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By Diogenes (articles ) | Apr 22, 2007

The photo above shows Rochester Bishop Matt Clark doing a Lenten dorm liturgy with the U of Rochester chaplain. Several blogs have already commented on the liberty Clark awarded himself respecting the rubrics -- see Rich Leonardi and Fr. Erik Richtsteig -- but my own thoughts were sidetracked onto another subject: what are bishops for?

Let's do a thought experiment by going back in time.

Suppose you were an ordinary lay Catholic in the year 1107 anywhere in Christendom: Castile or Flanders or Liguria or Kent -- Rochester, say. There is no such thing as a printed book, and precious few hand-copied ones are available. Were a controverted doctrinal issue to arise, how would you know what the mind of the Church was concerning it? Well, there was your parish priest, and your bishop. Most folks simply had no other access. That meant the reliable transmission of the mind of the Church on the part of parish priests, and even more especially of bishops, was indispensable.

Switch back to the present. You're an ordinary Catholic in Rochester, New York. A controverted doctrinal issue arises and you want to know what the mind of the Church is. What do you do?

Well, if you don't own a computer, you write off to EWTN or the Daughters of St. Paul asking them where you can get an encyclical or another Roman document that treats of the matter. If you do own a computer, you go on-line to the Vatican web-site and bounce around until you've found your answer. What you don't you -- what you didn't even think of doing -- is to ask your bishop. Because he's hard to reach? On the contrary. You don't bother asking because, if your bishop has any opinion whatever on the matter, that opinion will emerge from a froth of sentimentalism itself derived at second-hand from television shows, pop-music lyrics, and movies. In a way unimaginable to a 12th century Christian, he is first-and-foremost an Entertained Man, and the meaning of his own life, his stance towards the Big Questions, is a secondary shadow projected onto his imagination by the tens of thousands of hours he has devoted to his own diversion. The Church, as Church, doesn't interest him.

In this respect the Bishop of Rochester is hardly unique; in fact, he's typical of the anglophone ecclesiastics of his generation. But the point is this: while today's bishop has the same indispensable place in the ecclesiology of doctrine that his twelfth (or first) century counterpart had -- that is, as a successor of the apostles -- his role as a real-world conduit of that doctrine has vanished. A world in which almost no one had access to the mind of the Church independently of his bishop has become a world in which almost everyone has that access. Sure, Bishops Burke and Finn and Bruskewitz will give us the right stuff, but so can thousands of other Catholics. We rejoice when we find a bishop who's both interested in Church teaching and holds the right opinions about it, but we no more depend on bishops as a class than we depend on cabbies or aerobics instructors for conveying the vera doctrina.

For all that, bishops are still bishops. "The individual bishops are the visible source and foundation of unity in their own particular Churches," reads Lumen Gentium (see also the Catechism at 886). This is true effectively, even in Rochester, on those occasions when the Holy See puts a pistol to the bishop's head and forces him to give voice to the Catholic teaching. It is also true by imputation, in that whatever thoughts Bishop Clark may actually have on perichoresis or stem cells or women's ordination are irrelevant; because he's a bishop, Catholics attribute to him a bishop's position, which by definition is the mind of the Church. That means we dig around and find the mind of the Church on the Internet (or at the Daughters of St. Paul), and mentally "paint" it onto his episcopal person. That keeps Lumen Gentium intact. That keeps us Catholics.

When we see Bishop Clark squatting behind the coffee-table in his 1974 who-shot-the-couch polyester stole (the chaplaincy calls it an Insta-Mass -- Rochester is Kodak country, remember) it's difficult to see him as the visible source and foundation of unity in his Church. But just as Clark's contempt for the Roman Rite doesn't alter our own obligations in respect to it, his dignity as a source of unity is accorded to him -- somewhat like a hereditary nobleman's title -- by others, i.e., by those of us who accept the whole of the doctrine of the institution that awarded him the dignity. What are bishops for? Don't ask a bishop, ask a Catholic.

