Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary
Catholic Culture Trusted Commentary

leaders again

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Mar 25, 2004

To expand on a point made earlier.

Catholics as well as non-Catholics informally refer to diocesan bishops in terms of leadership. We'll read that Francis George is the "spiritual leader of Chicago's Catholics," for example.

But this concept seems to be minimal, if it exists at all, in the traditional language of the Church. The bishop is to govern, but is he also to lead? I'm unaware of any theological or canonical tradition in which the bishop is called a dux.

Be that as it may, do we want a bishop to lead? To govern? Absolutely. To give good example? Yes. To be decisive in confronting the problems that threaten the Church in the public sphere? That too. It seems to me that often, when we commend a bishop for "providing leadership" or criticize him for failing to provide it, we're referring to one of the aforementioned activities. If it's simply a matter of words, then there's nothing to get excited about.

Yet it also seems that Catholics sometimes speak of bishops as "leaders" in the strict sense of those who exercise charismatic authority, who have a special gift of command over and above that which is accorded to them by virtue of their office, those who see The Way Forward so much more clearly than others that these others become their followers, and not merely their subjects. Archbishop (now Cardinal) Keith O'Brien of Edinburgh gave voice to this notion in a letter to his priests last year:

"As the late Cardinal Basil Hume once wrote: 'I believe that as a bishop, I have to try to lead people from where they are to where they never dreamed they might go.'"

Again, I can't see that the Church asks this quality of her bishops, but it's an open question as to whether it's desirable in and of itself. Comments welcome.

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