Friday, April 27, 2007


I’m jealous of people who have political bumper stickers on their cars. There has not been a candidate that I back so thoroughly that I would be comfortable having his name plastered on the most expensive and public object I own.

Many people feel the same way about their bishops especially considering the turmoil the Church has been through lately. Priests are certainly not immune to such thoughts. Mary Doria Russell says it well in “The Sparrow” where she writes, “It’s not easy to be obedient if you suspect your superiors are asses.”

For a couple of years while in the seminary I had an Opus Dei priest as a spiritual director on the sly. I confided in him that I was thinking of leaving the diocese because I wanted to go someplace where the ecclesial grass was greener and where there was a better bishop. First he reminded me that bishops are not forever and that my bishop was indeed my bishop and to stop speaking so negatively about him. “He is imperfect, but he is the spiritual father of your diocese and you owe him respect. You do not know with what he is dealing.”

The pressures with which a bishop deals I have come to learn are unbelievable. People who think bishops live glorious lives with all the perks have not known a bishop well at all. And at times all bishops make gloriously horrible mistakes and there is no shortage of people to chastise him when he does so and no less for when he does the right thing.

The wisest Sovereigns ere like private men, and the royal hand has sometimes laid the sword of chivalry upon a worthless shoulder which better had been branded by the hangman. What then? Kings do their best and they and we must answer for the intent, and not the event.” – Old Play

In our own diocese we have a new bishop. He has been here only one year. There is not a priest in the diocese that does not believe major changes need to be made here and look to him to do it. Yet almost without fail we all believe the changes must be made “over there, not in my yard.” And the changes are coming. There will be cheers in some quarters and condemnations in others.

There are concerns of Clevelanders who read this blog about issues that they wish our bishop would address. For as many faults that anyone may want to point out about him already, one thing I can say for certain of him is that he is a hard worker and he truly believes in what we do as Catholics. The enormity of his job at present is staggering and he is tackling it with all of his energy. That some result has not yet been seen might be attributable to work going on behind the scenes or that it simply is down the list of things to which he needs to attend.

Perhaps it would be nice to have a Saint Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator Bishop take over the diocese and set everything “right,” but that is not who we have. We have a man, a pastor of souls, our local shepherd who is trying his best and he deserves our respect and prayers.

There are times when even obedience calls us to hold bishops accountable for their actions or inactions as we have seen. But be not too quick to anger and frustration. There was only one perfect Shepherd and He left this guy in charge of the local Church. Those are mighty big shoes to fill. It is my belief that more good will come from support and encouragement than from giving into to detraction and disappointment at every turn, a bandwagon that too many seem eager to jump on.

Pray for your bishop. He needs it.


Adoro said...

Great and timely post. Advice we need over here in Mpls-St. Paul.

Our Coadjutor Bishop was named on Tuesday, and he is already being publicly barbecued in the local papers. The dissent against him far outweighs the public support for him, but I guarantee you that there are a good many faithful Catholics applauding and jumping for joy.

He is solid, he will speak to the moral issues, and has already done so. The problem is that our diocese is well known nationally for a few very dissenting parishes, so much so they aren't even Catholic anymore although they continue to advertise themselves as such. They are shaking in their shoes and all who sympathize with their immoral leanings are shaking with them, which translates to shaking their fingers at a Bishop who has not yet taken the reins.

I will miss Archbishop Flynn, and he took a great deal of criticism for what he did or didn't do, but we and our seminanaries are in a far better position than they were in when he took over. The thing he realized is that change doesn't happen through administration: it happens through individuals, so he started with the formation of priests. And the priests that are recently ordained, they are changing the world.

Our new Bishop has a different style, but he strikes me as being just as pastoral. I have no doubt that the way has been prepared for him to make the greater changes that will affect the heart of dissent in our diocese.

I can't wait to see what happens, but beieve me, he's got my prayers. The poor man is already under attack!

Odysseus said...

First, we have to always condsider what the Fathers of the Church said almost 2,000 years ago: Where the bishop is, there is Christ.

Your bishop is not just the "head priest". When our bishop came to our rinky-dink confirmation for four kids in our rural parish, my daughter said, "That's Father Kelly's boss." Yes, he is Father's boss.

But more than that, he is really the ONLY priest in the diocese. All the priests' faculties are granted by him, and may be suspended by him. All the "powers" that we think of a priest having, come directly from a bishop, who, more than anyone, truly stands "in persona Christi".

I know how this can be hard. Our last bishop was his excellency Bishop Thomas O'Brien, who left under a cloud after running over a man at night and ordering his secretary to have the car washed. Before it was washed, police tracked him down. There were other, darker, rumors about our Bishop, unfortunately.

