“What advice would you give to a newly appointed bishop?” Phil Lawler opines.

All of us have, from time to time, thought that we would do a better job at role “X” in the Church.  “If I were Pope… if I were bishop… if I were pastor… if I were sacristan…  youth group leader… usher… choir director…”.

That said, sometimes people really do have good suggestions, acute insights, which when offered with respect form part of what we are supposed to do as members of Holy Church.  We have the right to offer our observations, so long as we do so with the proper decorum… and I might add thought.  Not everyone thinks before hitting the send button.

My friend Phil Lawler of Catholic Culture did think before hitting the send button.  He has a tour de force for bishops today.

Click here.

Here is how he leads off.

The first reading at today’s Mass, in which St. Paul offers his advice on the selection of bishops, reminded me of a conversation with friends several years ago. As the Church was still reeling from the effects of scandal, we asked each other: What advice would you give to a newly appointed bishop? Herewith the results of that conversation.

[Premise:] The new bishop is young and energetic, fully orthodox, and filled with apostolic zeal. He is taking control of an average American diocese. [Not sure what “average” is… but let’s let that pass.] What assumptions should he make? What should he expect? What should he do?

Mr. Lawler, a long-time observer of and lover of and member of the Church, offers bullet-points.  Lots of bullet-points.  They are in these categories:

  • Assumptions
  • Settling in: new ideas
  • Building community in the new-look chancery
  • Collaborating with the laity
  • Thinking in new paradigms
  • Consultation and dialog
  • Networking and team ministry
  • Ongoing processes

Each categories has bullet-points beneath.   A lot of thought went into these lists.  And some of them are pretty funny, while remaining serious.  A few examples (from various categories and in no special order):

  • Having informed him of your wishes on the matter, dock the diocesan paper editor a day’s pay every time your photo appears. The diocese is not about YOU.
  • Catechesis is in bad shape, suffering from all the usual problems. Religious-education directors have been recruited through the National Catholic Reporter.
  • Upon arrival, get rid of all paper shredders at the chancery and insist that no work be taken home in briefcases. Make friends with the maintenance man and the wash lady.
  • Get to know some state troopers. Buy them a round of beer. Tell them that you want to hear about trouble from them, not from the press. Tell them it is a moral obligation to arrest wrong-doers. Ask them to pass the word.
  • Cultivate a reputation for enjoying candor. When people give you a “nice” answer to your questions, press them: “You don’t really think that, do you?”
  • Put the religious orders on notice. Maybe throw out one of the smaller ones just as a warning shot.
  • Like Archbishop Pell of Sydney, Australia, get a secretary who’s married with several children. Break the daisy-chain.
  • Skip a meeting of the USCCB and delay paying the annual assessment, just for the hell of it.

Some are serious… well, more obviously serious.   Against from various categories and in no special order:

  • About 20-30% of the priests are leftist ideologues, outright heretics, historically encouraged by previous bishops who either feared them or sympathized with them. The most corrupt and liberal priests are the most likely to try to cozy up to the new bishop with flattery. The conservatives are either too busy in their parishes or find such flattery repugnant.
  • Let every person know, whether he (or she) wishes you well or ill, that you shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to ensure the survival and success of the confessional. In other words, expunge general absolution, ensure confessionals are screened, and see to a climate of orthodox confessional practice. Make it clear that you’ll be watching and act swiftly when someone brings you bad news.
  • Open your own mail. You can farm out the projects later.
  • Spend a lot of time at the seminary. Arrive unannounced frequently.
  • Having found a few priests you can trust absolutely, spend some long late evenings going over personnel files with them.

There is a great deal more.

Enjoy them over there!

That said… I am sooooo glad I will never never never ever ever be a bishop.  I don’t envy these men.  They carry terrible burdens.  Imagine how complicated it it to be a bishop these days.

Pray for bishops.  The devil hates bishops.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. RichR says:

    Catechesis is in bad shape, suffering from all the usual problems. Religious-education directors have been recruited through the National Catholic Reporter.

    We had to find a new DRE, and the pastor announced to the Parish Council (which I was a member of) that he was going to place an add in the Reporter to find a new DRE. Knowing that our parish was conservative, I took him aside after the meeting and suggested alternative periodicals. He was genuinely thankful for that.

    As the the list, I think Mr. Lawler has put a lot of brilliant thought into this. Many things I have never even thought about.

  2. Amy Giglio says:

    This was excellent. I do wish that bishops would just show up at the parish every once in a while. I know they are very busy, but we under-40 DRE-types would be happy to see them, and to honestly answer their questions.

