How a bishop who thinks with the Church can’t help but get it right.

Attention seminarians, priests and bishops.

I was going to post about a fine address by the Bishop of Fargo, Most Rev. Samuel Aquila (he says Aquíla, rather than Áquila).  Like I said, I was going to post about this great talk by Bp. Aquila, at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia, but… well… I forgot.

I am therefore grateful that Canonical Defender, the great Prof. Ed Peters posted about it on his fine canonical blog, In the Light of the Law.

My emphases and comments.


One of the most important essays by a bishop on Canon 392 (the norm setting forth a bishop’s fundamental duty to supervise the enforcement of ecclesiastical discipline in his diocese) never mentions Canon 392; [By indirection find direction out.] one of the most important essays by a bishop on Canon 915 (requiring ministers to withhold holy Communion from certain public sinners) never mentions Canon 915; and in fact, one of the most important essays on canon law generally by a bishop since the 1983 Code came out, was not written by a canonist bishop and scarcely even mentions the Code.

Instead, Fargo ND Bp. Samuel Aquila’s remarkable essay “Good Shepherd: Living Christ’s Own Pastoral Authority” shows how a bishop who thinks with the Church can’t help getting the canonical big picture right at the same time. This should surprise no one, for canon law, in its turn, is all about getting the pastoral picture right.

Any bishop who thinks with the Church, who understands that lessons in ecclesiastical leadership are woven throughout the Scriptures, and who believes, in short, that “p. c.” stands for genuine “pastoral care”, and not for “politically correct”, is going to find solid guidance for his pastoral decision-making in canon law and objective defenses of his pastoral actions under the Code. Even if he doesn’t use canonical jargon.

I loved the way Bp. Aquila, for example, drawing on the model for graduated confrontation of wrong-doing in the Church cited in Matthew 18, didn’t mention that Canon 1341, among others, sets out the same approach in canonical language. [Get this.] Or again, he asks, and not rhetorically, how many votes against basic Church values, performed over how many years, does it take to convince the minister of holy Communion that this Catholic politician or that is obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin, without ever using Canon 915’s precise language? [Do I hear an “Amen!”?]

The Eagle of Fargo delivered his remarks to seminarians, but they are well worth reading by priests and, need I say it?, by bishops who know that, someday, they will have to render an accounting of their office to Someone in a considerably more demanding setting than that of a pope during a quinquennial visit. [OOH-RAH!]

Bp. Aquila’s talk has a two particularly engaging headings:

  • Four Ways to Develop Receptive Hearts in Seminarians to Exercise the Authority of Christ
  • Contemporary Challenges in Exercising Authority

I recommend that every seminarian, priest and bishop reading this blog read Bp. Aquila’s talk.

You don’t have to tell anyone.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, 1983 CIC can. 915, Brick by Brick, Fr. Z KUDOS, Our Catholic Identity and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Stu says:

    “…by bishops who know that, someday, they will have to render an accounting of their office to Someone in a considerably more demanding setting than that of a pope during a quinquennial visit.”

    When I was a Junior Officer, I once saw a Marine Lieutenant General belittled by Senator Warner (who was also a former Secretary of the Navy) in a somewhat public setting. Boy was that uncomfortable to watch. I wouldn’t even want to imagine the discussion above. (Not to mention the “talking” I deserve myself.)

  2. Random Friar says:

    “Aquíla” or “Áquila,” I pronounce it “Awesome.”

  3. Brooklyn says:

    Thank you so much for linking to this speech. I read it through and found it very enlightening just as a lay person. Much of what is directed to priests and bishops is just as helpful to me as a lay person. But the statements specifically made to priests and bishops should make all shake in their boots a bit. This really leaves no doubt as to the great responsibilty borne by the priesthood:

    “Bishops and priests, as an act of loving obedience to Christ, must return to a full exercise of the governing authority of Christ witnessed in the Gospel. If we do not exercise that authority, are hesitant to exercise it, or doubt it, then it only leads to the ‘father of lies’ taking hold of the minds and hearts of the faithful, and their continuing to act in the ways of man and not the ways of God.”

    Knowing that they must answer not only for their own souls but for those whom they pastor should drive all priests and bishops to their knees and in obedience to the Father.

    “Benedict XVI reminds us as bishops and priests again to turn to Jesus Christ to learn how to exercise this authority. ?… [N]o one is really able to feed Christ’s flock, unless he lives in profound and true obedience to Christ and the Church, and the docility of the people towards their priests depends on the docility of the priests towards Christ; for this reason the personal and constant encounter with the Lord, profound knowledge of him and the conformation of the individual will to Christ’s will is always at the root of the pastoral ministry (General Audience, May 26, 2010)”

    I, as a lay person, will strive more earnestly to pray for those in charge of us, that they may recognize the heavy burden they bear, and have the ability to carry out their responsibilities.

    “In the exercise of the governing authority of Christ, we too, if we have the heart of Christ and the love of Christ, will end up on the Cross with Christ. Certainly this was the experience of St. Peter and St. Paul, St. John Fisher, and so many other bishop and priest martyrs throughout the history of the Church.”

    Doesn’t get any heavier than that.

    This is one speech that I was save and re-read many times.

  4. FrJohn says:

    This is a truly inspiring address for all priests and we offer our thanksgiving for the great gift of such an inspiring Successor to the Apostles! Yet, we priests, trying to remain faithful to Christ, and His Holy Catholic Church, struggle with the fact that: Parochial Vicars have no authority; and a Pastors authority stems from the authority of his Ordinary. Hard as we may struggle to exercise authentic pastoral care, and Christ like leadership and authority, if we have no support from our Bishops, and/or in the case of a Parochial Vicar, his Pastor, then our hands are tied and we suffer a silent martyrdom at the hands of those closest to us and for whom we care deeply.
    Pray for priests who endure this suffering everyday, in true imitation of our Lord, and pray for our Bishops, that they may be good and holy shepherds.

  5. Um, Father… you might want to fix that common typo in what should be the word “public”.

Comments are closed.