Monday, February 01, 2010

Pope Reminds Bishops to Be Close to Their Priests

Papa Benedetto spoke to bishops from Ireland and the United Kingdom during their quinquennial ad limina visit.

In this Annus Sacerdotalis [Year for Priests], I urge you to hold up to your priests his example of dedication to prayer, pastoral sensitivity towards the needs of his flock, and passion for preaching the Gospel. You yourselves should set a similar example. Be close to your priests, and rekindle their sense of the enormous privilege and joy of standing among the people of God as alter Christus. In Newman’s words, "Christ’s priests have no priesthood but His … what they do, He does; when they baptize, He is baptizing; when they bless, He is blessing" (Parochial and Plain Sermons, VI 242). Indeed, since the priest plays an irreplaceable role in the life of the Church, spare no effort in encouraging priestly vocations and emphasizing to the faithful the true meaning and necessity of the priesthood. Encourage the lay faithful to express their appreciation of the priests who serve them, and to recognize the difficulties they sometimes face on account of their declining numbers and increasing pressures. The support and understanding of the faithful is particularly necessary when parishes have to be merged or Mass times adjusted. Help them to avoid any temptation to view the clergy as mere functionaries but rather to rejoice in the gift of priestly ministry, a gift that can never be taken for granted.

These words apply aptly here in the United States as well. Our bishops NEED to be close to their priests and deacons. No one is suggesting that the dignity and honor accorded someone who possesses the fullness of the priesthood as a successor of the apostles be denied or diluted. On the contrary, we priests and deacons WANT to honor and show respect to our superiors but we also want to know and see that they care for us, not as mere employees but as spiritual sons.  Bishops are not managers or corporate executives. They are shepherds and spiritual fathers. They govern, teach and sanctify. They are the pastor of the local church we call a diocese. The business model of ecclesiolog which permeated the American church in the 1970's and lingers even today is not biblical nor theological. It is sociological but is also detrimental. The church does business but she is more than a business herself. She is the spotless bride of Christ. Holy Mother Church is much more than a flow chart of responsibilities.  Mission statements cannot replace divine law or divine revelation.  When clergy are in spiritual need, in deed, even when they are in trouble, they need a FATHER to counsel them, to correct them, to discipline them, to forgive them and to love and affirm them.  Managers and bureaucrats cannot do that.  Good shepherds love and know their sheep and do NOT act like hired hands.  Pastors will practice what they themselves experience. If the bishop and diocese act and work merely as a business or local government, then that model will extend to parish life. IF however, the family style of relationship where the father is the head of the family is used by bishops to his priests, priests and deacons will do likewise in the parish. Not democracy or republic but FAMILY as God Himself ordained.


Fr. Erik Richtsteig said...

Not holding my breathe on this one. All to often bishop are more interested in and close to their chancery staff.

Padre Giovanni Trigilio said...

While I have experienced both kinds in over 20 years of priesthood, I must say that my most recent bishop (recently transferred to Fort Wayne-South Bend) was the most in conformity to the concept of a pastoral shepherd. Bishop Kevin Rhoades is not a corporate executive nor a middle-management bureaucrat. Likewise, the two bishops from Australia who attended our recent international clergy conference in Rome (life-long members of the ACCC by the way) show the same caliber. These guys prove bishops do not have be 'buddies' with their priests but you can and must be 'pastor' to them.

JE said...

There is a bit of irony here. The church had trouble with ecclesial management way before modern management came into existence. Charles Borromeo was shot for attempting to reform his diocese. I dont think it had anything to do with the fact that too many of his clergy were advocates of management science.

Deciderata said...

His Holiness should have directed his comments on "pastoral sensitivity," etc. to U.S. bishops. They hold their priests in total disrespect; are known to throw out the sick and elderly on the basis of an accusation, and every priest is scared because any phone call could mean the end of their priesthood. See: http://ProdigalCatholicWriter.

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