The shepherds we need—or the shepherds I want?

Criticism will always come to every leader, but the critic, especially one who purports to be a devout Catholic, has his own moral responsibility to make sure that both the substance and the form of his criticism are appropriately just and merciful.

Bishops listen to a speaker during the fall general assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore Nov. 12, 2019. (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Our bishops hold offices of great authority, their words, actions, and decisions are public, and they are human—the very worst thing you can be if you want to avoid criticism. And many bishops, like many priests, have at times shown glaring lapses of leadership in recent years. All of these factors, and the general antipathy of people towards authority in the Western world, conspire to make the bishops regular targets of ecclesiastical pundits of all theological and political stripes.

In post-Watergate America, relentless criticism of those in public authority has become ubiquitous. People do not even question such criticism anymore. That is simply the way it is.

Often, such criticism is justified by an appeal to the presumed foreknowledge of the people being criticized. They knew, or at least should have known, what to expect when they sought positions of power.

Just one difficulty with applying this secular approach to criticism of the bishops is that the bishops did not choose their positions of authority. They were chosen. “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you” (Jn 15:16), Our Lord told His first bishops at the Last Supper.

But isn’t it true that ambition helped propel some of our bishops down the path towards the episcopacy? In all probability, yes. But this admission does not change the more fundamental truth that the Church, in the person of the Pope, chooses priests to become bishops. And so it is unjust to think of public criticism as “part of the package” of the life they have chosen for themselves. 

Criticism will always come to every leader, but the critic, especially one who purports to be a devout Catholic, has his own moral responsibility to make sure that both the substance and the form of his criticism are appropriately just and merciful.

Having offered those preliminary thoughts, I would like to consider an article, “The Shepherds the Church Needs Now,” published March 25 in the National Catholic Register by Janet E. Smith, my former professor and an esteemed colleague at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit.

Smith takes the bishops to task for what she describes as their insufficient response to the COVID-19 crisis. According to Smith, the bishops have largely been “missing in action” during these days of social distancing.

In short, Smith’s article contains much “action,” in the form of criticism of various kinds lodged against the bishops’ response to COVID-19, but “missing” from her article is a cohesive, coherent argument.

Smith fails to make her case on a number of levels. First, she sets the bar of competence impossibly high. And the standard she sets is one entirely of her own design. This is a very common flaw in criticisms of those in authority—using as the sole standard of judgment one’s own sense about what those in authority ought to do.

In Smith’s view, in order to respond competently to the current crisis, each bishop ought to do the following:

  • Lead Eucharistic processions in public areas of his diocese;
  • “Step-up” his “personal presence to (his) flock” in his online ministry;
  • Catechize his people on how to deal constructively with the suspension of public Masses;
  • Ensure that chancery personnel are prepared to field incoming calls with requests for Baptism;
  • To “learn from their priests,” whose pastoral initiative has produced abundant good fruit: “flying in a plane or helicopter with a monstrance over a whole diocese while people ‘adore’ from the ground; hearing confessions and saying Mass in parking lots; and processing with a monstrance in a flatbed of a truck to take the Eucharist to all parts of town, in addition to live-streaming Masses, Rosaries, Stations of the Cross, and retreats”;
  • “Be present to us like never before—to help us keep our faith alive and to have the virtue of hope for our benefit and the benefit of those around us”;
  • “Use social media to keep constant contact with your flock. Teach us what we need to know about how to keep spiritually strong in these frightening times”;
  • Spend time answering Smith’s list of seven “frequently asked questions” for the flock;
  • “[Provide] online spiritual direction every day, and they should broadcast their own daily Mass; they should say at least one Rosary online every day, lead novenas and litanies; they should lead a reflection on Scripture daily, and teach people how to do lectio divina (prayerful reading of Scripture)”;
  • “Introduce the laity to various devotions—their favorite ones—and stories of their ‘friend’ saints. Or at least some of these!”;
  • “Make themselves daily guests in the living rooms (or prayer spaces) of their flock. Imagine the impact if large numbers of the laity of a diocese logged on daily to pray together with their bishop.”

