Bishops on wrong track: bishop

28 Aug 2008

By The Record

English prelate urges bishops to rediscover courage.


By Simon Caldwell
LONDON (CNS) – An English bishop has criticised the structure of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales for hampering the effective proclamation of the Gospel.
Bishop Patrick O’Donoghue of Lancaster said his fellow bishops wrongly delegate their responsibilities to committees of laypeople.
He said the agencies and departments of the bishops’ conference were acting independently of the bishops and did not always fully uphold church teaching in their dealings with secular authorities.
The structure of the conference was preventing bishops from speaking individually on matters of importance to the Church and society, Bishop O’Donoghue said in a document called “Fit for Mission? Church,” which was to be released on August 27.
He added that the failure of bishops to reach agreement on certain issues often had resulted in inadequate statements or interventions instead of the witness that was “so urgently needed.”
Bishop O’Donoghue expressed disappointment that the bishops’ conference had failed to produce a “collegial response to the government’s legislation on same-sex adoption.”
The legislation has been threatening Catholic adoption agencies with closures unless they agree to assess homosexual couples as potential adoptive parents.
“Due to the division of responsibility among the bishops, such as education, liturgy, health care, migrants … there can often be a reluctance among the rest of the bishops to speak out on these issues as if somehow they had handed over their competence in these areas to the responsible bishop and his particular committee,” he said.
“The problem of attempting to arrive at a consensus among bishops with sometimes divergent views is that episcopal conference statements and documents have a tendency to be often flat and safe at a time when we need passionate and courageous public statements that dare to speak the full truth in love,” the bishop added.
He said it “needs to be reiterated” that bishops had not delegated their authority to conference committees and staff, who were setting agendas and taking it upon themselves to decide what was best.
“Sometimes the secretariats of the bishops’ conferences forget that they are the servants of the bishops,” Bishop O’Donoghue said.
In the preface, Bishop O’Donoghue said that he has written the 92-page document for “all Catholics who love the Church and deeply care about the future of Catholicism” in England and Wales.
He said that the vision of the document is the “vision of the Second Vatican Council” which encouraged bishops to organise themselves into national conferences. But he said the document reflects on problems foreseen by the council but which “now face us in full force.”