A priest’s reflection on bishops

From up close or from afar many of you know about the story being told that a Benedictine Abbot in England declined to become or postponed becoming the next Archbishop of Westminster, which is normally brings a red hat.

My friend Fr. Ray Blake, of St. Mary Magdalen in Brighton, has some pointed comments about the whole scenario to which any man who thinks he should be a bishop might pay close attention.

As you go in, remember that there is a strong current of hearsay going on in the background.  But certain rumors have that ineffable….sorry… that’s a hard word for some enemies of Liturgiam authenticam… an ineffable quality of being true.

My emphases and comments.

I am not too sure I believe the rumour about Dom Hugh Gilbert, Abbot of Pluscarden being offered then turning down or delaying taking the diocese of Westminster, because of problems in the monastery.

If the story has a basis in truth then the implications are pretty radical. I do not know much about Abbot Hugh, except he is known for his holiness and Pluscarden has a reputation even amongst monastics as being ascetic and contemplative and conservative. It has no school, no parish, the community is small, less than thirty. There is really no comparison here with the appointment of Basil Hume. Ampleforth with its school and dependent parishes is comparable to a small diocese, Pluscarden is more like a small isolated country parish.

If this story has a basis in truth, [and here is the meat of the nut] then the Pope has passed over our present bishops, therefore he is not looking to administrative ability, or to those who have "proved" themselves in the present narrow and narrowing system.  [What Damian of Holy Smoke and others have dubbed "the Magic Circle"]

He is looking to a radical commitment to Christ and holiness, and a rootedness in Tradition, and from what I have heard of Dom Hugh an ability to draw people to Christ.  [Which one might consider a good quality in a bishop.]

Like many priests I have become increasingly concerned by the way in which bishops have been appointed in England and Wales. This is apparently the questionnaire that is sent by the nuncio to gather information on candidates. [It is sent out confidentially] Amongst other things it asks about Orthodoxy:

    6- ORTHODOXY
    Doctrinal orientation. Loyalty to the Doctrine and Magisterium of the Church. In particular: the attitude of the candidate to the Documents of the Holy See on the Ministerial Priesthood, on the Priestly Ordination of Women, on marriage, on sexual Ethics and on Social Justice. Fidelity to the genuine Tradition of the Church and commitment to the authentic renewal promoted by Vatican 11, and adherence to the "Statement of Conclusions, 1998".

but nowhere does it ask if the candidate actually believes in God or can communicate that belief. [Not an idle question.  Though if a man adheres to the "Doctrine and Magisterium" I suppose it can be assumed that he adheres to the Creed.] Some readers might be scandalised by this suggestion that a bishop might not believe but today the Church needs bishops whose belief in God transforms them and their priests and [here it is…] is immediately evident.

It is not unusual to sit through a sermon preached by a few of our bishops, which never mention God or refer to the scriptures, [But may in fact mention "fair trade" and "global warming"] which not only fail to inspire, but leave one wondering if the preacher believes anything at all. Nor is it unusual to attend a confirmation that seems more like a rather shoddy graduation ceremony rather than the completion of Christian Initiation and bestowing of the Seal of the Holy Spirit. [Well done, Father.]

England and Wales desperately needs evangelisation, evangelisation isn’t about clever techniques or sociology, it is certainly not about cunning schemes, [Amen and amen.] small groups or large groups, it is about holiness which comes from living faith and a deep personal desire for Christ, and a firm hope in Divine Providence. I pray that I am wrong about the Abbot, and he really will be the next Archbishop of Westminster. If it is true, then his appointment will be criticised for his lack worldliness and of administrative experience, but quite frankly I suspect holiness trumps administrative ability, and we all know about worldly bank managers nowadays.

If His Hermeneuticalness can’t be the next Archbishop… then maybe … after this Abbot?

Good work, Fr. Blake.  WDTPRS kudos to you.