If this is what it takes merely to achieve the competence required to avoid the criticism of commentators like Smith, I rejoice all-the-more in the unlikelihood of my ever being called to the episcopacy! I simply could not fulfill these requirements, and very few priests or lay people I know could do so. At least, most would find it impossible to do all that Smith requires and perform all the vital functions of leadership without which a diocese is quickly set adrift during a time of crisis.

Functions such as setting diocesan policy for liturgies and other public gatherings, communicating directives for radically altered Holy Week and Triduum liturgies, providing necessary aid to parishes dealing with the financial ramifications of the COVID-19 crisis, and countless other leadership tasks are neither exciting nor pastorally satisfying in the way that leading a Eucharistic procession would be. But these things must be done in order for the Church to function in a holy and healthy way. It is precisely this kind of leadership that frees up the parish priests Smith admires for their zeal and ingenuity to carry out their extraordinary ministries.

Secondly, Smith mixes different kinds of arguments in a way that packs a rhetorical punch but does not provide coherence to her argument. She seems to approve of the suspension of public Masses, but not of baptisms, for reasons that are not entirely clear. Whatever one’s view of these questions, they are only tangentially connected to the question of pastoral zeal and initiative that dominates Smith’s article. 

Similarly, Smith cites the example of two young girls who apparently wept at the prospect of not being able to attend Mass. This anecdote provided one example of the different degrees to which various Catholics have received the news that public Masses are being suspended. Yet this heart-wrenching section of Smith’s article was more-or-less sandwiched between her acknowledgement that most Catholics are grateful for the suspension of public Masses and her recommendation that bishops catechize about non-Eucharistic means by which Catholics can encounter Our Lord. In an article so highly critical of the bishops, one is left wondering what point, exactly, Smith is attempting to make here.

Finally, in her fear that bishops are doomed to “lead from behind,” Smith fails to acknowledge the tremendous difficulty of the current pastoral situation, which even the bishops’ harshest critics should acknowledge is unprecedented in the living memory of all of today’s Catholics. And she says very little about the innovative forms of pastoral care that are in fact being given by a great many bishops during this time of crisis. Unfortunately, these omissions add to the seemingly arbitrary nature of Smith’s critique.

I have had the privilege of meeting many bishops in my 14 years as a priest. These bishops, like all of the other people I have ever met, have weaknesses, some of which are more obvious than others. But as a group they are good, dedicated, even holy men who strive to serve God and his people faithfully. Some, I believe, are either saints or are far down the path of sanctity, again, just as are many of the priests, religious, and lay faithful I have been blessed to know.

My purpose in writing this article is not to argue that bishops are above reproach. Rather, bishops are vital to the Church’s life and mission, they face incredibly difficult pastoral situations every day, and they deserve to be treated with justice and mercy, just like anyone else. I am afraid that Smith’s article is one in a long line of critiques by various Catholic commentators that fail to meet the criteria of justice, let alone mercy. 

May God give all of us the grace to do better at building each other up, holding each other accountable, and acting for the glory of God and the salvation of souls, especially in times of crisis.

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About Fr. Charles Fox 85 Articles
Rev. Charles Fox is an assistant professor of theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit. He holds an S.T.D. in dogmatic theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum), Rome. He is also chaplain and a board member of Saint Paul Street Evangelization, headquartered in Warren, MI.


  1. Every couple of centuries maybe one bishop (and one who still tried to evade selection) wanders onto the stage who is just right for his turbulent times. Take St. Augustine…

    The plague at the time was the Roman-trained barbarian, Alaric, who in 410 A.D. sacked Rome itself (the Twin Towers on steroids!), thereby introducing after many centuries the specter that not only was the Eternal City mortal, but that with it the entire encompassed universe perhaps was also toast. As with us today, only more so, the world of St. Augustine was turned upside down.

    St. Augustine’s sermon response in north Africa to news of the sacking of faraway Rome (from within, as by a virus) was this: “This is grievous news, but let us remember if it’s happened, then God willed it; that men build cities and men destroy cities, that there’s also the City of God and that’s where we belong.”

    Then as an extensive and timeless footnote, he spent several years writing The City of God, partly to show that the fault was not the refusal of Christians to throw incense at demoted pagan idols.

    If a bishop, or Janet Smith, or Fr. Fox, or a reader could boil down the particular needed message for us today–possibly in one enduring sentence as St. Augustine did–what would it be?

