Re-understanding the Concept of Bishop (Church Restoration Series VI) By Fr. Anand Muttungal


In the present day a "Catholic diocesan bishop" is entrusted with the care of a local Church (diocese). He is responsible for teaching, governing, and sanctifying the faithful of his diocese. He functions as legislator, administers and acts as a judge for canon-law matters within his diocese. He serves as the "chief shepherd" (spiritual leader) of the diocese and has responsibility for the pastoral care of all Catholics living within his ecclesiastical and ritual jurisdiction.
The Church history tells that although some local churches had pastoral leaders who were called bishops (Acts 20:17-35, especially verse 28), ‘it remains unclear whether these “bishops” were actually appointed or ordained by the apostle Paul or by any other apostle. They were not bishops in the present-day meaning of the word. They were missionaries and founders of local churches. There is no evidence that any of the apostles took up permanent residence in a particular church, or diocese, as its bishop.’
However, the nature of selection of Bishops in Catholic Church has become complicated and non-transparent. Process is seen to be influenced by outgoing bishop, neighbouring bishops, the faithful for namesake, the apostolic nuncio, various members of the Roman Curia, and the Pope, all have a role in the selection. The Canon 378(1) requires that a candidate for the episcopacy should be: 1.outstanding in solid faith, good morals, piety, zeal for souls, wisdom, prudence, and human virtues, and endowed with other qualities which make him suitable to fulfil the office in question; 2.of good reputation; least thirty-five years old; 4.ordained to the presbyterate for at least five years; possession of a doctorate or at least a licentiate in sacred scripture, theology, or canon law from an institute of higher studies approved by the Apostolic See, or at least truly expert in the same disciplines. The last clause is very confusing but it is for sure that to ascertain a person’s expertism there has to be a body that declares person expert in a subject through a process. As I interviewed a few such unqualified bishops it is sure that they have been just made Bishops without following any such procedure.
Whenever an appointment of a bishop is made in a place where; there are religious priests working, the mantle of Bishop automatically goes to the religious clergy. Despite not having ecclesiastical qualification including working experience in a parish or command over the local language. There are many bishops in the missions who do not have command over the local language. The canon law says the prime duty of a Bishop is teaching of faith so they are wrong choices considering the first duty as a Bishop. If we ask about the selection of the candidate for the Bishop, it is said that there were no suitable person from the diocesan clergy, (diocesan priests working in the diocese). And if we ask such bishops how they accepted to be the bishops, they say that they obeyed the authority. Does it not surprise us that how they have thrown their personal responsibility upon holy concept of obedience.
As we have discussed earlier that a person belonging to the religious order is trained to expand his own organization according to the charism. He is programmed for that particular work where as the diocesan clergy is working for the local church. It is always said that when one is made Bishop from the religious order they leave everything and joins the diocese to which they are assigned. This claim need to be questioned because even though they are on deputation to a particular diocese as Bishop they continue to write the suffix or the tale to show which religious order they belong to. If they are sacrificing and renouncing everything then why not abandon the title of their congregation till they are bishop to that particular diocese.
The concept and function of the bishop is being reduced to a person inaugurating programmes, chief guest for events in schools and institutions, main celebrants in some festal celebrations, presiding over a few meetings and busy with transfers of a few diocesan priests once in a year. The Church which is searching ways to revive faith in people will have to instil in Bishops the spirits of pastoral mind, evangelization, simplicity of life and above all teaching people the faith. It means persons with mission spirit and pastoral experience will have to be made Bishops because the Catholic Church teaches that he is first and foremost ‘the evangelizer, a representative of Christ, commissioned to bear witness to him, to speak in his name, and to preserve all that has been handed down by means of the apostolic body’. (To be continued)

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