Few people in these parts (in the Eastern part of the USA) know the name Robert F. Vasa except ecclesial-philes like myself, but that’s because he’s on the other side of the country. Never mind. Who could say with honesty that there’s a genuine concern for knowing ecclesial affairs viz. from a person who has little name recognition such as Robert Vasa. That is, until now, who, with some excellent, even controversial ideas, is sure to anger the round heads. Only now Vasa’s thinking is gaining some currency. But let’s give him his just due respect. Robert F. Vasa, 59, is the Bishop of Baker, OR, a priest of the Lincoln Diocese who delivered an extraordinarily good address titled, “Sacred Duties, Episcopal Ministry” on September 16, 2010 at the 2010 InsideCatholic Partnership Award Dinner in Washington, DC, that has not received the attention it deserves.
The Bishop is taking a critical look at the contemporary ministry of the bishop, at least in the USA, as we’ve seen it unfold with the existence of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
I DON’T like the USCCB and would prefer to see it close, or at least downsize significantly. I find USCCB officials intrusive, their work open to misinterpretation, the bishops not doing what they are supposed to do for “needy bishops” –to give fraternal constructive correction to bishops not doing or incapable of doing their episcopal ministry as expected– and I find the USCCB documents compromised or agenda driven. In addition, I find the tax paid on each “Catholic head” in the dioceses to be excessive and it’s a genuine burden on many dioceses, particularly the Eastern Church dioceses who don’t have access to large amounts of money. One last word on the bishops’ documents: they are often not written by the bishops themselves (who would have the time?) but are produced by the staffers of the USCCB or outsiders and are vague and lack substance that would clearly address the issues at hand; when the documents are “committee documents” they are often ground for the lefty-loonies to manipulate for their own ends.
There are few instances where I think a conference of bishops in the USA is useful but not absolutely necessary. The usefulness of a conference of bishops would be seen in knowing the needs of the Church in North America, in the work done in the fields of the sacred Liturgy, certain questions on immigration, healthcare and pro-life and certain relief agencies like CRS. The translation of texts is labor intensive and it needs wider episcopal oversight and input that 10 bishops can give. BUT let’s be clear, the USCCB is not an alternative teaching body for the Church in America; it has no authority to teach or make laws over and above the Universal Church or the individual diocesan bishop; it does not speak for the Church’s bishops. Diocesan bishops can’t absolve themselves of the duty to rightly to teach, govern and sanctify the people entrusted to them personally by the Holy Spirit and for the Church in general. Episcopal ministry is exercised not with strategies and programs but by listening, praying and teaching when needed.
Some people who are USCCB favorable will be dramatic by saying, “The USCCB said and demands thus and such….” AND the response you should give is, “SO what.”
Read, study and pray with Bishop Vasa’s address noted above. You may want to say a prayer for him, too. He’ll likely get hate mail for his attempt to teach what is true. In my mind this address is necessary reading for informed Catholics. The point here is not be disrespectful of the sacred duties and responsibilities of bishops. My point here is to live, to act and to think with the Church under the Roman Pontiff and the bishops in communion with him. As Catholics we are to be total and radically centered on the person of Jesus Christ lived in the sacrament of the Church and under her magisterium. I follow Christ through the ministry of the Pope, the bishop of this diocese but not in a bureaucracy of bishops.