  2. [But this admission does not change the more fundamental truth that the Church, in the person of the Pope, chooses priests to become bishops.]

    But not chosen by the local Church. The naming of bishops by Rome, even if it is in consultation with bureaucrats, is part of the problem, even more so when bishops are transferred from one see to another, or an outsider is brought in to be consecrated a bishop.

    • Right so New York should end up Bishop James Martin? Is Christ a king who founded a hierarchical Church? The sensus fidelium is WAY OFF in this day. 30% believe in the Real Presence. Do we really think that asking parishoners, 70% of whom deny a fundamental, dogmatic truth of the faith, to decide who will occupy bishoprics? Really?

  3. There was a book written, I believe, in the 80’s entitled “The Peter Principle.” I don’t think the author had the Pope or Catholic bishops in mind when he penned the title. I think Fr. Fox ought to poll the faithful about whether they think they have been well-shepherded by their bishop in this crisis. In fact, why not ask 100 Catholics who attend Mass weekly what the name of their bishop is.

    • I doubt Fr. Charles Fox realizes the obvious irony of his criticizing Janet Smith for criticizing Bishops! He seems to think he can critcize others; but Janet Smith cannot. Btw, Bishops are not above criticism.

      • “He seems to think he can critcize others; but Janet Smith cannot.”

        But that’s not what he says. Fr. Fox writes: “Criticism will always come to every leader, but the critic, especially one who purports to be a devout Catholic, has his own moral responsibility to make sure that both the substance and the form of his criticism are appropriately just and merciful.”

        And then: “In short, Smith’s article contains much ‘action,’ in the form of criticism of various kinds lodged against the bishops’ response to COVID-19, but ‘missing’ from her article is a cohesive, coherent argument.”

        He then makes his argument for the above. Now, he could be wrong. Or partially wrong. But at least acknowledge what he actually says and intends to do rather than criticize him for something he clearly isn’t saying or doing!

        • Even though Fr. Fox’s point certainly has moral value to it, it will not matter that the facts show that the virus situation is outside the bishops’ control. We are no longer in the land of reality where facts and the moral law apply. In the Church, we have moved from reality into a hall of mirrors, illusions, and nightmares so common in the experience of trauma. Consider the history of the episcopal handling of the gay/pederasty crisis; if it were not enough to throw in the trust towel, the McCarrick affair, followed by the Vigano testimony, did incalculable damage to the trust factor of the papacy and the episcopacy around the world–they were all in on it. Who were the shepherds, and who were the wolves? This remains an open question. When the laity get burned so many times, the trust is lost for good. Think of it as a spiritual posttraumatic stress disorder. Perhaps the laity, even Prof Smith, can be forgiven for the sins of rash judgment, as it proceeds from PTSD. If this pope and the bishops collectively were to walk into the fires of King Nebuchadnezzar while boldly proclaiming their faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ, there could be some hope of rebuilding trust in them. I’m not holding my breath. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Maybe this common notion should not apply when responding to our bishops, but in fact it still prevails.

    • How is it the fault of the bishop if there is a Catholic that attends Mass weekly and does not know the bishop’s name? For goodness sake, it’s right in the Eucharistic Prayer!

      • You ask a very legitimate question whose answer can only be ascertained by conducting the random samples question: “What is the name of your bishop?” Only by directly surveying the faithful of a diocese can we begin to know whether, in the face of this crisis of catastrophic proportions, they sense that they are being adequately shepherded by their bishop according to how they would define it. I would think bishops might find this information useful. Maybe not, though.

      • True. It seems it would be pretty hard to miss the local bishop’s name if one attended Mass regularly. Or at least his Christian name.
        When I visit another diocese I always notice that at Mass. I’m so used to hearing “Douglas” in the prayer that it’s always a surprise to hear someone else’s name substituted.

    • Part of the problem is the non stop sniping that takes place immediately on the internet these days. Most internet commenters are hysterical, basically shrieking “We need ventilators! Why don’t we have ventilators?” While others, actually helping, are figuring out how to build ventilators, and they do this quietly, without notice.

