is gradually to move back to a system of local choice, starting with those ecclesial bodies whom he knows he can most confidently rely on to possess and perpetuate a holistic and orthopractic Church life ... such as Ordinariates.

There can rarely have been a more intellectually exciting time than the pontificate of Benedict XVI. The exhilaration I felt on hearing of his election has in no way abated.

7 comments:

The Sibyl said...

I will never forget the morning of the election, when my German aunt woke me with the news "Wir haben ein Deutscher Papst" - we have a German pope - I thought, surely not!

But it was him, even against what I had thought were insupperable odds.

My friends and I had speculated about what name the new pontiff would take - I had said we need a Benedict (of Nursia fame)- and thus it was anounced.

What a glorious day! Ad multo annos...

nodjam said...

On the morning of Benedict XVI's election, my son sent out a text message "Habemus Papum". One of his friends, not a Catholic, called him and asked what the message meant.

When my son told him that we had a new pope, the friend asked, "And his name is Habemus?"

We had a good chuckle over this.

Steve Cavanaugh said...

Perhaps another route to reform of the current episcopal system is to do an end run around it, and encourage the establishment of monastic establishments which also serve as centers of pastoral care for the faithful of the region. The abbot of such an abbey would then indeed be "the Man of, the Father of...his Church", as this concept is better preserved in the abbeys than in the dioceses. As I recall, such a system prevailed in Erinn long ago.
This might, in fact, lead back to a once more common occurrence, that of the bishop living in community with his canons, who truly are the pastors of the cathedral parish.
Of course, here in Boston, we won't even have pastors of parishes soon, so tenuous has the link become between the sacramental and pastoral aspects of the clerical life, despite the fine words set down on paper.

GOR said...

Good points, Father!

I’m not sure what a diocesan bishop does on a day to day basis. I suspect a lot of it is ‘paperwork’. While in theory he is the ‘father of the diocese’, in fact he is the manager or diocesan CEO (“Catholic Executive Officer”). Like a secular manager whose status in the company is often determined by the number of people reporting to him, he will have direct reports. The direct reports, to show how busy and indispensable they are, will generate actual reports – paperwork!

As birds of a feather like to flock together, diocesan CEOs meet regularly with other diocesan CEOs at CEO Conferences. CEO Conferences establish committees to deal with issues that the CEOs themselves don’t have time to deal with because they are in meetings. Committees generate reports – more paperwork.

When the CEO returns to Regional HQ from the conference, he circulates reports on what was accomplished at the conference – yet more paperwork. These go out to all the satellite offices so that the direct reports don’t feel that their actual reports went unreported. The volume of these reports is usually in inverse proportion to the amount of work actually done – more words denoting less action (The Bard had a word for that…).

So, there you have it – it all comes down to paperwork. Actually, I blame it all on St. Paul and all those Epistles. How did he get anything done?

Pastor in Valle said...

Indeed. I have long thought that 'the telegraphic magic wire' of Wiseman that could enrapture Ward with the notion of an encyclical on his breakfast table every morning was something that destablized the Church. Modern communications made for centralization, which also meant an abdication of responsibility by local bishops for orthodoxy.

Canon Jerome Lloyd OSJV said...

"...Churches should choose their own bishops." Can't argue with that and not a 'new' or unorthodox concept at all! ;o)

justin said...

Fr H - What is the equivalent of suffragan? Is it the same thing as an auxillary bishop?