We are lucky in that our new bishop, his excellency Thomas Olmsted, is clearing up many of the problems we were left with. In addition, the state authorities have commended him time and again for his willingness to cooperate in child-abuse investigations. He also suspended priests who openly flouted the Church's teaching on sexuality, he prays at abortion protests, and speaks out against contraception.

He was a bishop worth waiting for.

Anonymous said...

I think it's really hard for a new Bishop because everyone's eyes are on him "ok what are you going to do to clean up...." The tendency would be to make some quick changes just to show you are doing something. We all know Bishops and even Pastors that have done that very thing. The tougher thing to do would be to step back analyze the situation, prioritize and then make informed decisions before taking action. Especially tough because all eyes are on your every move. The new Bishop is definitely in my prayers. I like him just for the fact that he doesn't seem to be making any rash moves!

Anonymous said...

I've started this comment a couple of times already and had to back up and start over - I want to guard against any slanderous or detracting type comments.

I seem to be saying to more than a few people lately "Don't get too anxious. G-d is in control. Change happens eventually. Our job is to help keep the casualty count down in the meatime. Be careful what you pray for, you might get it." And this is in regards to a parish and not a diocese.

When I jump up to the diocesan level, I recognize much of what your comment says ... He is G-d's representative. Show respect. Try to see all the sides and interest groups he has to deal with. If he had an overabundance of faithful orthodox prieats in his pocket, he would have fixed the problems in the parishes already - but he doesn't. He has to work with the personnel he has. When the new crop of priests come out of the seminary, you'll see a lot of action. Etc., Etc.

Thanks for a perspective we can model.

Fr. V said...


If you hadn't already done it I think I would have used each of your comments as a post. Your bishops are lucky to have you in their dioceses. We will never get anywhere by eating each other alive(a house divided . . .) There is a lot of great faith expressed here.

Anonymous said...

I luv the St. Ahnuld of course! There was a time in church history when Bishops were elected no? That brings up two thoughts:

-Would you like to elect a bishop?
-If yes, great, dissent
-If no, its probably because you know the flaws of elected leaders.

And I think that thought process tends to bring us a bit closer to the virtue of obedience.

Odysseus said...

We should remember that bishops were largely elected in the days when being a Christian meant risking your life for Christ. Each believer could be counted on, if not for pure orthodoxy, then at least for bravery in the name of Christ. Even when Augustine was elected, the Apostasy of Julian was still in public memory and people knew they were risking a lot by following Christ.

We can't say the same now.

Anonymous said...

Our Bishop is the incredible jackalope type, having once said while under questioning (and that being brought out publicly on tv), that a priest who had molested a youngster around here wasn't in his clerical garb at the time, so it wasn't a matter of threatening via his position of authority. And there was far far worse, some very dark stuff, not to mention his suddenly overreacting and yanking a good priest suddenly from a parish and withholding him for a solid year, until the priest gave up and wrote Rome and was reinstated.. but the point is, our good pastor knew what we, including the Sisters, were feeling, and so just before the Bishop was to come to our area to answer RCIA journeyers' questions, our pastor reminded us that the office of Bishop is always entitled to respect, and he said he was personally asking us to treat the Bishop with respect. For this pastor, we would jump through flaming hoops. And did so, rather than put a Bishop through them. The only person who makes me more uncomfortable when I see him televised is Bush, the staunch buffoon.

The Church is not perfect. But She is Mother and Teacher, and the Bishops are Hers. I'll let Her decide, with some help from the Holy Spirit, what to say to it all.

Fr. V said...


That says A LOT about the man you have as a pastor. Talk about living the Gospel.

Anonymous said...

Many great responses.

But, I'll admit, I do look to Bishop Burke from St. Louis, as a great bishop for whom I wish/pray all bishops in the United States would emulate.

I also know my confidence would be emboldened if the Bishop had something to say about my alma mater (SJA)...and their affiliation with Future Church...I know...give Bishop Lennon time, and I will...along with my prayers

Anonymous said...

I think Bishop Lennon has been outstanding so far. A real blessing.

As for you Fr. V., I'm glad you didn't go to greener pastures...we need you here! It's the sick that need the doctor!

Anonymous said...

"that a priest who had molested a youngster around here wasn't in his clerical garb at the time, so it wasn't a matter of threatening via his position of authority."

That quote is very troubling. I think there is a time to protest to Rome and try to get the Bishop removed, as we did with Cardinal Law in Boston. It sounds like your Bishop Jackalope warrants righteous action to remove him from power, not obedience, except, as you note, towards the office during ceremonies.