Fr Michael Sharkey delves into the depths of ecclesial demolition, remonstrating with the all-too-prevalent bishop bashers.
BISHOP-bashing, whether by an occasional lapse of the tongue, as a fairly regular hobby, or as a fully blown profession, is wounding the Church. Those who indulge in it are making sport of the sacramental structure of the Mystical Body of Christ.
Of course, bishops are not beyond criticism, but such criticism can only be legitimately expressed when it is conducted in the light of certain superintending principles, not the least of which is charity.
When we carp about their preaching, or nag them for their administration, or complain about their utterances, or goad them for their silences, we are in fact talking about persons appointed by God. They are ordained to fill positions intended in the very design of the Church by the Lord himself when he founded it on the Apostles.
Forget personalities: when you touch on the episcopate, you are touching on the human appearance of what is in reality a divine structure.
Bishops do not appoint themselves. The powers they exercise are not drawn from their own resources. Those who would pillory them in gossip would do well to remember that St Peter smelt of fish, that St Matthew smelt of money, that St James and St John had bad tempers, and that St Paul dictated his epistles with such rapidity and intellectual verve that they are sometimes difficult to follow.
It is true that St Paul once defied St Peter to his face, but that hardly justifies all the abuse that bishops are subjected to.
The fault lies in Marxism, in democracy and in a misguided loyalty to the Pope. The marxist notion of the class struggle has penetrated the Church in some countries, with the result that bishops are attacked because they hold power in a structure in which the laity are seen as the proletariat.
Any priest, religious brother or sister or lay person who comes to the aid of the bishop is also attacked as bourgeois or counter-revolutionary. The language employed is more churchey than that, but these are the underlying concepts that are so divisive.
In democratic countries we elect our leaders at frequent intervals; thus permitting us to get rid of those who have disappointed us or with whom we no longer agree. This influences Church behaviour too. Some people treat bishops as though they were elected politicians. When we tire of their style of representation we act as though we can boot them out, or at least disregard them.
The third source of bishopbashing is found in a misguided, mistaken loyalty that professes
fidelity to the Pope and would set him against his fellow bishops, especially those bishops who are most criticised.
This style of criticism in the Church is a forgery of authentic Catholic loyalty. It is probably born of the tensions and frustrations of these years of rapid change and challenge, but attempting to set the Pope and the other bishops at odds with one another is an offence against the unity of the Church.
In a marriage there are many trials and clashes of opinion, but they have to be met in a way that leads to mutual acceptance and resolution, not divorce. So too in the Church we must pursue the issues that arise in a way that builds up unity, not destroys it.
We cannot profess loyalty to the Pope and then ignore his teaching. Not since St Ignatius of Antioch or St. Cyprian of Carthage has anyone attempted as much to build up the unity and fellowship of the bishops as John Paul H.
Each bishop needs our loyalty, our co-operation and our prayers. The bishops most pecked at, harassed and ecclesially mugged by those who ought to know better probably feel this more than others, but it should belong to all. A halt must be called to ecclesiastical terrorism of the tongue (a repeat of what St Paul had to resolve in Corinth) and respect shown to God's ordinances.
The bishops are responsible for the Good News in our day. "Blessed are the feet of one who brings good news." Blessed, not necessarily pretty. If bishops today have more corns than they deserve, it is probably because their toes are more frequently trodden on.