Yesterday (27 Feb 2014), the Holy Father met with the Congregation for Bishops for a what think sets a significant direction how the Church receives new bishops and how existing bishops live their vocation. One aspect the Pope’s talk addressed was the presence of a bishop in the diocese to which he is married. Far too often bishops find themselves doing much-too-much traveling for committee work in other places. The Holy Father said,
The Second Vatican Council states that to the Bishops “is fully entrusted the pastoral office, that is the habitual and daily care of their flock” (Lumen Gentium, 27). We must dwell more on these two descriptions of the care of the flock: habitual and daily. In our time assiduity and habituality are often associated with daily routine and boredom. So often we try to escape to a permanent “elsewhere.” This is a temptation for Shepherds, for all pastors! The spiritual fathers must explain it well, so that we understand it and will not fall. Even in the Church, unfortunately, we are not exempt from this risk. Therefore, it is important to reiterate that the mission of the Bishop requires habituality and daily dedication. I think that in this age of meetings and conferences the decree of the Council of Trent on residency is so up-to-date: it is so up-to-date and it would be nice if the Congregation for Bishops wrote something about this. The flock need to find space in the heart of the Shepherd. If he is not firmly anchored within himself, in Christ and in his Church, he will be constantly buffeted by the waves in search of ephemeral compensation and will not offer any shelter to the flock.
Address to the Congregation for Bishops, excerpt
February 27, 2014
Several things Pope Francis said in his address to the Congregation for Bishops bears knowing and reflecting upon for the laity as well as the clergy. For the record the Pope speaks from personal experience as a former auxiliary and residential bishop. He knows the first hand the tensions of serving the greater Church and the one he’s been ordained to serve.
His Holiness is drawing our attention back to the Council of Trent which required a diocesan bishop to spend 11 of the 12 months a year in their diocese. While the Pope is right he is also helping some diocesan bishops to spend lots of time in Rome—namely the Council of Cardinals are a good example of spending lots of time away from their habitual and daily duties. Another great example of bishops wasting time is the ungodly amount of time is the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. The USCCB is generally speaking, too expensive to justify and it is an organization that basically is a bureaucracy: endless committee meetings which distract too many bishops from doing what they’ve been called to do in their dioceses. The work of a bishop teaching, sanctify and pastoring souls requires their concrete presence. They ought to stay home. But there are times being outside the diocese is a good thing for a greater good yet knowing when and for what is key. For example, it would be a shame if Cardinal George did not teach in various places. Recently, however, the local ordinary was not present for the annual Pro Life Mass because he was attending to a committee meeting. Too often the faithful have to suffer with communication for the vice chancellor versus having direct communication from the bishop. We do not want third ad fourth tier leaders, we expect the first tier because that is what Christ expects, and what Mother Church demands.
One line that sticks out in my mind: “The flock need to find space in the heart of the Shepherd.” I hope the bishops keep this their mind, too. Thus far, it is hard to see that really happening soon.