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A slow road for bishops in Pakistan

Delays in naming new diocesan governors are hurting the local Church

  • Archangel, Faisalabad
  • Pakistan
  • May 24, 2012
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Speculation is rife these days among Church workers over recent Vatican directives, as two dioceses remain without their governors.

At a recent Church meeting I attended, I chatted with a group of priests from three Church districts.

“Why did they have to choose an apostolic administrator from another diocese?” one of the priests asked, obviously referring to Bishop Rufin Anthony of Islamabad-Rawalpindi, who was appointed apostolic administrator of Faisalabad diocese in March.

“Someone among local priests might have been competent enough to be the bishop.”

Bishop Anthony, 72, has been traveling between Islamabad and Faisalabad, a journey of about 360 kilometers, at least once a month.

“Definitely he has to work and travel more. But work goes on as usual till we have the new bishop,” a senior diocesan priest told me.

Others, however, think otherwise.

Their concerns include how this will affect pastoral activities in Faisalabad and whether the bishop will be able to do equal justice to both of his jurisdictions.

The fact that one of them is the second-largest diocese in the country and the other is infested with Taliban only adds to my own concerns.

Bishop Anthony was given his new responsibilities shortly after the Vatican installed former Bishop Joseph Coutts of Faisalabad as the new archbishop of Karachi, despite predictions from several quarters that he would be tapped to head Lahore archdiocese.

There were several reasons for the predictions. Archbishop Coutts serves as the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Pakistan, and almost all the national offices of the Church body are based in Lahore, famously known as the heart of Pakistan because of its central location among all six dioceses and the apostolic vicariate.

Most importantly, the seat of the archbishop has been empty in Lahore since last April.

The Vatican surprised everyone. Now, for the first time in the history of the local Catholic Church in Pakistan, a bishop of one diocese is simultaneously serving as administrator of another.

It is worth mentioning here that all the diocesan administrators of the past were either auxiliary bishops or priests of the same diocese. The last time a diocese remained without a bishop was in 1999 and most of 2000, when a diocesan priest served as administrator of Hyderabad for 19 months.

There is a difference between a bishop and a provisional ordinary. As much as I deeply respect and value the decisions of our Holy Father, importing hierarchs from another diocese certainly discourages the local Church.

Such discouragement plays out by presenting obstacles to new evangelization and promotes separatism, individualism and ecclesial division among the priests and faithful.

The symbolic presence of a part-time administrator may also present hurdles for new projects and the pastoral duties of the priests.

The Vatican must give up its practice of moving slowly and being selective in the extreme. There is an impending need for three more bishops in the next three years as a few more prelates cross the retirement age threshold of 75.

The need will become more pronounced as the Catholic Church in Pakistan prepares for its “year of faith" beginning in October, which also marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council.

A lot of work has to be done to commemorate these propitious occasions, and still we are waiting for new bishops.

Some excited priests are already weighing options for the next bishop, and they hope for an announcement on the Feast of Pentecost on Sunday.

As the former head of the Catholic Church in Pakistan said last year after his retirement: “Better early than late.”

Archangel is the pseudonym for a Catholic commentator based in Karachi

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