Wednesday, November 23, 2005

"Our bishops have nothing to say to us. And they know it."
The last line from an NCR editorial this week. More deliberately than ever they are turning inward to problems of no interest to the wider world and of little interest to most of the faithful from whom they continue to grow distant. That lay ecclesial ministry becomes a hot-button issue shows how far they have fallen. That one should be a slam-dunk, and for most Catholics, it is. We have over a century of school administered largely by women religious. We have two centuries of music leadership from the choir loft. Now we have second generations staffing DRE and youth ministry offices. Lay and religious show themselves intellectually and spiritually capable of leading parishes when no priest is present. And the bishops bicker about who's getting called "minister," a term they themselves and their presbyterate don't ordinarily use. They can't even make a liturgy call without getting dodgy about what the laity will think. I think four years of Liturgiam (in)authenticam have come home to roost. There's no questioning what the second half of section 108 means: Within five years from the publication (May 2001) of this Instruction, the Conferences of Bishops, necessarily in collaboration with the national and diocesan Commissions and with other experts, shall provide for the publication of a directory or repertory of texts intended for liturgical singing. This document shall be transmitted for the necessary recognitio to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. I'm not in the deepest circles of national liturgy, but I've heard from no colleagues on commissions or any experts who have been consulted about this. The bishops can't even adhere to liturgical documents when personally inconvenient, yet are quite willing to make changes to fill their role as Vatican errand boys. Six months to disobedience, but ah well; the Vatican probably doesn't even care about it anymore. NCR is right: the real life in the Church is in the parishes, the schools, the clinics and hospitals, the social justice outreach. I struggle to think of any one bishop lauded by both ideological extremes in his diocese. That should be the standout mark of a true leader. Anybody can gather a gaggle of dittoheads and puff himself up in a private echo chamber. Heck, lay people do that on St Blog's every day. But let's call it straight: that's not leadership. That's taking advantage of mob mentality and human tendency to idolatry. A good bishop will cause a bit of dismay across the spectrum of his people. But a great bishop should be able to engineer respect and admiration from those who disagree with him. John Paul II was able to accomplish that. Only problem is that the Church would be stronger with more leaders like that and fewer branch managers. If we want the latter, just walk into a local bank or insurance company, line up the male prospects and anyone with an average IQ who hasn't engaged in sexual intercourse in three years could be sent off to bishop school. Via seminary I guess. It wouldn't be much different; certainly not significantly worse than today's set-up. And even bank managers and insurance salesmen would know it.

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