Rambling on Bishops

St. Ignatius of Antioch’s voice from the first century reminds us that “Everyone the Master of the house sends on His business, we ought to receive as the One who sent him.  It is clear, then, that we should regard the bishop as the Lord Himself.”

That said, bishops fall into roughly three categories:

A) Saint. Blessed Oscar Romero comes to mind for modern day bishops who gave their all. In earlier ages of the Church these bishops were not rare.

B) The bishop in the middle. These 99% of bishops follow closely the maxim, “Primum non nocere,” that is “First do no harm.”

C) Bad Boy Bishops. Fortunately these are rare, but when you have to deal with one, you’d wish you’d had lunch with Jeffrey Dahmer.

As a canon lawyer, there is really only one kind of bishop, besides your own, that leaves a scar on your soul–the bad boy.  Most bishops look at canonists like fire extinguishers, nice to have but you hope never to use it.  Saints don’t need canon lawyers since they are fireproof. Bishops in the middle have little use of a canonist unless a civil attorney is already involved.  Whenever the expert in Church law is called upon to interact with the episcopal order cleric who is in deep doo-doo, he or she quickly finds that it is not usually a matter of law, but a matter of a) stupidity; b) ego; c) crime; d) psychoses; or e) all of the above.

A continuing issue with BBBs (Bad Boy Bishops) is that ALL other bishops believe with a certainty surpassed only by their belief in the Eucharist, that NO bishop could be bad; disagreeable perhaps, maybe lacking sound judgment, even occasionally abusive, but never bad.  The canon lawyer tasked with advocating before/for/against/with a BBB will quickly be drowned by the waters of collegiality. “Known him for years as a brother bishop; he couldn’t possibly have done that!”  The only defense the lowly canonist has, whether he be presbyter, deacon, or God forbid, laity is the appeal.  The wrath of a bishop going through a canonical process is like herpes; it always comes back.

As our Good Lord would have it, recent Holy Fathers, saints in my book, have seen the problem and are attempting to address it.  Mostly gone are the days when the canonist stood between the felonious priest and righteously wrathful Ordinary; “I’m sorry Your Excellency, you can’t handle Father’s case, it has to go directly to Rome.”  The Holy See is far more responsive now to complaints about BBBs and sends competent people to investigate (yes, Pope Francis slipped up recently but has made amends; we all fall short of the Glory of God).

At the end of the day, bishops are human like all of us and prone to sin due to original sin.  Just don’t mention this out loud within a bishop’s hearing, they can be touchy about the “human” thing.

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