      The good bishops we have are busy figuring out ways to deal with a whole host of very difficult, very complex problems. Some are troublesome from a canon law or doctrinal aspect, and are not easily solved. They are working tirelessly to provide the things that their people need. They are having to invent the wheel from square one. Smith’s recommendations are probably things most of them are considering. Its just that they are not all over the media, they are at work.

      The bad bishops we have, are of course, just being their usual selves.

      I take her article as constructive input into the things that bishops should consider at this time. If she intended it as loud mouth idle criticism, I would be surprised, because she generally is not that way.

  4. Bishops are human, fragile and mortal. We need to pray for their well-being and wish them strength and stamina in their vocation of service to humanity.

  5. What a refreshing piece of writing, a voice of reason in the midst of a cacophony of definitive solutions to the world’s–and the Church’s–problems, put forth by people with little or no administrative experience. Great work, Father Charles.

  6. Instead of picking nits with Janet Smith’s article, it would be vastly more informative to read how Fox relates his call for “justice and mercy” for AWOL bishops to Archbishop Vigano’s interview ( where he states:

    “At this juncture, it seems most of the Hierarchy, with very few exceptions, had no scruple in closing the churches and in preventing the participation of the faithful in the holy Sacrifice of the Mass. They have behaved like cold bureaucrats, like executors of the will of the Prince, and most of the faithful have taken their actions as a sign of their lack of Faith. Who can blame them? . . . . When so many shops and restaurants were still open, the various Bishops’ Conferences had already suspended all sacred functions, even when the civil authorities had not asked them to do so. This is further proof that the Hierarchy is in a dreadful state and shows that Bishops are all too willing to sacrifice the well-being of souls to pacify the power of the state or the dictatorship of ideas.”

    • Please, no SSPX propaganda from “The Remnant”. Just look at that name – they imagine they are “the remnant” of the only true church, and the real church is not a church at all anymore. They are bonkers. Please, let us hear no more of their silliness.

      • Actually, Michael Matt and all of his writers attend FSSP parishes. That’s why the Remnant and the Wanderer split: Remnant Matts couldn’t bring themselves to go along with the consecrations; Wanderer Matts thought it had to happen.

        So, no the Remnant Newspaper is not SSPX. In fact, their back page is written by a non-FSSP diocesan priest.

        • Nonsense, and a typical avoidance of the issue that is typical of the slippery way the SSPX operates. It does not matter what church Matt attends. He openly advocates constantly for the SSPX and believes fervently that Lefebvre was right and the catholic church is wrong. The fact that they have some FSSP person on staff is equally ridiculous. We all know what they advocate. But thanks for giving the perfect example of the slippery, evasive manner in which these people operate. They always have some slippery, not really accurate excuse.

      • Your comment is ignorant and pernicious, seeking to cause strife by deliberately suppressing and distorting the truth. The Remnant is not an SSPX publication, as anyone can see for himself by visiting the site and examining its ownership and affiliations. It is your vicious silliness, not to say beliigerent buffoonery, that we need to hear less of. Is it merely coincidental that your comment moniker is a variation of Satan?

        • Again, a perfect example of the slipperiness that characterizes the SSPX advocates. Matt constantly talks about how wonderful and great a man Lefebvre was, to the point of silly idolotry. He constantly talks about how Vatican II was the worst thing in the world, and how wonderful the SSPX is. Again, you evasive technicality that the Remmant is not OWNED by the ORDER of teh SSPX is beyond silly. It advocates for them all the time. I am glad, however that you have revealed the various slippery techniques by which the SSPX and its advocates try to fool people.

      • It says a lot about Vigano that the Church–whose mission is surely more important than that of Taco Bell or Wal-mart–closed her doors before even being asked? Is the Church more concerned with eternal life or physical life?

      • Yes, sadly I was forced to come to that conclusion after believing he was very wonderful at first. Now he has seriously degraded into a very strange man with bizarre ideas. For some reason, all the trouble with Francis has turned some peoples minds into complete mush.

  7. This is little better than a ‘ snow job ‘ by an insider ‘,
    demonstrating a complete absence of holy anger,

    bearing in mind the sorry state of our church today.