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30 Responses to A priest’s reflection on bishops

  1. more than trivia says:

    Here’s the full text of Thomas Reese, S.J.’s “Archbishop”, a slightly dated, yet detailed overview of the office of bishops (in America). It is rather candid and worth a read.

    http://woodstock.georgetown.edu/church_studies/reese/archbishop/ab-content.htm

  2. Fr. BJ says:

    When I first saw this rumor (about the Abbot turning it down), I thought it was posturing on the part of those who would NOT like to see him become Archbishop. We’ll see what happens in the end!

  3. joe says:

    MTT,

    Normally, anything penned by Fr. Reese, er, “gives me great pause” (was that charitable enough?). Are you suggesting this book is illuminating — regardless of whether it meant to be — of “how things are”?

    AMDG,

    -J.

  4. Kells says:

    While this makes for great ecclesiastical mythology, the story about the abbot turning the appointment down is just that – a myth – the decision of who is to be appointed to Westminster (already a bishop in the UK) has already been made and will be revealed shortly.

  5. tertullian says:

    Fr Blake’s thread reminds me of the article “A failure in generalship” written by LTC Paul Yingling for the Armed Forces Journal.Sadly, these acts of candor,and courage, are often met with retribution. Ask Col H. R. McMaster.

  6. Augustine says:

    If we do get someone that self proclaimed “orthodox” and “traditional” Catholics consider dangerously liberal (or anti-Roman, or relativist etc.), we would do well to remember that ours is a God of surprises. When the current Holy Father was elected (and long may he reign!) most Catholics outside the Curia and academic circles expected him to be a cold enforcer of Vatican policy, the “panzerkardinal”, but then the world was shocked by the tender, humble and inclusive nature of “Deus Caritas Est”, all achieved without in any way compromising the stringent orthodoxy for which he is famous.

    In the same way, if we do get a “Magic Circle” bishop, we may all be surprised by such a person’s hitherto undiscovered talents and abilities.

    Or it could be a complete disaster…

    Yours hopefully,

    Augustine

  7. Brian Walden says:

    “If we do get someone that self proclaimed “orthodox” and “traditional” Catholics consider dangerously liberal…”

    What’s a self-proclaimed orthodox Catholic? It’s an objective standard, there’s no self proclamation involved. A person either believes what the Church (orthodoxy) teaches or he doesn’t (heterodoxy). No one who supported Pope Benedict was shocked by Deus Caritas Est – it was only those who mischaracterized him in the first place who were surprised. Unless you’re saying that the bishops of the Magic Circle truly are orthodox and we’ve all mislabeled them, I’m not sure I follow your analogy.

  8. more than trivia says:

    Joe,

    Reese’s “Archbishop” is a good, straight-forward account of “bishopering” in America. It goes over the selection process of Bishops, as well as the nuts and bolts of day to day administrative activities. You won’t find any real theological aspect to it at all, it’s quite “sociological.” Still, it is a worthwhile read (albeit somewhat dated) to get a sense of how things “work” in America.

  9. The Cellarer says:

    Ahem, he is an Abbot in Scotland, for the record.

    Would hate to see him go, but I\’m sure he would shake up things in E&W, nevermind westmister.

  10. TNCath says:

    Such a reflection sure isn’t limited to England and Wales, is it? The confirmation liturgy reference is priceless.

    Can you imagine an American hierarchy with the likes of Fathers John Corapi, Benedict Groeshel, Andrew Apostoli, Joseph Fessio, John Trigilio, and….John T. Zuhlsdorf as members? Oh, what a USCCB meeting that would be!

  11. A Pater says:

    The rumour concerning the abbot of Pluscarden is untrue. Catholic journalists, be very careful in exercising moral judgment in your reports.

  12. chironomo says:

    Brian;

    Thank you for stating so succinctly a point that I have often made… what exactly is an “Orthodox Catholic” as distinct from some other type of Catholic? Either one is a Catholic, or one isn’t… the concept of “Progressive Catholic” or whatever they call themselves now was invented to describe those who are no longer really Catholic while allowing them to maintain the title of “Catholic” in their name.

