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Grading Bishops

By Peter Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Feb 29, 2012

In a recent article I asked: "What are the measurables by which we should judge the ‘effectiveness’ of a bishop?" I received several answers from the staff and from readers (see below). I hope you will take time to absorb these interesting and varied reflections! Additional reader views are available in Sound Off at the foot of the original article.

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Phil Lawler, Director at

There's no simple way to measure a bishop's leadership. It's easy to develop an opinion about a bishop's teaching performance, but not so easy to find an objective standard. Still a few statistics would provide some clues. I would look for trends, upward or downward, in:

  • Mass attendance (as a %age of the local Catholic population),
  • Vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and
  • The ratio of baptisms to funerals

Chris Pelicano, Columnist at

"What are the measurables by which we should judge the “effectiveness" of a bishop?"

I offer no other contribution than that of an average Catholic in the pew who came of age in the Church since the late 70's. I am sorry to say that I have found Pope John Paul II more personally relevant and "present" than the half-dozen bishops in whose dioceses I have lived during my adult life.

"Measurables of the effectiveness of a bishop" is a hard thing to honestly determine. The criteria by which a bishop is measured will depend on the mission or commission the bishop is called to fulfill. So I will respond in two ways.

First, I refer to St. Paul's letters to Bishop Timothy, specifically 2 Timothy 4.

... I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.

The bishop's "job" clearly involves a complete commitment to proclaim the Gospel Truth—above all other competing priorities—with constancy and tenacity, persuasiveness, authority, courage, relevance and urgency—selflessly instructing in the face of opposition and apathy from within and without.

Second, I find it useful to substitute "father" for "bishop" in evaluating the "effectiveness" he has in his children's lives regarding their human, spiritual, moral, and intellectual formation—especially their eternal interests.

Clearly a father has to be present in order to be a relevant factor in his children's lives. A father has to communicate clear priorities—not issues, not programs, but truths. A father must exercise authority to approve, disapprove, admonish, bless, and command—without hesitation, apology, or ambiguity. A father must teach and challenge his children at every age level, raising them up and not “dumbing them down”. A father must lead by example, inspiring respect rather than popularity. A father must protect his children from danger, not running away but sacrificing his own security for theirs. A father must be resourceful in combating human weakness, his own and his children's, as a perennial obstacle to a life well-lived.

This is not an exhaustive or exact list of "measurables" for a father, but it is complete enough to demonstrate the gravity and nature of the "job." What the father does in all categories of the child's life the bishop does with regard to the spiritual life of the souls entrusted to him.

It might be illuminating to compare how a father examines his conscience within the duties of his state in life to how a bishop examines his. But that is another question...

David Leatherby, Jr., a Reader

  • Make sure that seminarians are formed according to the mind of the Church and only sent to seminaries where instructors teach in union the Magisterium, and study all recent magisterial documents.
  • Ensure that any and every person working for a diocese, or person in a position of leadership or authority throughout the diocese, (principal, teacher, catechist, parish administrator, etc.) is living a life of example according to the Church's moral teachings, are actively practicing their Catholic faith, are 100% in union with her teachings, and have taken the oath of fidelity. Remove those who are not.
  • Reform the clergy. Meet with every priest to ascertain where they stand relative to matters of faith and morals. Hold special retreats, seminars to put for true teachings. If priests are not willing to reconsider beliefs contrary to the Church's teachings, and if not possible to replace, reassign or retire, then bishop should "directly" reach out the faith via letters, bulletin announcements, etc., to make them aware of the truth and warn them against the falsehood.
  • Have all youth attending Catholic schools attend mass at least weekly, confession monthly, and hold additional hours for prayers, devotions, adoration, rosary regularly. In addition, require reading and paper each year on the life of a saint.

Victor Claveau, a Reader

The chief responsibility of a bishop is evangelization. By evangelization, I mean adding souls to the body of Christ. “The bishop, as servant of the Gospel, should be a beacon of light, leading people to Christ, who is the way, the truth and the life.” Growth should be the prime measure for success.

According to the most recent (2010), statistical data released by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), during the past ten years the Catholic Church in the U.S. has declined by 5,846 priests, 761 brothers, and 22,270 sisters. During this same period, 1,278 parishes were closed, and currently 18.93% of parishes are without a resident priest pastor. Additionally, the percentage of U.S. Catholics declined from 22% to 21%, which equates to approximately 800,000 souls. Alarmingly, only 22% of Catholics attend Mass one or more times per week. In addition, 30 million Americans now identify themselves as “former Catholics”. These losses, however, have been partly offset by the number of people who have changed their affiliation to Catholicism (2.6% of the adult population) but more importantly by the disproportionately high number of Catholics among immigrants to the U.S. The result is that the overall percentage of the population that identifies as Catholic has remained fairly stable. Growth is required; stability is an indictment against our Catholic leadership.

The purpose of the Church is to win souls for Christ. Yet, evangelization has simply not been a priority among the majority of bishops. The fact remains that bishops are stewards of souls, who will one day stand before the Master to give an accounting. Referring to those who aspire to be bishops, St. John Chrysostom wrote, “The loss of one soul carries with it a penalty which no language can represent. For if the salvation of that soul was of such value, that the Son of God became man, and suffered so much, think how sore a punishment must the losing of it bring!” (Homily III: Acts I. 12). There is no middle ground in this war. Rev. 3:15-16 states: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.”

There is no standing still in mid-stream: advance or decline is the law of nature and of life. We are seeing a blatant attack on all that Catholicism stands for, and those leading the attack know exactly what they are doing. Yet, most of our bishops and priests have not even entered the fray. Unless we strive to reverse this trend, the forces of secularism and irreligion will continue to lead us into the ever-widening abyss of paganism. Even the most faithful bishops in the U.S. have poor records when it comes to evangelization. It has been estimated that there are 100 million Americans do not have any religious affiliation. Potentially, these are lost souls.

69.89% of Roman Catholic dioceses in the U.S. have either declined or had zero growth over the past ten years. Why has the Vatican not taken to task American bishops who have categorically failed in their primary responsibility to evangelize? Where is the accountability on the part of the Holy See?

I would suggest that when bishops make their Ad Limina visits to the Holy See that they attend leadership training in order to acquaint them with their responsibilities as evangelists and to present them with concrete ideas and methods that will enable them to fulfill their primary responsibilities. As I see it, these responsibilities are three-fold, evangelization, orthodox catechesis, and providing the sacraments to the faithful – in that order of accountability. Bishops must understand that their primary responsibility is to save souls; everything else is secondary. They also need to understand that if they do not measure up within a stipulated period of time, they will be retired or asked to serve, once more, as a humble priest; certainly, not promoted.

Peter Mirus is a business, marketing and technology consultant who serves as a guiding member of the Trinity Communications Board of Directors. He has served as director of design and/or application development for many key Catholic projects since 1993, assisting such organizations as EWTN, the Knights of Columbus, and the March for Life. A specialist in non-profit organizations, he continues to work regularly on the design mission of
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  • Posted by: - Mar. 02, 2012 11:13 PM ET USA

    Excellent summmary by M. Claveau. The bishops should be SPEAKING, should be EVANGELIZING, but they have not "entered the fray" as he puts it. The bishops are under their desks and ambitious clerics see that the way to "get ahead" in the institutional Church is to avoid confrontation (i.e., don't speak about Humanae Vitae; love the gays). Were the bishops to use canon 915, for example, vis-a-vis the pro-abortion "Catholic" pols, the politics and the culture could be radically changed.