At least that is the way it seems to appear to many.
There is the good and wholesome parish that serves and tends our needs and then there is the diocesan empire, the overlords that could crush us in an instant if they so choose.
And why not have this vision? It seems supported in our language and our practices. It is even cultivated in the press. In reporting there is a certain wedge that is put between the people of the parish which is something we can touch and understand and the diocese that seems distant and cold and mysterious. “These people were happy until the “the diocese . . .”
Even we, as young(er) priests, were taught to love and focus on our parishes. “Our parish at all costs” was kind of the way we saw it. We were very locally minded. So it was a paradigm shift to think of working together in the greater way as we are asked to do so today. Recognizing our interdependence is a new (sometimes difficult) but quite frankly Christian objective.
But even I, unfortunately, use language that seems to work against this all of the time. “The diocese did such and so” or “We have to because it is the mandate of the diocese . . .” Just recently “the diocese” was preparing a report and for some odd reason that I appreciate the people in charge asked me what I thought about it. There were a few sentences that said something about a parish not being able to afford something so “the diocese” paid for it. There is nothing wrong with that sentence but its construction adds to illusion that there is some bureaucracy out there that just somehow exists and does things to us – even good things.
“The diocese” that in this case came to the rescue was in fact you and me. We are the diocese. That cost was not paid for by some mysterious entity, it was absorbed by the greater diocese, all the parishes and people who live within it.
The diocese as a whole is the local Church with the bishop as the head. We are parishes within that local Church. We are only as healthy as a parish as we are as a diocese and visa versa. There are a dozen rotten instances that anybody could name that would go against this idea, but it is the way the Catholic Church is and always has been constructed. It is part of our strength. And I will grant that “the diocese” needs to change as much as the parishes to make this vision of “A” local Church a reality in the hearts of all – and it begins with having the proper vision and understanding of Church.