  8. Maybe behind both sides of this controversy a simple truth is begging for an answer: do we truly believe Jesus is present in the Holy Eucharist. If so, and Jesus truly is the Great Physiscian, even in 2020, then the faithful are correct in asking for our Chruches to make Him present to us. May each of us, priest, bishop and those in the pew, live as if all that matters is Him, truly present in the Eucharist.

  9. Janet Smith has laid out what should be done in a perfect world. The article is right in that no one was prepared in the least for the current crisis, and bishops are frantically scrambling to adapt. Many have adapted. Many of her suggestions are probably being prepared right now. It is much easier to write about what should be done rather than implement it, so writers are often just demanding what is being done anyway. The whole idea of flying the eucharist around in a plane strikes me as silly. Why on earth would its power be more efficacious when flown in a plane, than sitting in a church? Does Jesus need to be flown around to have any effect? This strikes me as a lack of faith, bordering on some sort of magical paganism than true belief.

  10. “What Me Worry”!-Alfred E.Newman The Pot Shops,Dope Dens,Transport,& Pot Research
    Facility’s are all still open for business and considered “Essential” by Michigan’s Governor.Curb side pick-up and lack of 6 ft distance,makes no difference to her administration. Parishes,& Churches,and Houses of Worship is A Whole Nother Matter! Lock’um Up and Close the Doors. All while our Bishop shrugs his shoulders and looks down at his shoes.

  11. Father Fox writes (of Dr. Smith’s suggestions): “I simply could not fulfill these requirements…”

    Well, consider:

    A couple of weeks ago, Bishop Rick Stika of Knoxville tweeted, in full:

    “Was just speaking with a very close friend who is also a bishop about how strange it feels these days. We have no guide book on how to deal with a pandemic experience and how it touches the lives of thousands. Also what to do about weddings, funerals, confirmation, ordinations and all the various activities that have been on our calendars filling up our lives until the end of the year. But we will get through it because the Lord is with us. All of a sudden my schedule is empty! Going to work on my Spanish!”

    What does Fr. Fox think Bishop Stika and his colleagues do with all that free time? Troll on Twitter?

    Personally, I find Dr. Smith’s piece more realistic, less bureaucratic, and – most importantly – more imperatively necessary for our beloved shepherds than learning Spanish.

  12. The bishops’ primary obligation is to serve the needs of our spiritual lives that are conducive to salvation and only secondarily to keep us safe from corporal harm. This primacy of duties has been turned upside down by blanket orders to close the churches, suspend the sacraments of confession and Holy Communion. Priest have a canonical right (duty?) to oppose orders of bishops that contravene canon law. There are ways to offer limited public Masses and private confessions. The bishops are bound to find them and structure them.

  13. Fr. Fox, after reading Dr. Smith’s article I’m befuddled as to why you find it so problematic. She offered suggestions as to how our bishops can be more “present” among their flock in these most difficult times. None of the suggestions were offered as anything but that: suggestions. And aside from flying in a chopper or plane why were any of them particularly burdensome? Is there something else keeping our bishops, and priests for that matter, so busy right now that they can’t find time to Implement some, most, or all of these useful suggestions?

    I’d differ with Dr. Smith and with you on one point. Assuming she, like you, has no problem with suspension of public celebration of the mass, I find that problematic, at least in the manner in which it’s been carried out. There was minimal if any attempt to persuade public leaders to allow public celebration in some form to continue. It’s disconcerting to many of us that any number of places remain open for public business, including but certainly not limited to: marijuana dispensaries, liquor stores, repair shops and of course retail and grocery stores, including large wholesale outlets. Yet our churches and the mass are “off limits”.

    Germs and viruses are indifferent as to where they infect people. Do they respect “off limits” zones around the above mentioned locations, but chose to congregate where a limited number of faithful Catholics gather to attend mass and pray?

    And what does it say that neither most bishops nor most priests were heard to proclaim that indeed the mass and public worship are essential and furthermore matters which have sanction in divine law, and in civil law as well. If it be necessary to limit public access, and/or forego reception of communion for all but the priest, then why weren’t churches kept open and mass made available at least within those mandated limits?

    And that “most Catholics” were OK with suspension of the mass should hardly carry the day, given that “most Catholics” are ambivalent to Church teaching as to both faith and morals.

