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Church Reform Wishlist: The College of Bishops

The College of Bishops:

  • Zero tolerance for bishops who covered up sex abuse. Remove them.
  • Bishops are diocesan ordinaries. No more titular bishops for dicasteries. Even the practice of auxiliary bishops should be reconsidered. Ordaining a personal secretary or a bureaucrat as a bishop diminishes the office of bishop, even if the individual is worthy of the office.
  • Smaller dioceses: Dioceses in Italy are about the same geography and population of a deanery/vicariate in the US. The ratio of Eastern (Catholic and Orthodox) bishops to faithful seems to hover at around 1:10,000. In the Latin church it is about 1:250,000.
  • Restore the ancient practice of elected bishops. “Election” need not mean simple democracy, but a clear participation of the clergy (both diaconate and presbyterate), the lay ecclesial ministry, any resident theologians, and the leadership of the laity.
  • Only after the above reform, restore the ancient practice of bishops being ‘wed’ to a  single diocese – no more moving on up and out. This makes no sense if a bishop is appointed, but an election makes it possible.
  • We need to make better use of the archbishops/metropolitans, including an increased role in the election of bishops from their province. If there were smaller dioceses, and more bishops, the metropolitan would take on some of the load currently at the diocesan level.
  • Titular patriarchates (Venice, Lisbon, East Indies) should be eliminated. Despite their historical origin, they only serve to confuse.
  • The synod of bishops and the conferences of bishops need to be strengthened. There needs to be a regular standing structure in place to balance the primacy of the papacy. Primacy and synodality belong together, neither one without the other, at every level of the church.

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Church Reform Wishlist: Ministry and Holy Orders

Ministry and Holy Orders:

  • Jesus Christ is the only priest in Christianity; All Christians share in his priesthood. What makes the second of the three holy orders unique is that it is the presbyterate, not that it is a priesthood unto itself. This is not to deny the sacramental priesthood of holy orders (including deacons), but to suggest that perhaps we should officially restore the ancient and official title of ‘presbyter’ to the common lexicon in reference to those ordained to the presbyterate.
  • Deacons participate in the ‘headship’ of Christ and the governance of the church, just not the presbyterate or the episcopate. Let’s make that clear.
  • Traditionally (patristically), presbyters advise, deacons assist. The presbyterate acts in council, the deacons act individually. The presbyters preside locally in sacraments and spiritual life, the deacons assist the bishop preside in administration of the church’s goods – financial, human resources, diplomacy, ecumenism and dialogue, pastoral leadership. There has been too much overlap, let’s clarify this a little.
  • Lay ecclesial ministry needs to be formally and canonically acknowledged. Catechists, pastoral workers, pastoral associates, lay preachers, and other such offices ought to require incardination into a diocese and a relationship with the bishop, a common set of norms for formation, and perhaps inclusion into something like the minor orders – they are not ordained, but they are not following a lay vocation, either.
  • Clerical compensation and the financial crises are closely linked. There is no clear line in many cases between the pastor’s funds and those of the parish, and no clear accountability. This is one reason for a deacon being assigned responsibility for administration, and answerable to the bishop directly, while a presbyter is responsible for sacraments and spirituality. Why not just make compensation the same for all ministers, whether presbyter, deacon, or lay ecclesial? A simple salary or stipend.
  • Support for all candidates for ministry should be equitable, whether for presbyterate, diaconate, or lay eccleisal.
  • Clerical clothing is for clerics, meaning:
    • Deacons have a right to clerical clothing, even if married! Canon law does not allow a bishop to restrict this right, much less a local pastor
    • Seminarians do not, and should not be dressing up as if they are ordained.
    • If we do not just do away with clerical clothing altogether, some kind of distinctive garb could be considered for lay ecclesial ministers, as long as we have such a thing for clergy. Different colors if need be, but the same basic idea: easy identification of those in pastoral leadership and ministry. Not to be confused with those in training for such.
  • Eliminate the last vestiges of the cursus honorem
    • Eliminate the transitional diaconate outright. A transitional diaconate makes as much sense theologically as a transitional presbyterate for deacon candidates.
    • Allow deacons to transition to the presbyterate (and vice versa) if and only if an office to which they are called requires it.
    • Acolyte and Reader, as instituted ministries should be moved out of seminaries and into parishes/dioceses, as the actual lay ministries that execute these functions in the liturgy. No more stepping-stone for seminarians, but actual readers and servers at mass. Add ministers of communion and any others that seem appropriate. Extend them to women.
    • However, the original idea has merit. Perhaps before ordination to either diaconate or presbyterate, candidates should have earned at least an STB or BA in theology and philosphy, and served five-seven years in pastoral ministry. The best way to discern which order you should be ordained into is in practice! Then, they could go back for the M.Div., STL, or JCL and move on to the appropriate track: diaconate or presbyterate.
  • The age of ordination to the presbyterate should be raised to 35. It should make no difference whether celibate or married.
  • Leave the diaconate age for ordination at 35 as well, and also make no difference if celibate or married.
  • I prefer the Assyrian and Anglican practice of allowing clergy to marry before or after ordination, since it is much easier for some of us to discern a vocation to ministry than to discern a vocation to celibacy or marriage and it seems like time wasted in the interim. But, the Greek practice of marriage before ordination has been the compromise between the extremes of mandatory celibacy and the above since Nicaea, so it is certainly reasonable to retain. At least it should be seriously, and ecumenically, reconsidered, however.
  • We need more married presbyters, and more celibate deacons. The diaconate is not defined by marriage and marriage is not essential to the diaconate, neither is the presbyterate defined by celibacy nor is celibacy essential to the presbyterate. We have some of each already, we just need greater balance.

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