  3. Lamentably Sane says:

    When I saw the title of your post, Father, I straight away thought of those magnificent verses of Jeremiah so beloved of Innocent III:
    “And I said: Ah, ah, ah, Lord God: behold, I cannot speak, for I am a child. And the Lord said to me: Say not: I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee: and whatsoever I shall command thee, thou shalt speak. Be not afraid at their presence: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord. And the Lord put forth his hand, and touched my mouth: and the Lord said to me: Behold I have given my words in thy mouth: Lo, I have set thee this day over the nations, and over the kingdoms, to root up, and pull down, and to waste, and to destroy, and to build, and to plant. “

  4. Stu says:

    In the Navy, one of my favorite Admirals ever (Timothy J. Keating) would routinely ditch his “horse holders (aides) and go out among the ranks by himself and just talk to people. Any Bishop would do fine with a similar practice.

  5. guatadopt says:

    My 6 year old just started PSR (CCD). They had parents take part in the opening class. The only “requirement” is that by the end of the school year, each student must know the Our Father, Hail Mary and the Sign of the Cross. My son, who has known those prayers and more since he was at least three years old (my 2 and half year old can recite the Our Father), just rolled his eyes. Unfortunately, the Catholic school near us is “catholic” in name only so I didn’t want to waste my money when I could clearly educate him in the faith much better on my own and our public school district is excellent. Catholic religious education in this country, or at least in my diocese, is a disaster. That should be priority #1 for the Bishops. Forget about the meatless fridays…if you have no clue about your faith, abstaining from meat won’t give you an identity. [It is not and “either/or” scenario, you know.] It is in this that I think the bishops have failed the church.

  6. Paul says:

    >Arrive unannounced, in “plain clothes” at a Sunday morning Mass and simply observe. Afterward, reveal yourself. Let the fun begin.

    >Take as your episcopal motto, “Don’t tread on me”.

    >Arrive unannounced in full regalia at a random parish and request the honor of giving the homily. Continue preaching on sin, hell, and confession, until someone faints. At that point, you may conclude. Rinse and repeat once per month.

  7. Scott W. says:

    Great list. Only one thing I would add:

    >Make every employee, volunteer, or anyone associated as working for the Church sign a Personal Affirmation of Faith like the one Bishop Vasa made. Fire anyone who doesn’t sign.

  8. Martial Artist says:

    I second the motion put forward by Scott W.!

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  9. irishgirl says:

    I third what Scott and Keith said!
    ‘Don’t tread on me’-oooo, I like THAT as an episcopal motto!
    All these ‘suggestions’ are great!

  10. Theodore says:

    Nice article. Note that the author is urging potential Bishops to push back against Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy:

    “In any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself. Examples in education would be teachers who work and sacrifice to teach children, vs. union representatives who work to protect any teacher including the most incompetent. The Iron Law states that in all cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions.”

    The aggressive hands on approach reminds me of how Theodore Roosevelt behaved as a NY Police Commissioner and transformed the NYPD.

    See, Jeffers, Commisioner Roosevelt

  11. AnAmericanMother says:

    This is good stuff.
    With a few alterations for particular circumstances, it’s applicable to any business enterprise, not just a bishopric.
    Any bishop who adopts these guidelines will do well — if he survives the first counterstrike by the entrenched elements in the bureaucracy (that’s always the trick!)

  12. Clinton says:

    >Make it a habit to stop by the parochial school when visiting a parish. Drop in at several
    classrooms at random, greet teachers and students, and casually ask the class an appropriate
    question or two on what they (should) have been taught about the Faith by that point.

    >Many a diocese has churches built back when priests were thicker on the ground, and
    rectories much larger as a result. Perhaps a bishop could profit from living in such a
    rectory, even if only temporarily.

    >If one is making an unannounced visit to a parish and discover the parish priest in the church,
    making his regular Holy Hour, have that man named a Monsignor.

  13. Clinton says:

    >If a bishop is the ordinary for a Catholic college, make it public record whether or not the
    theologians on its staff have sought and obtained a mandatum. Information about
    how long ago the mandatum was first requested could also be released if the college
    gives one too much flak. Make sure this information is given to the alumni association.

    >Always be seen taking notes.

  14. Supertradmum says:

    Follow strictly the guidelines of the Vatican on seminary training, staff and complete intolerance of homosexuals in the seminary. Make all teachers at the seminary and in the schools in your diocese take the Oath and make the Promise regarding Catholic education and morals. Period.

  15. Scott W. says:

    >If one is making an unannounced visit to a parish and discover the parish priest in the church,
    making his regular Holy Hour, have that man named a Monsignor.


  16. DisturbedMary says:

    Listen Fr. Z. I don’t know about the work of a bishop, but every time you refer to your seminary days, I think Holy Spirit. How you got through (Holy Spirit) and have become the priest you are (Holy Spirit) is proof of grace, lots of it (Holy Spirit, Holy Spirit), under the worst of circumstances. I do get a kick out of these inside baseball articles but your success (Holy Spirit) as a priest is dare I say ineffable.

  17. The Egyptian says:

    When kicking out a religious order to get their attention,include a polyester nightmare nun or two in the deal.

    Bring on the Nigerians

    Love it, some of it was laugh out loud funny

  18. vivaldi says:

    New Bishops: fix your Seminary. Teach the EF properly and get some FSSP priests on staff. Insist your Priests learn the EF and offer it on Sundays. Insist your priests wear clericals. Have a young, fulltime vocations office with resources. Ensure your Cathedral liturgy is beautiful- polyphony and chant is a must. Offer the EF Mass daily at Cathedral. Open up side altars for visiting priests. Ban communion in the hand. Ban altar girls. Bring in as many traddy communities possible. Most importantly, ensure the Catholic faith is being taught at Schools and that students can go to Mass and confession once a week at least whilst at school….wish I was a Bishop!

  19. Servant of the Liturgy says:

    Also, as it it is said Abp Chaput did already, celebrate Vespers and a private dinner for the Presbyterate to get to know the guys, and to show your appreciation from the start. This should be done within 2 weeks of ordination.

    Also also, make it clear that all schools (especially Diocesan High schools) are personally yours, and you take personal interest in their operation and success.

    Beyond that, the whole list is great, and hysterical at some points, and I love some of the suggestions above.

    Oh and also, two words: Habited. Nuns. Invite them in. Encourage them. Give them a roof and work.

  20. MargaretC says:

    “Make friends with the maintenance man and the wash lady.” Oh, yes, indeed…These are the people who really know what’s going on. There may also be a long-serving secretary or bookkeeper, who is just waiting for a sympathetic audience to spill the beans.

  21. K_Suzanne says:

    These are all great suggestions, and they reminded me of my diocesan Bishop, David Zubik of Pittsburgh. When he became our Bishop, the first thing he did was sell the Bishop’s mansion and move in with the seminarians. Many people took heart in his close involvement with our future priests. He is well known for being very fatherly.

  22. jflare says:

    Um, for all that I enjoyed reading the article–it struck me as fabulous political satire–I’d comment that several of the suggestions might inflict a good deal more harm than good. Having been both a military officer and a civilian manager, I’ve found that I have the greatest success–and thus the fewest headaches–if I enable people to trust me, but also make clear what I expect of them.

    Honestly, for all that I understand the point Lawlor’s making, several of his suggestions strike me as being not quite open threats.

    I would be concerned that if a stern bishop came into a diocese and tried this, he might well spawn a mutiny. I’ve read articles in the last few years about bishops and priests who literally risked being removed from diocese or parish posts because of their approach.

    Cleaning house, establishing clear standards, and making plain the consequences is good.
    Causing an open schism in a diocese is not.

  23. Fr_Sotelo says:

    Scott W:

    And if the new Bishop is not in the habit of the daily Holy Hour himself, he will need to make that change.

  24. The Egyptian says:

    Scott W:
    And if the new Bishop is not in the habit

    Might I add and in the habit of a HABIT , think of the impact of a bishop showing up everywhere in a cassock, example and all that old fashioned stuff, you know

  25. The Egyptian says:

    unless of course he is “under cover”

  26. catholicmc says:

    Dear Fr Z.

    You’ve inspired me to start something with all of these posts on Bishops so over on my Blog I’ve begun the campaign to Bishops to get back in the confessional this came as a result of one of your other posts but also out of a wish to respond to the Bishops of England and Wales (where I am) and thank them for the meatless Friday’s (yesterday was interesting finishing the day with that well known English meal … Fish and Chips mmmmmmm).

    However in this post one thing stood out for me which is where you said:

    “That said… I am sooooo glad I will never never never ever ever be a bishop.”

    I have to admit – I do not know your background as some of your dear readers but I posted on this very topic some time ago on my blog, would you believe it has been one of the most viewed posts I’ve had [http://thoughtsofacatholicmc.wordpress.com/2011/08/09/who-wants-to-be-a-bishop/]

    I always wondered why priests ran away from the suggestion they be given a ring, hat and crozier. To some extent I understand entirely – the devil DOES hate bishops but there are many priests out there (yourself included) who would make interesting (note I didn’t say good, bad, excellent, inspiring etc) bishops who would shake things up a little.

    Please dont run away if you ever DO see the ‘double envelope’ arrive (I’m sure you wouldn’t anyway) please open it frame it and keep it somewhere to remind you of the day you said “never never ever ever”!

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