    Long after this immediate crisis has passed, there will be a reckoning. If God’s people did not proclaim the necessity and the right for public worship during this crisis, why will anyone thereafter think it,strictly speaking, necessary to so engage afterwards? Or henceforth are we to understand that public worship is only to be undertaken when secular rulers grants us leave and not otherwise? I hope and pray someone in our hierarchy is giving serious thought to those questions.

  14. I am very grateful that many bishops wisely decided early in this pandemic to prohibit large gatherings in their diocese. Their decision THEN is of inestimable importance NOW to the countless people who are not working from the safety and comfort of an electronic device in their homes but are in the front lines of battle. Among others, I am referring to our health care providers, police officers, grocery store employees, those who stock warehouses, those who sanitize buildings, those who are working in assembly lines in factories and for companies that produce products vital to this war-like effort, and not least of all, for priests who are ministering to the sick and dying.

  15. News today that His Eminence, Cardinal Cupich, has directed that no baptisms be conducted in his diocese. And that emergency baptism only be provided with his permission. So if a priest or a member of the laity comes across somebody dying and who expresses desire to be baptized, they have to give the cardinal a call. I’m sure he’ll get right back to them or pick up right away…..

  16. The Bishops, as well as most Catholics, including me, have been missing in action against the fight against abortion. How many babies have been terminated? For the most part it seems that marches against abortion have minimal Bishops showing up. So the suggestion that bishops have a procession against COVID would be relevant, if somehow they were demonstrably more vocal in defense of babies.

  17. Speaking of propaganda; stop knocking the SSPX.

    Moreover, the SSPX and the Remnant are not the same thing. In fact, the editors and most of the writers at The Remnant attend FSSP parishes.

    You may disagree with the route the SSPX has taken, but you can’t question their orthodoxy, nor can you make broad generalizations about their clergy and faithful.

  18. Father Fox,

    When minimum wage workers (with little health care coverage) can risk working at a grocery store for a full shift to let people get essential supplies surely our clergy can do more.

    Perhaps sit in the parish garden for an hour a day to hear confessions and offer solace (whilst maintaining 6 foot distance). It’s surely much easier than my neighbor’s job as a janitor at a hospital who must risk his health to keep the hospital clean and to earn a modest living. When the poor and underpaid are doing far more than our clergy then we have to question their response to this crisis.

    • We should remember that both priests and bishops are sustaining themselves with food during this crisis. Who do they think is growing the food that they eat? Who do they think is transporting the food that they eat? Who do they think is stacking the shelves and serving them at the checkout counter so they can take that food home to sustain the bodies that will one day surely die? If all these people put it on the line so that bishops can eat, can’t our bishops do as much to sustain the spiritual lives of the faithful whom they are charged to serve? That’s pretty much what Professor Smith suggested, Fr. Fox.

  19. Last Sunday our priest held a parking lot mass. He jumped through hoops to make it safe, setting up a transmitter so we could all remain in our cars to listen to the liturgy on our radios. Even though we didn’t receive communion the whole thing was still strangely moving.

    Next day our bishop found out about it and squashed it.

  20. This article distorts Janet Smith’s piece, which (for example) doesn’t say EACH bishop should do the things on the list, but that bishops in general should do the sort of things on her list. Some are; many are not. There’s much else that could be said, but this sentence flabbergasted me: “She seems to approve of the suspension of public Masses, but not of baptisms, for reasons that are not entirely clear.” A priest who does not understand why suspending BAPTISMS is a problem? I really cannot fathom that.

  21. The Bishops rolled over without making any evident attempt to keep public worship available. In my very large church it would have been possible to sit three people in a pew ( left, middle , right)while maintaining appropriate distance, and then the next row of people would be three rows behind them, etc. . That would mean between 60-75 people in church safely at one time. . Since Mass attendance is so “off”in these modern times it would have accommodated many, though not all, regular attendees on a regular Sunday Mass Schedule. What a shame the Bishops did not even try. Further, they have now opened the barn door to make future church closures at the behest of the STATE for whatever reason, hard to countermand. NYC Mayor Deblasio has recently stated he will close PERMANENTLY any church defying the “no socialization ” order there . The Bishops have handed a can of worms to the devil.

    • I’m afraid in some cases it’s worse than that.

