Since Bishop Vasa was first installed as a Bishop I have been following him with interest via his Diocesan articles and other speeches. He is certainly a bishop I greatly admire for both what he says and what he does.
Recently Bishop Vasa delivered a speech at the 2010 InsideCatholic Partnership Award Dinner on September 16 titled “Sacred Duties, Episcopal Ministry.” In it he discuses the role of the bishop’s conference and the role of the bishop. I could hardly agree more with what he has to say.
There is a joke that you never see any statues commemorating committees and really and the same problems plaque the USSCB. Committees hate strong statements and USCCB documents often fail to do the same. I loved the balance of the Bishop’s article in how he praised the good of what a bishop’s conference can do, but that it is no replacement for the bishop’s unique role towards his flock. I certainly believe Bishop’s conferences have a role to play, but too often they become an excuse for a bishop not to act. The documents coming out of the USCCB in recent years have certainly improved and become more doctrinally sound, but really what percentage of the laity actually read them besides bloggers and other interested parties? Plus the fact that the documents carry no actual weight in them besides the magisterial weight of any doctrines discussed.
Some bishops perhaps lean more strongly by temperament to reproving and correcting, while others favor the kinder, gentler approach of appealing. In my view, appealing has its place, but when constant appeal produces absolutely no movement toward self-correction, reform or conversion, then reproving and correcting, become necessary. At some point, there needs to be a bold resistance to the powers of the world in defense of the flock. The fear of offending one contemptuously dissident member of the flock often redounds to a failure to defend the flock. It can redound to a failure to teach the truth. In Saint Gregory’s words: “They hesitate to say openly what is right because they fear losing the favor of men but the men and women whose favor may be in jeopardy are often not nearly as favorable as they imagine.”
Unfortunately, the desire to rely almost exclusively on appeal may be indicative of a fear of reproach. This is not new. I mentioned above Saint Gregory’s acknowledgment of this reality. He chastised those who were afraid to reproach men for their faults, and thereby lulled the evildoer with an empty promise of safety. Not only the evildoer but all the members of the flock who see the evildoers carry on with impunity begin to doubt and question their own moral assessments. I hear from many laity that their perception of a lack of courage on the part of episcopal leaders redounds to a discouragement of the faithful.
Fortunately, courage is contagious. Those of you congregated here have undoubtedly been encouraged, literally made more courageous, as a result of Archbishop Raymond Burke’s courage. You have undoubtedly admired Bishop Joseph Martino and Bishop Thomas Tobin for their courage in confronting dissident groups in their dioceses. You are allowed to stand a bit taller as you see Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix boldly confront medical moral evils. You know well, appreciate, and are emboldened by the courage of a Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, who unflinchingly speaks an often unpopular truth. These men all encourage you, and they encourage me as well. I am humbled to think that some of you might even be encouraged by me.
What he says is exactly right. It seems to me that there are many bishops who are quite orthodox in their faith and yet when it comes to providing leadership on a issue seem to shy away, especially if it might be interpreted in a political partisan light. You have gone off the track when the care of souls can be trumped about worries about how your act is interpreted. Though of course our bishops need to be held up in our prayers as Moses’ hands were held up.
Bishop Vasa also goes on to write about the difficulties involved in speaking out both perceived and actual and speaking out certainly requires prudence to bring about a desired outcome. I am quite glad I am not a bishop and can certainly understand those priests who did not want to get elevated to the episcopacy since they understood the heavy weight of the bishopric concerning the spiritual welfare of their flock.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine issued a censure of a book co-authored by two Creighton University theologians, calling it “a radical departure from the Catholic theological tradition”, “harmful to one’s moral and spiritual life” and asserting that it “proposes ways of living a Christian life that do not accord with the teaching of the Church and Christian tradition.”