St. Peter's Square/Wikipedia photo by Diliff

Can’t these bishops shut up and just read?

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By Mark Azzara

I’m not a lawyer. But at least I’m in good company. Neither was Jesus.

I say this because 250 Catholics, mostly bishops, gathered Sunday to begin discussing the family and evangelization at a special synod called by Pope Francis. The synod’s first task is to discuss a lengthy working document that’s the result of a remarkable worldwide survey of ordinary Catholics.

But if the bishops get bored, they can gripe about all the nasty things they’ve been saying about each other in the press. The Reuters news story will clue you in. To the outside world it sounds like they are merely debating legalisms and humiliating each other in the process. What a terrific Christian witness that is!

The bishops are charged with finding ways to address all the problems highlighted in that report — failed marriages, broken families, the effects of social media on faith, the rapid decline in Mass attendance in developed countries, and on and on. That may lead next year to changes in church policies, which conservatives say amounts to changes in doctrine.

I read that document — all 49 printed pages of it. Click here if you’d like to do so. If you do read it — i.e., digest it carefully rather than look for the points that prove whatever position you hold — you’ll see how idiotic it is for bishops to  waste their time nattering behind each others’ backs. The document goes to great lengths to detail the mess the Catholic Church is in, and any bishop who reads this should be too close to tears and too overwhelmed to spend time throwing rocks at his colleagues.

The one phrase that jumped out at me over and over again is the need for more “pastoral care.” Translation: More involvement by bishops and priests in the problems of those in the church – and those who have left it.

A lot of priests I know are so busy they have all they can do to find the time to tie their shoes in the morning. Many of them are doing double or even triple duty, working as pastors while also holding down jobs at the chancery. So my first question is pretty obvious: How is the church supposed to provide all this extra pastoral care when priests can’t do the jobs they’ve got now?

One priest-friend told me the other day he’d had it. He was expected to be at a lengthy meeting of priests that had been called by his bishop, then attend a vespers service the next day, an all-day gathering of laity the day after that, and a presbyteral council meeting the following Tuesday. All this on top of his usual parish duties.

“At some point you just have to say enough is enough. I’m not going to that meeting with the bishop,” he said, calling it a matter of survival.

You would hope that bishops could figure out a way to make the lives of their priests more bearable, so that these men can do the work they were called to do with joy rather than resentment. But that leads to my second question: How can bishops answer the need for more pastoral care if they don’t care enough about each other to keep their opinions to themselves?

Or to put it another way, if bishops don’t give a damn about their equals, why would they care about the priests who serve under them?

This has nothing to do with changing or defending doctrine. I’m talking about displaying the basic charity that Christ expects of men who have studied that topic in the abstract for decades.

If these bishops will not control their knee-jerk reactions their synod will come to nothing, and quite possibly divide the church even further along so-called “liberal” and “conservative” legalistic lines. The main consequence will be to further expose the church’s inability to “love one another as I have loved you.” And the more often that happens the greater the number of Catholics who will leave their church for another one, or none at all.

Mark Azzara

About Mark Azzara

Mark Azzara spent 45 years in print journalism, most of them with the Waterbury Republican in Connecticut, where he was a features writer with a special focus on religion at the time of his retirement. He also worked for newspapers in New Haven and Danbury, Conn. At the latter paper, while sports editor, he won a national first-place writing award on college baseball. Azzara also has served as the only admissions recruiter for a small Catholic college in Connecticut and wrote a self-published book on spirituality, "And So Are You." He is active in his church and facilitates two Christian study groups for men. Azzara grew up in southern California, graduating from Cal State Los Angeles. He holds a master's degree from the University of Connecticut.

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