Monday, December 26, 2005

You can't be a priest without the bishop

"All I want to do is be a pastor in this beautiful church . . . and to imitate Jesus," he said a few minutes later in his homily. "I'm coming here to serve you every day and every night. I'm coming to be one of you and if one day you love me in return, my vocation and my life will be fulfilled."

So Father Marek Bozek was quoted as saying at Mass on Christmas Eve at St. Stanislaus Kostka church, in St. Louis. This is the Polish parish you've heard about, that is in a bitter fight with the bishop of St. Louis, Archbishop Raymond Burke.

Would that Father Bozek -- who has been suspended as a priest by his bishop in another diocese, whom he defied in going to St. Louis -- and, I presume excommunicated for his formal cooperation with schism in St. Louis -- might reflect on the teaching of St. Ignatius of Antioch, who wrote this to the Christian faithful in Smyrna:

You must all follow the lead of the bishop, as Jesus Christ followed that of the Father; follow the presbytery as you would the Apostles; reverence the deacons as you would God's commandment. Let no one do anything touching the Church, apart from the bishop. Let that celebration of the Eucharist be considered valid which is held under the bishop or anyone to whom he has committed it. Where the bishop appears, there let the people be, just as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not permitted without authorization from the bishop either to baptize or to hold an agape; but whatever he approves is also pleasing to God. Thus everything you do will be proof against danger and valid.

It is a theological truth of our Catholic faith, that a priest's priesthood finds completeness in the bishop.

When a priest forgets this, bad things happen.

There are those Catholics -- who assert they are "traditional" and "orthodox" and "faithful" -- who cannot keep unexpressed their dislike -- well, let's be honest, their contempt of their own, and other bishops. (I recall being at a meeting of such self-styled "faithful" who were warm and affirming toward priests, until the priests at their meeting declined to obey their demand that they publicly attack the Archbishop. At that point, they turned on the priests, calling them "cowards.")

They, too, I would refer to St. Ignatius of Antioch.


Anonymous said...

The correct ordering of the Church is, I concur, of profound importance. I am also pretty sick and tired of those who who exibit little or no obedience - or worse yet, feign obedience while doing the opposite - despite being entirely outside of the exceedingly rare edge-case of an act ordered by valid authority that goes against a well-formed conscience. Pray for me that I may never fall prey to this vice of self-will.

That said, we do have to acknowledge that there are, in fact, bad Bishops, and something must be done about them - fraternal correction in attempting to return them to the regular and universal magisterium by their brother bishops seems all too rare - if not nonexistant - these days.

Gregory Nianzian once remarked "You may boldly face a lion; a leopard is a gentle beast after all; a snake may frighten you and yet flee from you: there is just one animal to be dreaded—a bad bishop." Chrysostom also, if my memory serves, has some pointed things to say about bad Bishops leading to dissenting and disordered clergy.

Recognizing that humans are as they are, Canon law gives lay and priest the right - and in some instances the duty - to bitch and moan to their superiors in an appropriate way. (It's a little too bad this isn't formalized and ordered more than it is.) But it certainly does not give license to cause scandal or lead others to schism if one's pet peeve with the Church goes unaddressed. To do this goes beyond merely the failing of a human spirit, but rather requires the inspiration of the diabolical.

Fr Martin Fox said...


I wouldn't say, or want to be understood as saying, that a good Catholic can't find fault, publicly, with his bishop. As you say, there are appropriate ways to do that.

One appropriate way is to communicate directly with the bishop; another is to speak about him with utmost charity and generosity.

My mother taught me a principle, which comes from the other famous St. Ignatius (of Loyola), which I call the "rule of generosity": always impute to ones opponent the best possible motives and understanding of the facts" --"best possible" being within reason, of course.

Then, there is the question about whether ones criticism is certainly true: one is bound, before repeating something seriously derogatory, to be sure it's true! Otherwise, one is engaging in calumny, and to be reckless -- not to care too much about the truth of it -- is as sinful as to repeat what is false, it seems to me, since you don't care!

Finally, supposing one is satisfied it is true, then there is the question of necessity. How many know it is a sin to repeat what is true, when there is no need to do so? It's called "detraction."

When I read or hear the criticisms offered, I mentally apply these standards: St. Ignatius's "rule of generosity," the question of whether it is true, and then, is it necessary.

I think most of the criticism wouldn't pass these tests. Including most of the critical comments I offer about others.