At the end of the day….

Bishops are still in charge.

Appoint some FBI lady to make sure things are done according to Hoyle. She works for the bishops.

Select some review panel. They serve at the pleasure of the bishops.

Organize this or that reform movement. The bishops remain the head of the Church in their local dioceses.

Sponsor dialogues, conferences, task forces, committees, and commissions all you like.

At the end of the day, the bishop is still the final word in governance in his diocese.

It is this irreducible fact that I keep seeing people struggle with. The new FBI lady is appointed and everybody goes “Ah! Now things are gonna start happening.”

Then, the next day, it dawns on people: “Waitaminnit! She works for the bishops.”

Right. The bishop is the final word on governance in his diocese. This is the way Jesus set it up. You may not like that. Hell, I may not like it at the moment. But Jesus didn’t consult us.

This means people are going to have to get used to thinking in some non-American ways. They are going to have to disabuse themselves of the notion this arrangement is something the bishops cooked up to keep a monopoly on power. Bad bishops would acquit themselves well if they had the grace to tender resignations (even if they are refused, as they will apparently be). They would acquit themselves well to say “Send me a co-adjutor for I am a chucklehead.” But they would not acquit themselves well to say “Somebody else should be the final word on governance besides the bishop.” For their task is to hand down the Tradition as Jesus gave it to us through the apostles. And one rock bottom, irreducible, non-negotiable feature of the Tradition, whether the man in the office is a saint or a jerk, is that the bishop is the final word on governance in his diocese.

It’s important to remember that, because it’s so easy for us mortals to throw the baby out with the bath and talk as though the bishops are “clinging to power” by holding on to the fact that they are the final word when in reality they are just doing their job in preserving that annoying feature of the Tradition. There are lots of things they can change (like, f’rinstance, how well they uphold the rest of the Tradition). But the bishop’s final authority in governance is not one of them. So there’s not point being outraged that lay review panels and FBI ladies work for the bishop. It’s not like it could be any other way. The one who can operate independently of the bishop is Caesar. I’m all for letting Caesar do his job in cases of abusive clergy and criminal bishops. But it’s silly to hope that some parallel or superior ecclesial authority to the bishop will emerge within the Church. Ain’t gonna happen and *can’t* happen. Jesus set things up as they are.

There are, of course, other forms of authority in the Church than ecclesial ones. But that’s grist for another post.


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