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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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  • Posted by: John J Plick - Mar. 27, 2004 7:41 PM ET USA

    Well said, minidoc! I never really fully grasped your comment until just now. And nobody wants THAT nightmare!

  • Posted by: - Mar. 25, 2004 10:11 PM ET USA

    This was the same Archbishop (now Cardinal) that had to give a formal declaration of fidelity to Catholic teaching and practice on the ordination of homosexuals, married men and the like, before he received his Cardinal's hat!

  • Posted by: - Mar. 25, 2004 3:31 PM ET USA

    "'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.'" This is very telling. But there are two directions that we may go and two ultimate destinations. What if I didn't want to go with the 66 English bishops, abbots, etc. that signed the document repudiating the authority of the Pope in the days of Henry VIII? Sometimes apparent disobedience is the more obedient course.

  • Posted by: extremeCatholic - Mar. 25, 2004 2:16 PM ET USA

    The quotation is telling: the emphasis is on the identity of the leader (i.e. the bishop) and left unmentioned is the destination. To continue the Latin references, the bishop's office is not "patria potestas" but "examplum sanctissimis".

  • Posted by: Fr. William - Mar. 25, 2004 1:21 PM ET USA

    Indeed, Diogenes, the Church calls bishops to govern, teach & sanctify... & their priests are their "arms," called to govern, teach & sanctify in parishes to which the bishop appoints them, in his name... The ritual for ordaining a bishop states clearly that he is given the fullness of the Spirit of Governance; no mention of leading us into dreams of sugarplumbs or cottoncandy... No need for dreaming, period, for Jesus has clearly shown us the Way, in His Church, His Word and His Sacraments.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 25, 2004 10:09 AM ET USA

    Who converted the barbarian tribes to Christianity when Rome fell? Was the dramatic encounter on the horse with Augustine merely the stuff of legend? As Rome was being sacked, would anyone but a leader have written the City of God? Martyr means Witness. Leadership is public witness to the cardinal virtue of Fortitude and the theological virtue of Faith. I pray, daily, that we see more leadership. This world is passing away. We need bishops who are leaders.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 25, 2004 9:48 AM ET USA

    "from where they are to where they never dreamed they might go" is a George Bernard Shaw paraphrase, used by the Kennedys here. George was an avowed atheist. We can do better than that.