Desperately Seeking Bishops

Desperately Seeking Bishops

[lead dropcap="yes"]It’s no surprise we have a crisis in leadership in the Catholic Church. Apart from the Scandal that took off in the public consciousness in 2002, the past few months have re-emphasized for us that we lack effective leadership at all levels of the Church, from top to bottom. Wherever you look are men who are often, at best, personally faithful but lacking in other necessary skills.[/lead]

If we were to start fresh today, what would we need in a Catholic bishop? If we were to look at our seminaries, what should we cultivate in the our future priests and bishops?

First and foremost, they should be faith-filled and holy with a zeal for Christ. That should be a given and really ought to be the minimum we expect from our priests. And in their holiness and zeal, they would strive to follow Christ in the Church’s laws, doctrines, and disciplines.

Second, our bishops need to be leaders, not managers. We need men who will have the ability to lead their priests and laity, to energize them, to marshal them, to impassion them. We don’t need managers, fundraisers, or bureaucrats. We don’t need glad-handers or movers and shakers. We need men who are charismatic and impassioned, who have backbone, and who have clear vision and focus on a singular mission and priority: the salvation of souls. Everything else must serve that goal.

Third, they should be humble. Yes, we have lots of humble priests and bishops, scads of them, but humility can just be, “Aw shucks, go on.” It has to mean a dying to self, a lack of desire to be counted among the honored and notable, an ability to absorb the praise of others and slough off the criticism when he’s doing the right thing.

I know lots of great priests who are and would be great pastors, but few men who would be great bishops. Sorry, fathers, but it’s true. They are different skill sets. Too often the Church falls prey to Michael Scott syndrome. Michael Scott was the manager in the sitcom The Office, who was such a great salesman that he was promoted to management where he was a terrible manager. Anyone who’s worked for more than a few years has seen it: Promote the competent until they’re incompetent. The Church can’t afford that.

Where are such men found? The primary source of such leadership in America right now is, frankly, the US military. A priest who served as a commissioned or non-commissioned officer in the military before seminary most likely had the kind of training and formation in leadership. (Sorry, but I don’t mean a chaplain who did not serve as a line officer first; there may be men who are bishop material there, but it’s not the same thing.)

There are a few such men in corporate jobs, among entrepreneurial leaders, although I wonder if it’s even rarer for them to enter the priesthood than for military officers.

But I don’t mean to limit the pool to those groups. Leaders can be found in many places. The raw material for leadership exists in many young men. But if we want bishops who are leaders in the future, we have to start making them.

Too often seminary now is a place where guys put their heads down to get through. That’s not you make leaders. We want men who stand tall, who stand at the front, who say, “Follow me to the very gates of hell to beat back the horde and save the lost,” and by their example compel us to follow. Where are those men?

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