Monday, November 21, 2005

Pope Benedict's view of bishops

In September of this year, we reviewed a portion of Part II of Michael S. Rose's two part series on "The Man Who Was Ratzinger" in the New Oxford Review (September 2005) -- the part concerned with Pope Benedict's view of Church bureaucracy (see "Pope Benedict and Church Bureaucracy," Musings of a Pertinacious Papist, September, 2005). Rose is always provocative, even if he's not always completely an even-keeled writer. But I found myself re-reading the afore-mentioned article recently, and found it better than I had remembered -- not only provocative, but quite solid -- and thought it worth exerpting that portion of it on Pope Benedict's view of bishops for the reading pleasure and analysis of my readers:
Although Ratzinger believes in shedding the layers of bureaucracy, he is keenly aware that the Supreme Pontiff has the tri-fold mandate to teach, to sanctify, and to rule in the name of Christ. His predecessor took the first two mandates to heart: John Paul taught and he sanctified; but by his own admission he failed, at least in some respects, in his obligation to rule. His passion for travel and dialogue sometimes meant a certain neglect of internal administration of the Church.

Pope Benedict has different ideas and different strengths. He is much less likely to be away from the Vatican and the central afrairst of the Church than his predecessor. Consequently, he will likely take closer control of the internal workings of the Vatican.

Perhaps the most important aspect of this papal obligation is the nomination of bishops and the appointment of cardinals who fucntion as the Pope's closest advosors. John paul's appointments were not nearly as bad as those of Pope Paul VI. The Montini papacy revolutionized the hierarchy through the elevation of out-and-out renegades to the episcopacy -- e.g., Seattle's Raymond Hunthausen, Milwaukee's Rembert Weakland, Detroit's Thomas Gumbleton, Rochester's Matthew Clark, and Albany's Howard Hubbard. But contrary to the oft-repeated belief that Karol Wojtyla appointed men who were near-facsimilies of himself, he gave the world Cardinals Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, Joseph Bernardin of Chicago, Keith O'Brien of Scotland, Godfried Danneels of Belgium, and Karl Lehmnann of Meinz -- all of whom have (or had) reputations as extreme liberals and have had significant influence over the choice of other bishops in their respective countries.

Another notable problem is the large number of troublesome homosexual bishops appointed under John Paul's watch. In the U.S., for example, he appointed Patyrick Ziemann, Daniel Ryan, Kendrick Williams, Keith Symons, and Anthony O'Connell -- all of whom were disgraced by homosexual scandals.

John Paul, of course, did not and could not personally know every one of the bishops he appointed during his 26-year pontificate. He relied heavily on his cardinals and their national bishops' conferences to recommend the "best men" for each position. Bishops put forward names of priests whom they believed would make good bishops. According to Vatican norms, bishops must enjoy a good reputation, be of irreproachable morality, be endowed with right judgment and prudence, have an even-temper, and be of stable character. They are expected to exercise their pastoral ministry with zeal and piety, and in a spirit of sacrifice. Above all, they must hold firmly to the orthodox Faith and be devoted to the Holy See. These, however, are not common traits of the typical bishop, at least not in the U.S. In recent times, we have seen that all too many bishops are incompetent and at times gravely immoral.

This is the situation that Pope Benedict XVI has inherited. As Cardinal Ratzinger he was generally regarded as a good judge of character and has already become familiar with many of the potential candidates for the episcopacy through his work at the Congregation for Bishops. Furthermore, given his suspicion of the national bishops' conferences, some hope that the new Pope may even reform the selection process of bishops. The current process has proved a failure. It is an especially difficult situation becuase once a bishop is appointed it is very difficult to remove him from office.

The case of Archbishop Raymond "Dutch" Hunthausen in Seattle provides an illustrative example. After receiving years of complaints about the Archdiocese of Seattle, Cardinal Ratzinger initiated an investigation to evaluate criticisms about his ministry as Archbishop, appointing James Cardinal Hickey of Washington, D.C., the "apostolic visitor." Two years later, in 1985, Ratzinger relesed the findings of the investigation. He wrote that "there has been a rather widespread practice of admitting divorced persons to a subsequent Church marriage without prior review by your Tribunal, or even after they have received a negative sentence." Other problems discovered were doctrinal: incorrect notions of the Church's mission and even problems with the teaching on Christ's divinity and humanity, and His salvific mission. Hunthausen was also criticized for failing to impart "a correct appreciation of the sacramental nature of the Church, especially as it provides for sacred ministry in the Sacrament of Holy Orders."

The list of criticisms went on and on, a veritable syllabus of errors that might have been uncovered to some degree in many U.S. dioceses: Contraceptive sterilization was routinely taking place in local Catholic hospitals, first Communion was offered before first Confession, the practice of general absolution ws abused, intercommunion was common practice at Seattle parishes, laicized priests were serving in unauthorized priestly roles, priests who had unlawfully left the priesthood were employed by the Archdiocese, the possibility of women's ordination was being promoted, and homosexual activist groups were given diocesan support, including use of Seattle's cathedral.

Ratzinger directed that Hunthausen delegate all his final decision-making authority over five areas of church life to a Rome-appointed auxiliary, Bishop Donald Wuerl (later Bishop of Pittsburgh): annulments, clergy formation, resigned priests, liturgy, and moral issues dealing with homosexuals and hospitals.

As a result, Ratzinger became a well-known name among U.S. Catholics -- with both those who revered him and those who reviled him. The rest is history.
This has been and will surely continue to be one of the most interesting pontificates in modern times to follow. Times such as these call for us to redouble our resolution to keep the Holy Father in our daily prayers.

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