Thursday, 12 July 2012

Co-opted for a "cause"?

There was a flurry of posting around the blogs yesterday after the announcement of the appointment of Mgr Egan, presently Vicar General of Shrewsbury Diocese, as the new Bishop of Portsmouth. It is, of course, a newsworthy appointment. The Catholic Herald reports the appointment here in a very helpful way, though some of the comments to the original post seem to be trying to co-opt the Bishop-elect to a particular cause in favour of the Extraordinary Form (with an implied "hurrah") or, in another case, to co-opt him to the cause of "going back" to pre-Vatican II days (with a loud "boo"). John Smeaton definitely undertakes an exercise in co-option of the Bishop-elect to his criticism of the retiring Bishop of the Portsmouth on the question of stances with regard to Humanae Vitae. There is an amusing mistake in the announcement as posted by the Vatican information service:
The bishop-elect was born in Altrincham in the diocese of Chester ...
One is not sure whether the officials at the Holy See have confused an English county with a Roman Catholic diocese, or, perhaps more or perhaps less understandably, confused a Church of England diocese with a Roman Catholic diocese! Perhaps the answer lies in carrying out a search on for the word "Cheshire"....

Because my own diocese is currently awaiting the appointment of a new Bishop (I look out at avidly each day), I have been thinking about what it must be like to be a new Bishop and what it is that constitutes the essence (in the phenomenological sense of that word) of the office of a Bishop. The formulation I have got to is that of seeing the Bishop as a "successor of the Apostles", a formulation that would scare me stiff if it was me being the subject of it.

 Bishop-elect Egan expressed it in his statement yesterday as:
It is with trepidation and yet with profound trust in the loving mercy of the Sacred Heart of Christ. ...I look forward with joy to working with my fellow priests and with all who minister in parishes, schools and in other contexts, caring for the people of God. May we all together be in the closest communion of heart and mind with our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, and faithful to his call to new evangelisation. ...The ministry of the Bishop, as the chief shepherd, priest and teacher of the flock entrusted to him, involves carrying the Lord’s Cross in a particular way.
The comment on Bishop-elect Egan's appointment that is closest to my own thoughts is that by Fr Hugh at Dominus mihi adjutor: New Bishop of Portsmouth appointed! (though, again, some of the comments do a bit of "co-option" of the Bishop-elect). The analysis of the Bishop-elect's statement offered by Fr Hugh is, I think, very prescient and helpful. Fr Hugh does not use the term, but can we see in Bishop-elect Egan's words a pastoral expression in the office of the Bishop of a "theology of communion", with everything that that implies for the situation of the Church as the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council approaches?

Any new Bishop is appointed to the office of Bishop, an office that does have implications for different aspects of the life of the universal Church and of the local diocese, and therefore an office that has implications for what one might term ecclesiastical politics. But the office of Bishop cannot and should not be reduced to particular causes in ecclesiastical politics. Reflecting on the situation of my own diocese, the most unhelpful thing that could happen when the appointment of the new Bishop is announced, something which would risk undermining his ministry with regard to the unity of the diocese before it begins, is that he should be co-opted by the media in support of this or that or another ecclesiastical cause.

No comments: