One bishop, two dioceses.

At Catholic Culture Phil Lawler has views about the recent appointment of one bishop to oversee two distinct dioceses.

Yesterday’s news included the curious report that in two different cases—one in Ireland, one in Wales—Pope Francis had appointed one bishop to head two separate dioceses. In each case, we are told, the dioceses will remain distinct and autonomous. Over at The Pillar, Ed Condon wonders whether this could be the beginning of a trend, “in the face of declining numbers of clergy and Mass-going Catholics.”

We have already seen several rounds of diocesan “restructuring” campaigns, in which parishes are merged into pastoral cooperatives, with one pastor responsible for two or more churches. The arrangement is far from ideal: the priest is forced to jump from one town to another, and parishioners have to keep track of his movements if they want to know where Mass will be celebrated on a given day. But it beats never having Mass celebrated in the local parish. A part-time priest is better than no priest at all.

At least in theory, the cooperatives allow for parish churches to remain open despite the shortage of both priests and parishioners.


There’s more.  He also talks about the issue of spiritual fatherhood.  Can a bishop be a spiritual father to more than one diocese?  Presbyterate?

This doesn’t seem to be of interest to bishops today, from what I hear and have experienced, so maybe that wasn’t part of the calculation.

In the ancient church bishops didn’t move from place to place because they were espoused to their diocese.  Leaving and going to another place was like adultery.  But two, dioceses?  If memory serves, in the medieval and renaissance period, there were some bishops with more than one diocese.  However, I suspect that some of them may not have been much into “spiritual fatherhood”.

Hey, Amoris footnote 351!   As long as we accompany them, perhaps bishops can have more than one diocese!

Administration!  That’s the ticket!   Enough of this old fashioned talk about “fatherhood”.  What is that, anyway?

Seriously, this is an issue.  With Vatican II there and Christus Dominus there has been a real shift in the understanding of who and what a bishop is.  This is something that needs deeper thought.

BTW… this two diocese thing “in persona episcopi“, can be a prelude to amalgamation of the dioceses, union aeque principaliter.   This was done historically in these USA with Baltimore and Washington.

Some points.

Lawler also brings up the fact that, with the ever declining number of available priests, by merging parishes at least those places remain unsold and open for Mass once in a while, which is better than never.   Hence, when the great springtime finally arrives and seminaries overflow, those places can be resuscitated and separated again.

Of course if bishops stopped persecuting, marginalizing and ignoring traditional Catholics, and instead embraced Tradition and all that it entails, they would soon have more seminarians than they knew what to do with.  After a few years of struggles with the thoroughly indoctrinated lib immanentist, modernist cadres in the few surviving parishes, things would turn around.  Where it’s tried, it works.  But, alas, most bishops, modernist priests too, would rather have a smoking crater sown with salt than a happy, vibrant parish with all the traditional liturgy and preaching and programs.

This is part and parcel with something else that has come to me through the grape vine.  I’ve been hearing that, more often now than before, priests are declining to be made bishops.  In general, when the Holy See called men to be bishops, they accepted even after some hesitation or misgivings.  Real head pressure could be applied to get that, “yes”.  However, I hear that some men are simply saying “no” and not budging.

Priest shortage and priests have to have Multiple parishes.  Shortage of a certain type of candidate for the episcopacy….


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. APX says:

    If it came down to it, could priests from the FSSP be made bishops and still keep their traditional charism? I realize that would be a long shot, but aren’t there particular requirements for being made a Bishop, particularly knowing Latin, etc?

  2. “Spiritual fatherhood”…

    The bitter truth is, I’m getting close to the point that being called “father” almost seems like mockery. The Church today does not really treat priests as fathers. Based on how we’re treated, we’re branch directors.

    And bishops as fathers? To whom? Really, to whom?

  3. Bthompson says:

    It may seem counterintuitive, but I think we actually need far more far smaller dioceses.

    Reducing personel, territory, property, and financial base would keep bishops closer to their people, the reduced worldly status would make it unattractive to cateerist climer types, and the smaller resource pool would restrict the ability of bishops to get distracted by unessesary, unhelpful, and *expensive* sociopolitical meddling even if they wanted to.

  4. Alice says:

    I’m so sorry, Fr. Fox. An older, wiser coworker at the Catholic school I worked for over a decade ago once mentioned that you could tell whether parishioners trusted their pastor by how many divorces happened under his watch. A trusted pastor could usually help couples work through things while an untrusted pastor was not consulted, divorce lawyers were. My own pastor would find out that there had been marriage troubles when the kid shows up for First Communion with four parents. I don’t know if he’s lazy or if he simply can’t care because after reassignments every few years it hurts too much to bother to get to know people. Whatever the case may be with our pastor, the Church certainly doesn’t set much of an example for longterm fatherhood.

  5. Not says:

    A Bishop is responsible for ALL the souls in his Diocese or in this case Dioceses. Awesome responsibility, I understand why some priest would say no with what is coming out of the Vatican lately.

  6. Benedict Joseph says:

    It is saddening to read Fr. Fox’s comment above. No doubt he accurately expresses the tragic reality of many priest who deserve far better. But simultaneously we cannot ignore the tragic reality that far more of the laity experience pastors who are themselves unambiguously at odds with the perennial Magisterium of the Church — parish priests, religious superiors, bishops and far further up the ladder. Sheep without a shepherd, at least in the temporal sense.
    Our faithful priests are shouldering a responsibility which is almost impossible to perform when their superiors themselves are unfaithful to the perennial Magisterium. Our local pastors often have the boot on their necks to conform to the whims of the local ordinary.
    When will we acknowledge the sad reality that the schism is actually in place. Pretending this is not reality precludes the healing action of the Holy Spirit.

  7. Charivari Rob says:

    It might be an easier step to implement than suppression/merger, especially if one diocese has debts and the other has assets.
    As discussed here at other times, the island of Ireland has a large number of dioceses considering the population and territory – reflecting the multitude of little kingdoms when the dioceses were erected.

    It is a beautiful cathedral in Galway, by the way – I was fortunate enough to have the chance to sing for a Mass there some years ago.

  8. matt from az says:

    A former schoolmate was recently named an auxiliary bishop of a large diocese. I called another former schoolmate and asked him how such as man could be made a bishop. (He’s not a bad guy, his only outstanding feature is that he is bland as a plain tortilla.) Anyway, my friend said, “Becoming a bishop nowadays is like running to catch a falling piano.” Not a positive assessment of the state of the Church, sadly.

    The mainstream Church will only have good bishops by accident for a while yet. I can think of several former classmates or schoolmates who would make decent or at least decent-ish bishops, but they’re too busy being good to decent-ish priests.

    BTW, I am out of town at a conference and decided to attend a TLM offered by the Institute of Christ the King in an old, historic church. It was excellent. Best sermon I’ve heard in ages. Completely different vibe that the usual NOM parish mass. I must admit that I am tempted to pull up stakes at our local parish and go back to the TLM full time. It’s like a totally different religion, innit?

  9. Uniaux says:

    If a bishop is to be overseeing two separate dioceses, whilst keeping them autonomous, perhaps this is really just a statement that the church, being caught up in the modern day, does not seem to find the bishop to be a particularly important part of a diocese.

    If there’s a knock-on effect with the traditional Latin Mass for priests regarding priestly identity, there must be an episcopal analog, be it simply the solemn pontifical Mass, or perhaps a matrix of things.

    I wonder why there would be such a significant increase of priests declining to be made bishops: and on a statistical level, what sort of correlation with priestly orthodoxy or heterodoxy is there here?

  10. Chrisc says:

    Fr Martin,
    Thank you for your service. Being a father is often thankless. But sometimes the lack of gratitude becomes abusive. As a man, call out the men of your parish/apostolate. Call out the other priests you serve with or the bishop, too. You need to be supported, and others, in justice, need to support you.
    May God bless you this day of St Joseph the worker!

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  12. Ave Maria says:

    Who would want to be a bishop in this modernist, infiltrated Church? Too many less than stellar ones (shall we say) have damaged the authority of the episcopate and the Church. Holy bishops that speak the truth, especially in the public sphere, are persecuted by fellow bishops and laity alike.

  13. Wasn’t the medieval practice of one bishop holding several dioceses an abuse resulting from the fact that a diocese was a source of income for the bishop, with some dioceses being more lucrative than others? And wasn’t that practice later outlawed for that very reason?

  14. I might have made it clearer: it is generally not the laity who disregard their priests’ fatherhood. History records that the laity first gave priests the title “father.”

  15. Imrahil says:

    Well, it’s not entirely without precedent: in Prussian Poland, there was one a double-metropolite aeque principaliter of Gniezno and Poznan. Poznan I believe had no suffragan at all (like the metropolitan diocese of Udine now), but Gniezno had the suffragan Chelmno-Pelplin (its once many other former suffragans now being in other provinces for political reasons). Both dioceses had their own chapters and so forth, if I remember what I read correctly.

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