La Douceur Pastorale

One thing that motivated me to go to the Institute of Christ the King at the end of my university studies in 1990 was the influence of Opus Sacerdotale, an association of French parish priests. In the 1970’s, they generally remained faithful to the old rite of Mass or a conservative interpretation of the Pauline liturgy. Their primary concern was the older and personal style of pastoral ministry: a priest is both a father and a friend to his faithful, a priest among his people. I soaked in the spirit of this association and view of the priesthood from my early seminary days (when many of the old parish priests were closely associated with the Institute they helped to found and supported in those early days of the 1990’s). I spent time in parishes like Le Chamblac with Fr Montgomery-Wright and Bouloire with Fr Jacques Pecha where I installed an organ in 1992. Most of these old priests are now promoted to glory, and the spirit of French traditionalist Roman Catholicism made a radical change from this pastoral priority to politics, even with the pretext of moral issues.

In 1979, Opus Sacerdotale published a booklet with the title Des Bons Pasteurs pour l’Eglise en France. I have translated the chapter on the Episcopal ministry which contrasts the true priestly and pastoral role of the Bishop with the managerial style that has crept into all churches over the past twenty years and more. It is a beautiful and limpid text.

Without any triumphalism on my part, this notion of the Episcopate is something we have achieved in the Anglican Catholic Church and other continuing Anglican Churches. The most terrible scourge of any Church, beyond gender issues, sexual orientation, ordination of women, flat and boring liturgies and other questions is the sprit of corporate management and bureaucracy, distance from the people in parishes and unaccountability. Ours are small Churches, for which I am grateful for my priestly calling and mission.

Here is the translated text:

* * *

The Bishop, Pastor of a Diocese

Why not apply the same principle of real pastoral responsibility to bishops?

The pastoral charge does not consist in taking care of administration, but of people living with their needs, their sorrows, their hopes.

General services are certainly necessary at the diocesan level, but why deprive those entrusted with them of the effective responsibility of parish priests?

It is traditional for the bishop himself to be the parish priest of his cathedral. Why would he not actually perform this function, with an assistant priest, of course?

Instead of spending his time in meetings, in conferences, in colloquia to say what needs to be done, the Bishop would only himself have to give a pastoral example.

How much time has been saved for him and God’s people!

The pastoral office is not self-glorification but a service. Authority, according to Jesus, belongs to the one who makes himself the slave of his brothers.

It would therefore be necessary for the Bishop to be responsible for a diocese of a size that would be accessible to his human possibilities.

We should no longer have these overly large and cumbersome dioceses whose members are practically deprived of any relationship with the father and spouse given to them.

What is stopping the Church from multiplying the dioceses? The bishops would then be in a position to exercise their service in a healthy and holy manner. The faithful would know and love their bishop.

Perhaps the “trade union” of episcopal commissions, which controls the bishops, would be dismantled in this way! The bishops, currently in office, could, if they wished, free themselves from the hold of the commissions.

True collegiality could be established: it would be a union of persons in Christ and not a collective solidarity in liberalism and resignation.

This solution would put an end to the anomaly of auxiliary bishops who are pastors without families. A man cannot give his life to an administration. You don’t get married with marriage, bu with a real wife. A bishop must be able to love a Church community and give his life to it because it is his in the name of Christ.

Last but not least, a bishop, father and husband of his Church, would no longer leave the care of vocations to incompetent and partisan commissions.

There are countless young men who honestly aspired to the priesthood and were rejected for unbelievable reasons:

– because they are “too pious”,

– because they want to “offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass”,

– because they want to “serve the faithful with the Gospel and the Sacraments of Jesus Christ”.

These motives, for which a holy Curé d’Ars was ordained, are deemed to be incompatible with the vocation to a “ministry” the commissions arbitrarily define in the name of temporal points of view of a psychological, sociological or political nature.

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6 Responses to La Douceur Pastorale

  1. Caedmon says:

    I understand that in the Mediterranean world dioceses have always been small enough for a bishop to personally know a lot of his people. The large dioceses of Northern Europe go all the way back to the conversion period, when there were fewer cities and a more scattered population. The chief role of bishops was helping kings administer. I have a theory that the reason so many Protestants decided they could manage without bishops was because in Northern Europe bishops had always been marginal to parish life, and had never been what they were supposed to be.

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Thank you for this!

    It is interesting to compare (as much as I know) about Archbishop Ussher’s aspiration for a return to an Ignatian model of the episcopate and Richard Baxter’s embrace of some version of this.

    And this does seem to work with Bishop Damien. (And I think it worked in some way back in my day with the Orthodox parishes in Oxford, when Kallistos Ware went from parish priest to Bishop without some chasm opening, whatever his new and additional responsibilities, and, a bit after my time, something similar transpired in the Russian parish, with Father Basil becoming Bishop – all later ‘complications’ notwithstanding.)

