Catholic World News News Feature
First Things First March 01, 2004
You can scarcely imagine how delighted I was to hear that you had been appointed the Bishop of XXXXXXXXXXX. I was even further delighted—and flattered—when you asked for my thoughts on how you should begin your episcopal ministry. Taking to heart your insistence that I should "pull no punches," here are a few practical suggestions. I don't think you will have any difficulty in discerning the reasoning behind them.
THE CHANCERY STAFF
• Right now, send word that all chancery officials should have their resignations on your desk when you arrive. When you show up for your first day in the office, you can be cheerful and pleasant, but everyone in the building should understand clearly that they now work for you, and—most importantly—that the presumption is against their staying in place.
• Immediately after your installation—before, if possible—visit the most rigorous, traditional community of contemplative nuns in the diocese, and tell them that you need their prayers.
• Get rid of all paper-shredders in the chancery. Obtain a backup copy of everything on the computer network. Introduce yourself to the maintenance men and the cleaning crew.
• Within a week, assign your priest-secretary to parish duties. Hire a layman—preferably a married man with children—to replace him. Break up the clerical "spoils system" right away.
• Find an intelligent, faithful Catholic who has been a prominent figure in the community—perhaps a retired business executive or politician—whose opinions you trust, and who cannot possibly derive any personal profit from any of your decisions. Talk to him a little. Listen to him a lot.
• Hire an outside firm to do a thorough financial audit of the diocesan accounts. Find occasions to talk—behind closed doors—with the auditors who are doing the work. Ask them if they have found anything interesting, anything perplexing, anything out of the ordinary.
PASTORS AND PRIESTS
• At your first meeting with the priests of the diocese, let them know that you will have a zero-tolerance policy regarding liturgical abuse. Follow up energetically on this point. Buy a pair of sunglasses, visit parishes unannounced, and sit in the back of the church on Sunday to see what ordinary parishioners see. When you see or hear about serious liturgical abuse, call the priest into your office that day. If the abuse is serious, suspend him.
• Tell pastors that you will judge their work not by the condition of the parish plant, but by the signs of spiritual vigor. Point out that in a normal Catholic parish, the number of baptisms should exceed the number of funerals. If it does not—unless there is a large retirement home in the parish—instruct the pastor to preach about Humanae Vitae.
• Plan for a massive downsizing of the diocese: parish mergers, school closings, etc. You will probably have a short honeymoon period, during which you can make radical changes without precipitating an outright revolt. Mention the budget frequently; use the financial pressure as a way to rid yourself of the most destructive pastors, and the schools that are beyond hope of reform.
• Make a special effort to get acquainted with priests who are not well known around the chancery. Some may be lonely or troubled, and need your help. Others may be good, hard-working pastors, who are too busy to play the clerical games. There are your stalwarts.
• When you find one or two priests that you can trust implicitly, spend some long late evenings going over personnel files with them.
FRIENDS AND ENEMIES
• Set up meetings with victims of clerical abuse. Take notes. Take names.
• Meet with law-enforcement supervisors, and tell them that you don't want special treatment for priests. Tell them that if a priest is caught in a washroom, you'll visit him—in jail. Buy the district attorney a beer.
• Find a home-schooling couple, invite them to dinner, then wangle a return invitation to a barbeque at their house, with other home-schoolers. Question them closely about the priests and diocesan officials they know. Do the same with pro-lifers.
• Put the religious orders on notice. Think about throwing one of the smaller ones out of the diocese, just as a warning shot. Announce that in your chancery and in your presence, religious will wear their distinctive habit.
• You're bound to find two or three prosperous parishes that are bastions of dissidence, led by priests who are certainly charismatic and probably gay. If you instruct all your priests to read a rip-roaring pastoral letter on protecting family life, you will probably generate enough lay support to face down the rebellious pastors, even in the face of hostile media pressure. If the pastors won't cooperate, replace them with missionary priests from Nigeria (to mute the screams from liberals), and force the worst parishioners to go to the Episcopalians or the Paulists.
• Get yourself a Kevlar vest? I presume you have a gun.
With prayerful best wishes,