Wicen I was an Anglican, it was axiomatthat there were "good" bishops — i.e. those who agreed with us and "bad" bishops — those who didn't. It was the strongest indication
that the Church of England was not a branch of the Catholic Church. Sadly, it is an attitude that has now been elevated into a principle with the appointment of "flying" bishops to minister to eclectic groups of traditionalists, out of communion with the rest.
This ill befits those who make much of their adherence to Catholic faith and order. In a schismatic denomination it is inevitable but in the Church it is unacceptable, That's why I wanted to add to the title of an excellent article in last week's Catholic Herald, "Why we should treat our priests as the heroes they are". My three additional words would be ... "and our bishops".
Our is an age in which authority is denied by almost all. Parents, school-teachers, and politicians seem to make a virtue of their permissiveness.
Yet, the office of bishop — the successor of the Apostles — demands that he speak up for the truth with authority.
The world cannot grasp the concept of the leadership of the ordained and the obedience of the faithful. But, for Catholics, the bishop is the centre of unity and the fount of authority in the local Church.
Pretty obvious, really, and absolutely essential
when you've experienced the chaos and in-fighting that is Anglicanism. There is a secular parallel. In more civilised days there used to be a convention in the Tory party that MPs never criticised judges for their individual judgements.
It was felt that we could not know the full details of the case or what had brought the judge to that opinion. We believed his office was too important to undermine and there were, in any case, mechanisms for guidance and review of judgements by those in higher office.
All that did not imply servility but respect for the one chosen and the office to which he had been elevated.
In the Catholic Church, that has been and is the attitude of mind instilled by our understanding of the reality of the apostolic succession. Orthodoxy demands that, although bishops are not always right in their judgements, we must accept and defend their decisions front respect for their office, knowing that our understanding of the details of the case will be partial, and because the Church has appointed others to guard the integrity of the faith.
Yet, today, in the name of orthodoxy, there is a kind of Catholic who hastens to criticise any bishop whom they feel is not, to use Mrs Thatcher's phrase, "one of us". They apply their own private judgement of what the Church teaches and find our appointed shepherds wanting iii rigour.
In fact, these selfappointed guardians of the faith are well down the path of schism. To be more Catholic than the bishop is to begin not to he Catholic at all
That's why this convert will continue to uphold our bishops for the heroes that they are.
They have to fulfil the demands of' their office not only in the face of the challenge of an unbelieving world but also under a hail of not very friendly fire.