‘We recognize that no one is perfect'
It seems possible to suggest that a bishop’s character must be in harmony with the spiritual qualities expected from the office.
For the sake of this reflection, spirituality is understood as a mechanism within each person that moves that person towards the pursuit of sacred meaning. In turn, sacred meaning is understood in the generic religious sense of how the bishop’s office engages in (1) the pursuit of the good, (2) the pursuit of immortality and (3) the pursuit of good relationship with God, including evidence of a desire to remove whatever blocks good relationship with God.
Finally, a person is taken to be a human being in action. Personhood is thought to arise from three generic streams of relationships. Personal choice associations cluster on the arms of those streams of relationships.
The first stream of relationship takes place at the level of the environment. It marks our biological DNA and is therefore first in the order of origin. The many associations that cluster about the arm of a person’s environmental associations include all the physical dimensions of being human, but in the present context they arise primarily out of that person’s spiritual search for sacred meaning in the environment. We expect the office of the bishop to hold the sustainability of the environment in the highest regard since it embodies the qualities of unity, truth, goodness and beauty that is God.
The second stream of associations that characterize a person (in the order of origin) is a stream of interpersonal relationships. The office of bishop is expected to draw spiritual meaning from building vibrant relationships between all the priests, deacons, lay ministries and parish clusters the bishop’s office serves. In order to measure a candidate’s strength in this area I would turn to the empirical evidence found in a priest’s parish building experience.
In my personal experience as a member of a parish bereavement team, I have observed how a priest can bring a bereaved family together by allowing them to tell their story of pain, their experiences with the deceased, what they would like to hear from the homilist about the deceased’s character, and so on.
The success in bringing together a grieving family at the time of death provides a good indication of the leadership qualities we expect from a bishop — to unite and assist the faithful in their religious celebrations of successes, losses and complaints found in their parish experience. The need exists to meet parishioners in their experiential settings while demonstrating the ability to exercise an informed leadership role.
The third stream of relationships takes place at the level of introspection and reflection as the office of the bishop reflects on the data carried in the first two streams of relationships to administer diocesan resources. In the first instance, the office holder needs a certain normalcy about him. We cannot expect parishes to “get their act together” if the bishop’s own internal house is not in order. The ability to be centred, loving, compassionate and action-based ranks highly.
We recognize that no one is perfect. Ours is a spirituality of imperfection. We strive to find sacred meaning in all our relationships and pledge to do our best to ensure that our spirituality is aligned with a generic interpretation of the nature of religion.
The office of bishop — and indeed of all persons of religious faith — strives to find the good in all things while portioning the relationship between the terrestrial order and the eternal order. We seek eternal life and resist the destruction of evil, but we do so by pursuing the sacred good we find in the here and now, as we strive to grow our spirituality of imperfection.
Administratively, the office of bishop must be smart. It must recognize the autonomy of each parish and help grow their sacred search for meaning. It must provide parishioners an opportunity for informed consent through respectful teaching moments, and it must be seen to be fair, just, and respect privacy and confidentiality, but to do so within the administrative framework of regulatory laws, the good of the Church of Rome, and the harmony of the whole.
A fully developed discussion of this issue would also include a position statement on culture (attitudes, values and beliefs of parishioners), society (groups such as CWL, KOC), politics (regulations concerning the appointment), economics (costs, value added), environment (resources), and ethics (empirical evidence and normative standards).
Ken A. Bryson, PhD, is professor emerita of philosophy at Cape Breton University. He can be contacted at email@example.com.