Sunday, April 18, 2010

On Bishops

Someone asked me recently why, if the problems I describe in the priesthood are true, these wouldn't still be present in the episcopate in a world where married men could be ordained priests (but bishops would, as traditional, still remain celibate). If bishops had to be unmarried, wouldn't the same problems of a celibate, homosocial, out-of-touch isolated bureaucratic world still exist.

Obviously, I think it's always something to watch out for. But I think there are some important differences about the episcopate that would make this less of a problem.

The biggest difference is that bishops are chosen from men who are already celibate priests. Whereas priests are a largely self-selected group (namely, those who actively seek out seminary), bishops are picked from a pool of men, they do not actively seek or volunteer for it (not directly at least).

While questions can be asked about what sort of man would choose to live institutionally with a bunch of other single men of the same religion in the same building, bishops do not "choose" their life, they are chosen.

Part of the problem with the claim that mandatory celibacy doesn't force it on anyone who isn't called already to celibacy is this idea that priests are simply being chosen from the pool of men "already" called to celibacy. Except when you bootstrap it to the priesthood, and when priests actively volunteer rather than being passively chosen, it muddies the waters quite a bit; who knows how many of those men would be celibate if they didn't "have to" be in order to become priests.

A bishop, however, would be picked from the pool of celibate priests in a world where priests could be married. And there is much less of a chance of someone remaining celibate simply on the off chance of becoming a bishop, so this truly would be a case of picking from the men who would be celibate already anyway, rather than potentially manipulating people into celibacy as a trade-off pre-condition for the position.

Furthermore (despite the jokes about certain colleges in Rome), bishops do not go to some special school for a bunch of years to train to be bishops. They are put on the job and have to learn on the job. They are not insulated in a world with a bunch of other bishops for 5 years. Which makes one wonder why they insist on this for priests. If the differences between a presbyter and deacon allegedly requires this huge difference in intensity of formation...why don't the differences between bishop and presbyter?

Nor is there a separate culture once they become a bishop. Unlike priests, whose primary loyalties and relationships often come to be with other priests, a bishop is the only one of his kind in many dioceses, and certainly their aren't enough auxiliaries or anything like that for him to live in a world of only other bishops. At the very least, his peer group will consist of lower clergy too rather than just of other bishops.

The episcopate is too exceptional, too rare, too small to have its own closed "society" outside somewhere like the Curia in Rome. The problem is the culture of the priesthood in general. If that was dealt with, the existence of one full-time celibate bishop in each dioceses simply wouldn't be a big issue because one man does not a System make. And only Systems can have systematic problems.

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