  13. jaykay says:

    “Nor is it unusual to attend a confirmation that seems more like a rather shoddy graduation ceremony rather than the completion of Christian Initiation and bestowing of the Seal of the Holy Spirit.\”

    Well, indeed. It goes for Ireland too. At my nephew\’s confirmation – I was sponsoring him – the local Anglican minister-ess was in attendance, in full Roman collar (unlike some of the actual Roman clergy present). My nephew whispered: \”Is that a new lady priest for the parish?\” He\’s 13, and had gone through 8 years of \”catholic\” education already. This catholic education, for which his parents have paid a goodly sum, has apparently not included even the basics. Needless to remark, there\’s no refund policy. And as for the confirmation ceremony itself… let\’s just say that the Barney song came strongly to mind: \”I love YOU, you love ME…\”

    Who\’s this Spirit guy? Some sort of, like, dove?? How weird is that?

  14. Maureen says:

    I shall hope that your nephew was displaying a very dry sense of humor, such as is not unknown among teenagers or the Irish. :)

    When I was a kid, my dad answered all inquiries about what was for lunch with a deadpan “Arsenic.”

  15. What is the “Statement of Conclusions” referenced in the document?

  16. Maynardus says:

    (At the risk of verging on mild rabbit-holing…) Reese’s little book is indeed interesting and it’s so characteristic that he cited “many Church observers” allegedly contending that “recent” (circa 1989) episcopal appointments were “more conservative”. The really revealing (and funny) part is that his examples include not only the usual America mag/NatCathReporter bogeymen Cardinals O’Connor and Law, but also Mahony(!) and (then-) Archbishop Levada(!).

    Remember the state of the Church in the U.S. twenty years ago? Even taking into account the mindset of a Fr. Reeese it is telling that Mahony offered enough of a contrast with the run of bishops appointed in the late 60’s and 1970’s that *anyone* considered him a “conservative”. For those inclined to be pessimistic, think how far things have come in the U.S.; let’s pray that this is likewise a turning point for E&W…

  17. RBrown says:

    Sadly, these acts of candor,and courage, are often met with retribution. Ask Col H. R. McMaster.
    Comment by tertullian

    What retribution? His book was required reading for those working for the Chief of Staff.

    BTW, Herb McMaster was just nominated for BG.

  18. Monachus says:

    People really need to know that Hugh Gilbert inherited an excellent monastery from his predecessor and did not build it himslelf. Then they need to know that in the monastic world he is known as an interfering bully with little if any respect for due process or particular or universal law. This is particualrly evident from his involvement with one USA monastic community from which he was banned from having further contact and from his attempts to close one UK monastic community after the failure of which he was ordered to apologise; he did not.

    It is astounding that these matters of the external forum have not been taken into account in considering him for promotion. He is fortunate still to enjoy the abbatial office, let alone to be considered for episcopal service in the Church.

    The Holy Father’s advisors should do more homework!

  19. tertullian says:

    “What retribution? His book was required reading for those working for the Chief of Staff.

    BTW, Herb McMaster was just nominated for BG.”

    RBrown – and it’s long overdue. I think the promotion boards in the Army and the selection of Bishops may have something in common.

    http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/archives/hr_mcmaster_passed_over_-_reverse_peter_principle/

  20. Rommel Lopez says:

    Amen to Fr. Blake. I remember a senator here in the Philippines who was planning to petition Pope Benedict XVI to elect more Filipino cardinals for the reason that the Philippines is one of the world’s largest Catholic country. 85% of 80+ million Filipinos are Catholics. The Philippines has 3 cardinals (Rosales, Vidal and Sanchez). He thinks that election to the Sacred College is like the election to the Senate of the Philippines. Fortunately for us, the pope sees otherwise. Filipino bishops are busy with politics, environmental protection, etc. but rarely would you find a Filipino bishop talking about discipline in the sacraments, or even defending the Faith. I recently attended an ordination of 5 new priests and the ordaining bishop said in his homily that priests of today must stand against the evils of corruption and injustice. I almost forgot I was in a Catholic Church attending a Catholic Ordination. I thought I was in a Model United Nations Assembly that I was a part of back in college. Only one laudable bishop comes to mind: Archbishop Jesus A. Dosado, CM of Ozamis. He is the only Filipino bishop to take a bold and more aggressive stand against Masonry which is very active in the Philippines. Here is the news about this http://www.cbcpnews.com/?q=node/2591. We pray and hope that the Holy Father appoint more bishops in our country who’ll stick to their job descriptions and instead use their croziers to guide the Catholic politicians rather than be a politicians of the pulpit.