  3. Stephen K says:

    The idea of personalising the function of bishop, as expressed in your extract, Father, really struck me as a kind of “of course! Why did I not think of it before?” revelation. It makes sense. The meaning of “bishop” from the Greek epi-scopos is literally “over-seer”. How can you oversee what you cannot actually see over?

    There were a couple of statements in the extract I would like to comment on.
    The first: You don’t get married with marriage, but with a real wife. A bishop must be able to love a Church community and give his life to it because it is his in the name of Christ.

    The second sentence falls, to my way of thinking, somewhat short of the first (although it appears valid enough). When a man and a woman marry, they marry an actual person. The idea of love in the best sense is that you must love the person, not your ideal construct. It does not mean that you must put up with actual abuse or cruelty but the school of love – apply it if you will to the hard rigours of monastic /religious life – is all about learning to love what is not you, but the actual other. Think of nuns or brothers having to learn, over years, how to love a particular sister or brother who grates, or a rule that is irksome. Marriage is no different from living in a religious convent or community. Where the second sentence falls down (a bit) is the idea that he should love his community “because it is his”. I think the Christ basis would have been better expressed if it had said something like “because Christ, in whose service he is called, also loves it”.
    In other words, there should be no hint of possession at the expense of service.

    The second: There are countless young men who honestly aspired to the priesthood and were rejected for unbelievable reasons:…..

    I note the reasons listed. At the time it was written the official intolerance to such things would have seemed oppressive, and indeed, if one takes the view that religious aspirations must never be the subject of oppression, they were. But there are other reasons, including that men who are homosexual as to their innate sexuality or men who have doubts about particular official orthodox dogmas are officially excluded but not in practice so long as they keep their mouth shut. Which does not prevent men who have no business being in any pastoral or priestly role because of personality disorders making the official grade and ending up being foisted on the flock.
    Of course the priesthood is not unique: other professions, the law, medicine, etc are no more pure.

    However, my corrective qualifications on these two points are not intended to take away from the central point that bishops should be in direct contact with their flocks, and should be shepherds ‘who know their flocks by name’ rather than remote potentates.

    • This may be one reason why all churches have miserably failed over the past half-century and much longer. The Church staged its own industrial revolution and became a kind of “salvation machine”. There is a difference between traditional crafts and “made in China” consumer products. I think the crisis is essentially there. Capitulating to modern political agendas is hypocritical and superficial.

      Traditionalist communities and continuing Anglican churches have gone some way towards restoring the intimacy of people who know each other, who are not strangers. But they too become increasingly institutionalised and may go the same way as the present “mainstream” churches. Perhaps this is the trajectory of history and why Christianity is destined to be split up into thousands of fragments and schisms – and lose its credibility.

      When persons are taken out of the paradigm, then dogmas and morals have no meaning. Abortion is objectively seriously immoral, because it involves the taking of human life. However, very rarely are the reasons and persons involved ever considered for a moment. The judgement of moral acts can be extremely difficult, so the fact of a sin is disassociated from the person. Modern politics work by slogans and ideologies detached from human critical thought. A human crowd is no more intelligent than a flock of sheep!

      My experience of seminary is only slightly different from yours. You are right about discrimination against spiritual motives but not against malignant narcissists who win the race to the highest posts in the Church. They stand there like kings of the castle and have no idea that they will be toppled simply because the money will run out!

      What I find most admirable about those old Opus Sacerdotale priests is that they understood what the real problem was before others changed things completely. At the beginning of my time at Gricigliano, Msgr Wach in his Sunday evening spiritual conferences showed a critical attitude to clericalism – but was it a part of a covert narcissistic act? I don’t blame him for the failure of my own priestly vocation in the RC Church. I was up against a whole system of personalities like bullies at school.

      Perhaps a more human and personal Church would help to weed out the bullying personalities and create something like a community of persons on their individual and corporate pilgrimages towards holiness and self-knowledge.

  4. Wayne Pelling says:

    Thank you Father for this posting .It reminded me that when I was in Tropical Northern Australia I went to Mass at the local Cathedral . The Bishop we as hearing confessions ,then celebrated Mass and he was the only clergy I could see . I was told a week later and thousand miles away on an island between Australia and New Guinea that this Bishop took his pastoral responsibility seriously

    • I once visited Gaëta, the place where Pius IX took refuge in the 19th century, a little to the north of Naples. It is typical of many Italian dioceses in spite of the policy of Paul VI onwards to merge dioceses and make them more bureaucratic. Some statistics: 603 km2, population 162,457 (96.9% Roman Catholics), 57 parishes, 54 diocesan priests, 18 religious orders, 26 permanent deacons. One such suppressed diocese is Montefiascone near Viterbo (erected in 1369 and suppressed in 1986). The cathedral was reduced to the status of a parish church, but the people still call it a cathedral and maintain the bishop’s throne. Indeed, such small dioceses are the result of a historical context in the “old” world. It remains that the ideal is to multiply the dioceses so that the Bishop is accessible to the people. The real problem in political, having too many bishops weakens the power and hold of the Roman Curia!

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