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  • Posted by: - Apr. 24, 2007 8:38 PM ET USA

    I asked the Canadian Bishop, "Do you tell your people that contraception is sinful?" "Oh, no", he replied. "If I did, they would all leave !". I rejoined, "But, your Grace, what is a Bishop if not a Truthsayer?" He sputtered and another person intervened, to his relief.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 23, 2007 10:29 PM ET USA

    "This is not Catholic. We must go elsewhere." Where? "Simon Peter answered him, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." (John 6:68) In other ages of great corruption "elsewhere" was anyone from the Calvinists to the Albigensians. Why should we expect this age's schismatics to have a better claim to the truth? We must cling in prayer, fathfulness and humility to Christ's promise: "The gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (Matthew 16:18)

  • Posted by: - Apr. 23, 2007 3:59 PM ET USA

    Firstly, let's give the kids the benefit of the doubt. Insta-Mass may be all they can get at school. There are any number of priests studying at universities taking a masters in something who will not offer Mass at school - or even help out in local parishes. It can be tough finding any Mass on or near a college campus. Our hope should be they continue in their Faith, a gift of the Holy Spirit, not any bishop or priest. Hopefully, the Church will look back on the last 50 years as an anomoly.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 23, 2007 2:20 PM ET USA

    We need the Pope to appoint good orthodox priests as bishops. Then the bishops have to exercise real authority and demand the priests in their diocese to teach real Catolicism. A lot of Lay people are lost due to the lack of teaching from our bishops.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 23, 2007 8:50 AM ET USA

    “Don't ask a bishop, ask a Catholic.” Are you saying bishops are no longer Catholic? And that one should avoid a bishop if he celebrates an “Insta-Mass”? But that’s DISOBEDIENT!!!!! Yes, this all goes much deeper than mere liturgical abuse. But the average Catholic in jeans is “obeying” these wolves right over the cliff into hell. Clark lets renegade apostate priests like Charles Curran remain in “good standing” while destroying souls. You’re right.This is not Catholic. We must go elsewhere.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 23, 2007 1:41 AM ET USA

    Some (cardinal arch)bishops are personally fluent in the language of proper catechesis - they know sound doctine and proclaim it - but do little to support those priests in their care and charge who likewise know and proclaim sound doctrine in the face of ridicule, opposition, and even treachery from the proponents of the gnostic "winged spirit" of Vatican II. In other words, some (cardinal arch) bishops don't know who their real allies are - or else they seem ashamed to support them.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 23, 2007 1:21 AM ET USA

    Sacramentum Caritatis: "I would ask that every effort be made to ensure that the liturgies which the Bishop celebrates in his Cathedral are carried out with complete respect for the ars celebrandi, so that they can be considered an example for the entire Diocese." So much for the Pope's opinion counting for anything. I guess he wasn't in his cathedral for this mass but it probably wouldn't be much different being that he "rennovated" the soul out of it.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 22, 2007 11:18 PM ET USA

    Why, it's DaVinci's painting of the Last Supper. That mean Peter shoved Mary Magdelene aside and sat next to Jesus himself!

  • Posted by: - Apr. 22, 2007 8:12 PM ET USA

    Amen to "Lisieux" here below!

  • Posted by: - Apr. 22, 2007 6:45 PM ET USA

    We need many good bishops -- not clones of bishop Matt Clark et al. As I understand it, a priest is "black-balled," if any bishop in a Conference (e.g., USCCB) objects. I would be interested to know whether this is correct. Again, I'd love to see Fr. Fessio become the bishop in which EWTN is located.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 22, 2007 5:24 PM ET USA

    Having suffered such stupidity when I was in college, I am tired of any cleric who sees himself as the almighty creator of what is true liturgy. Is it so hard to just follow the RED WORDS and read the BLACK WORDS? If only this failure had the humility to recognise how he has harmed his diocese throughout these years...Fulton J. Sheen, pray for your former diocese!

  • Posted by: - Apr. 22, 2007 4:18 PM ET USA

    The quality of the photography is actually quite good, though I would increase the saturation on the coffee-table-cloth to match the good Bishop's stole.

  • Posted by: - Apr. 22, 2007 2:54 PM ET USA

    I notice in reviewing the picture a definate lack of 'active participation' by the 'congregation'. They might be looking over the bishop's vacation pictures from 1998 for all the interest noted on the faces. Actually, it looks more like some sort of group therapy than Holy Mass. "Hello, I'm Matt, I'll be leading your group today."

  • Posted by: - Apr. 22, 2007 1:46 PM ET USA

    Another keeper. I'd love to have some of Diogenes' reflections in book form...though whether it would get an Imprimatur is somewhat doubtful.