  21. Jim Dorchak says:

    How Dare Fr. Blake question the quality of our Bishops!

    Especially since he is right on it 100% correct and is saying what many of us laymen have been blackballed over for years.

    I hope that he is ready for the Wrath of Kahn(a little star trek Lingo for you Fr Z).

    Kudos and my condolences to Fr. Blake who is soon to be slapped down.

    Just ask my good friend Fr. Newman. (If that was not politics trumping Faith and the Church then Gregory Wilton is not a Achb of Atlanta, and Obama is not really the savior returned). Gives new meaning to “PTL” pass the loot.

    No good deed goes unpunished………..

    Just a side note: From the outside looking in, it appears that “The Church” has been abandoned in GB. I pray for those poor souls who are stuck there, and their Bishops who no longer know the Church and God.

    Jim Dorchak

  22. David Kastel says:

    Maybe the oath of St. Pius X should be re-instated:

    http://www.franciscan-archive.org/bullarium/oath.html

  23. PNP, OP says:

    I wonder what the ratio is between canon lawyer bishops and theologian bishops; that is, the ration btw bishops with higher degrees in canon law and those with degrees in theology. I see way too many “Purple Hearts” amongst the canon lawyers! Fr. Philip, OP

  24. I agree with David completely “THE OATH AGAINST MODERNISM” should still be taken by all Catholics.

    Pope Saint Pius X – Pray For Us!
    Saint Michael The Archangel – Defend Us!
    Sacred Heart of Jesus – Make our hearts like Your Heart!

  25. RBrown says:

    RBrown – and it’s long overdue. I think the promotion boards in the Army and the selection of Bishops may have something in common.
    Comment by tertullian

    He’s only been in the Army for 24 years. I don’t think the opinions in his book had anything to do with twice being passed over for BG. I think it was more a case of his superstar status. Generals don’t like anyone thinking he’s being promoted (esp to BG) without have to toe the company line.

    For example, Pete Dawkins was passed over for MG, but he had so many job offers that he retired immediately. Then, after he retired, the stories made the rounds–he did this or that poorly.

  26. RBrown says:

    I wonder what the ratio is between canon lawyer bishops and theologian bishops; that is, the ration btw bishops with higher degrees in canon law and those with degrees in theology. I see way too many “Purple Hearts” amongst the canon lawyers! Fr. Philip, OP
    Comment by PNP, OP

    It’s much higher in the States than in Europe. For some time the study of Canon Law has been all but a requisite in the US episcopal career path. In Europe this is not so much the case.

  27. TNCath says:

    RBrown: “It’s much higher in the States than in Europe. For some time the study of Canon Law has been all but a requisite in the US episcopal career path. In Europe this is not so much the case.”

    How about a masters in guidance counseling? No, I’m not kidding. That’s at least what one U.S. Bishop has as his only higher degree. Not putting down guidance counselors, but I would think/hope a candidate for bishop would at least have an advanced degree in canon law or theology. Perhaps this is partly why we have some of the bishops we have: lack of proper training.

  28. joe says:

    TNCatholic,

    I’d give “unto half my kingdom” to see the aforementioned priests elevated to the Episcopacy. To that list, I’d offer another Jesuit, Fr. Paul Mankowski, SJ.

    P.S. I’d suggest the deficiencies in the current crop of bishops has to do more with the lack of vertebræ than training. But that’s just my opinion.

  29. TNCath says:

    Joe: “I’d suggest the deficiencies in the current crop of bishops has to do more with the lack of vertebræ than training.”

    Indeed, vertebrae are important as well. Yet, I think some of the spinelessness also results from a lot of the “touchy feely” educational programs of the 1970s.

  30. Francis Pimentel-Pinto says:

    If we truly believe in the Holy Spirit why not, following the example of the Cardinals who elect the Pope, trust the mature Catholics of the Archdiocese of Westminster to choose their own leader as it was the practice in the early years of the Church?