Friday, January 22, 2010

A voice in the wilderness

Now I've been privileged (or otherwise) to exercise my priestly faculties on three continents. This means I've been exposed to the foibles of three quite distinct breeds of clergy. All of them, of course have sub species, and a few mutations to boot. The clergy of the Far East generally display a gentle reserve and respect their superiors whilst quietly planning their downfall. The clergy of the United States probably can be typified by saying what they mean but not getting what they want. Largely the bishop is an anachronistic nuisance to be agreed with when necessary. In Australia the distances mean that bishops can be rather, shall we say, transcendent. There's a saying out there that the best parish is 200 miles from the nearest bishop and 400 from the nearest female religious. Despite the safety of distance the Australian clergy tend to fume in silence about their episcopacy.

In the United Kingdom the clergy show the greatest reserve. Appearances in the street are not frequent and their natural habitat (at least the urban sub species) is more likely to be in the sitting room with a glass of sherry. It's rare to get them saying anything that would actually commit themselves in the public forum to a credal formula let alone criticise somebody higher up the ecclesiastical food chain. And yet just for a moment yesterday something flashed its way across cyberspace that suggested a thaw in the impassivity of those interminable clerical facebook cam shots was about to happen.

'It's been 40 years without a decent bishop's appointment' (or words to that effect) came the wail from a man who is not known for histrionic outbursts. Fr X, for he must remain that (and the outburst seems to have been pulled), is a hard working type ministering in not the most salubrious part of London and quietly supporting the generation of clergy yet to come by his wisdom, kindness and generosity. It's the sort of priest I'd like to be if I could ever muster the patience.

Be it or not a momentary outburst he does have a point. If there were league tables the English bishops would rather lag in the international league. I guess the kindest thing to say is that England has not yet escaped the monopoly of 'pastoral' appointments favored by a desperately ineffective nunciature. The verdant leafiness of Wimbledon is a far cry from harsh practical reality of the Norfolk Broads. Higher degrees are rather rare and certainly Roman studies almost unheard of among their ranks. The forthcoming ad limina visit has become viewed as an inevitable oncoming collision where the petty politics of the alumni of the Venerabile will pit their wilting wits against the much greater intellects lining up to face them in Rome.

Fr X's plea for a decent bishop is a simple request. All England needs at the moment is one decent episcopal appointment. The wise placing of a man who can pray and read and look after his people and stand up to his brethren. All it will take is one man's appointment to break the strangle hold of the insidious Magic Circle Club (otherwise known as the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales) and the light may begin to shine again. Now I'm just as much a coward in all this business so I think it's just as well Fr X, bless him, pulled his little outburst. He may not only herald a crack in the ecclesiastical detente in England but I suspect he may be the best man for the job that needs to be done.

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