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BISHOPS: Do they simply get a bad deal from the media?

Does the episcopal structure of the Church put bishops in a tough position and leave them open to unfair criticism?

  • Leroy Huizenga
  • International
  • September 7, 2012
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Bad Bishops have been blasted throughout Christian history. St. John Chrysostom is supposed to have said, “The road to hell is paved with the skulls of bishops” (though he never used the precise phrase).

In the Middle Ages in Germany near Bingen am Rhein, a legend arose about Bishop Hatto. Having summoned the poor to buy bread from him at prohibitive prices, he instead locked them in a barn, informed them they would die like rats, and set the barn alight. Hatto awoke in the night to find his portrait devoured by rodents, upon which a servant informed him a great mischief of mice was fast on the way to the palace. In terror Hatto saddled his steed, rode to the river, boarded a boat, and rowed to a redoubt, a stone tower.

The rats remained undeterred. They devoured the Bishop’s horse, swam the river, besieged the tower, gnawed through doors and windows, and gorged themselves on the Bishop’s corpulent flesh. To this day the tower is thus called the Mäuseturm, the Mouse Tower, in memory of the demise of a most wicked bishop.

Bishop Hatto, chroniclers and historians agree, was falsely maligned. But the legend reflects medieval discontent with the episcopacy. In our own times, the misjudgment and malfeasance of many bishops is not legendary but all too real. Much criticism is justified; the pedophilia and ephebophilia scandals of the last decade are the obvious example here. Some is not, as when critics excoriate Cardinal Dolan for inviting both presidential candidates to the Al Smith dinner.??For while many bishops are rightly famous for their incompetence, ineptitude, and infidelity, many more are not.

Many have led quotidian, quiet lives of prayer and management, minding their dioceses and attempting to lead lives of Christian fidelity and charity. Just as we never hear about planes that take off and land safely, we are never confronted with news of bishops who fulfill their offices with quiet honor.

All too often, however, real scandal erupts, whether a sin against good morals, a crime against others, or a failure to teach the Faith.??The Catholic Church teaches that the Church is episcopal in structure; on earth it is marked out by bishops standing in succession going back to the apostles and Jesus who chose them, and thus to God himself, incarnate in Jesus. (Other churches also hold this ecclesiology.)

It’s an ancient idea found in the first century in Pope St. Clement’s First Letter to the Corinthians. Catholic ecclesiology is much more than apostolic succession, of course: It’s also the Church triumphant and baptized Christians outside the bounds of the Roman communion. But the Catholic Church does hold fast to apostolic succession.

Apostolic succession is something I had to think about deeply when I was considering conversion to Catholicism. If the Church is marked out by bishops, shouldn’t bishops be better?

A fortiori I had to ask, if the Pope of Rome is the supreme head of the Church on earth, the vicar of Christ himself, what do I do with the Borgias?

Full Story: Ecclesiadicy

Source: First Things
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