Bishops & Generals

Bishops & Generals

What if we chose our military’s generals the same way we choose bishops? In the current system in the US, the bishops’ conference submits a list of names of potential bishops to the apostolic nuncio in Washington. The nuncio is supposed to go through the list and research the candidates (submitting questionnaires to his bishop, fellow priests, certain lay people, and so on) and then submit the names to the Congregation for Bishops in Rome. The congregation goes through the list and then submits a list of three names to the Pope, who then chooses one or, rarely, sends the list back and asks for more names.

But the problem with the current system is that it is rife with politics. Priests known for not rocking the boat, or who play the system, or have become bureaucrats are often put forward. In fact, being a good bureaucrat often seems to be the most important criterion, so that many people expect a bishop to be “tolerant” and “inclusive” and someone who is good at keeping up the “dialogue” and keeping everybody happy. As George Weigel says in his book Courage to be Catholic, this is not a model of episcopacy that would be familiar to Ss. Ambrose or Augustine or Athanasius or John Chrysostom.

1 comment
  • NO doubt, we need good bishops with those qualities of character you mention. However, I resist the analogy to generals; bishops don’t lead the same way and have a different kind of authority.

    A bishop’s authority is of the most ancient kind—one which is often lost on our hyper-autonomous society. ‘Authority’ is a word that originally derives from ‘auctor’, which has a patriarchal connotation, inevitably. The ‘auctor’ is the one who ‘augments’, who adds to, who builds up. True authority is that force, that power that both preserves and protects, while opening up a space for the group to do what it needs to do.

    A good authority then, isn’t too exclusive or draconian; at the same time, real authority has to have the power to resist those forces that threaten the ‘space’, the common ground where people come together to do what’s important. Some bishops go too far in putting up walls; others don’t put up enough walls. The dangers lie in both directions.