      As I mentioned above, our bishop squashed our drive-in mass, even though our dyed-in-the-wool Democrat governor proclaimed that drive-in church services are OK: “I think this type of service can be something people can feel together on,” said the governor.

      So a liberal Protestant politician is more open to the mass than is our shepherd.

      The men with the croziers have legitimate authority, no question. Just don’t blow smoke and tell me I am somehow obligated to trust them. Trust is earned.

      • I don’t believe anything justifies a “drive-in” Mass. It strikes me as sacrilegious. But the way many parish Masses have been offered under ordinary circumstances has been undignified. If the Eucharist is alleged to be the most intimate communion with Christ in his sacrifice for our redemption, why do we degrade it in so many ways?
        If Catholics were adequately catechized, they would have such a rich, liturgical prayer life, they could easily wait for a worshipful Mass.

  22. as someone who volunteered to wipe pews in between safely spaced parishoners after and before Masses…and was ignored….

    as someone who volunteered to sit in church daily, be the only one who touched door for entrants and exiters for adoration, and volunteered to wipe area where anyone sat…and was ignored…..

    who volunteered to wipe confessional after every confession…and was ignored….

    who suggested over a month ago that all hymnals and missals be stored to eliminate common contact areas….and was ignored….

    who offered to run food to scared folk older than my unyoung self, including wiping all purchases….and was ignored….

    And see instead bishops suspend most every part of the religious life of dioceses….and when I KNOW I am not the only one suggesting to clerics all manner of ways to keep the wheels on not only the church, but society as well (hey, everybody wear playex gloves when you leave the house, and dip in bucket of bleach water on return, and use same water or alcohol to wipe any purchase before even placing in car),…

    there are ways of dealing with hostile environments on a daily basis, ask any worker who works with hazmat or in confined space or medical fields or military Nuclear/Biological/Chemical warfare unit officer, or food processing plant worker….

    where all those are ongoing every day…but what is happening is leadership is frozen in liability-suit/career preservation mode and where bunker mentality has taken hold,…

    and only thing really coming from leaders is a vast sense of being panicked and lost, and knowing the safest thing (they think) they can do is pull the plug, shut it down, and await word from some other foolhardy individual to TELL them what to do, and that way, if it turns out to be a disaster, it will be on that fool, and not them…

    • Bob, your reward in heaven is great.
      The political class of the Catholic Church, it’s bishops, is now clearly showing its true colors. The American bishops will bring souls to Christ only if it is comfortable and politically correct enough to do so.
      Not all of them of course, but the great majority, certainly.

  23. Interesting comments from all most I disagree with.
    Have we ever at any point seen a Bishop act like Christ
    walking among the people, gently sitting down with the beggar
    giving food to a homeless person retreating to a desert for spiritual rejuvenation weeping over the cities of our Nation
    on and on.No I have not seen such a Bishop only the ones that are running a Company enjoying the wealth of the land and now and then pontificating with crosier in hand. So
    much out of touch with how the Master who has entrusted
    to them, the salvation of souls God help them and forgive them!

  24. Fr. Fox’s presentation of the “election” of the bishop by the Pope is deficient. Certainly the Holy Father makes the ultimate appointment. He relies on the selection by other bishops whom he trusts for the regions of the world and for the church at large. Those bishops recommending candidates for the episcopacy have been grooming priests who share their peculiar theological, liturgical, pastoral, political, etc preferences so that the church will move in the direction these already ordained bishops are trying to direct it to move. Ambition may be a part of it by a priest, to attain to power, to feel important to be chosen, or whatever route ambition takes. Nonetheless, I do not see holiness and fidelity as prime criteria, rather a promotion of like minded men who will push a new agenda and direction for the church, unfortunately a worldly one.

  25. Amen to Dr. Janet Smith and bless her for the wonderful words, counsels and charitable comments. Fr. Fox thank you for letting me know about her essay. Dr. Janet Smith has been for many years a most loyal daughter of the Church and might in this case the bishops heed the wise and sagacious words of someone in the pasture rather than in a chancery office.

    Indeed Fr. Fox we should not be unjust and unmerciful in our criticisms of not only bishops but anyone. During the Season of Great Lent, thrice a day Byzantine Catholics pray the poignant Prayer of St. Ephrem.

    Nonetheless, I hardly found Dr. Smith’s comments harsh, unmerciful or judgmental. I heard a plea from a daughter of the Church to her shepherds, our chief pastors, and spiritual fathers. Everyday the President is giving rather long daily briefings. The Pope himself has been out and about in prayer and present to the universal flock. They are far busier than any bishop in this Country. Furthermore much of the administration you mention ought to be left to the laymen to address, after all don’t the temporal affairs rightly belong to them and as tradition tells – the deacons as well? In turn, the bishop is freed up in order to address and care for his most important responsibility the salvation of souls! Yes, liturgies, sacramental administrations, teaching through writing and preaching, visiting his people, encouraging them, leading them, praying with them and teaching them how to pray! Indeed, following in the steps of some of the heroic priest that Dr. Smith mentioned.

    How much we priest and laypeople – the sheep – have desperately longed for shepherds, pastors, fathers. Dr. Janet Smith is only one more voice in the midst of millions of voices that have been desiring this for decades!!!!!

    In your essay, you list the priorities you deem important for a bishop as you dismiss Dr. Smith’s most wise, biblical, hagiographical and thoroughly catholic counsel. Bishops such as Ambrose, Augustine, Gregory the Great, Francis de Sales and Charles Borromeo are the exemplars of how to be a genuine bishops. Each of those bishops had their own crisis or crises including including pandemics. The invention of the internet makes it so much easier for bishops today to be present to their people and yes, once or twice a day leadings his people in prayer, and offering spiritual counsel, comfort and catechesis.

    Dr. Smith describes a spiritual father and pastor; you describe an administrator and therein lies the difference. Unfortunately, bishops for decades have been following your description more than that of Dr. Smith’s. That is one reason for the enduring crisis of faith and the continually drifting away of millions of Catholics. It is absent fatherhood!

  26. I read this article early on and was somewhat sympathetic.
    However, I think the problem with Janet Smith’s comments is not so much with their content but with their unmeasured, even uncharitable tone (untypical of her, to my knowledge).
    Phil Lawler remedies the problem today in his Catholic Culture column.

  27. I am not one to add fuel to the fire, BUT the fire is still smoldering…
    Who in my aged era would ever hint a disparity upon the clergy? In that era a hush came over the faithful when a Bishop entered the room. The minstrels would trumpet HIS arrival. We were to be seen and not heard. Then our coveted world exploded… the coverups were exposed. Bad Bishops and complicit Bishops were exposed… the pride and faith in the church was diminished. After the discovery that disgraceful and gravely sinful acts of moving pedophile priests to other unsuspecting parishes, our Bishops destroyed our trust. The real question is how do they ever regain that trust? How can they plead “welcome home” when the roof is still leaking?

    • Well Morgan, you may be expressing your views and the views of some Americans but I don’t think that over reverential attitude towards bishops existed as much in Europe.
      I don’t care for European cynicism but expecting too much from human beings who share our fallen nature isn’t a good plan either.
      I’m always amazed that our clergy manage to serve us so well considering all that.
      You be safe out there Morgan and God bless.

  28. There is a point to be made about Confession:

    We’ve read stories coming from Europe about Priests who literally are living in hospital because the want to provide the sacraments to the sick and dying but at the same time they don’t want to go back home and infect people. We’ve also read about medics who have converted through the testimonies of these Priests.

    Most Priests and Bishops I see online are really not talking too much about Confession, the few who do, direct the faithful to the perfect act of contrition. Humans are really bad at accomplishing tasks that come with the word “perfect” attached to them. It seems to be the case that some souls cannot achieve perfect contrition, they get to attrition but not further. I suppose Contrition is a grace one could ask from Our Lord.

    Bishops are not perfect and this is good enough reason to think twice before criticizing them, on the other hand, Bishops and Priests are calling us for perfection in our contrition. I hope there is coherence in this position, I guess there is, I just fail to see it at the moment.

  29. Having seen the EWTN interview with Janet Smith by Raymond Arroyo (who interrupted her numerous times), I have to say that this is the Janet Smith I know from her writing, measured, impassioned but certainly not irrational. With respect, Fr. Fox, I’d refer you to Phil Lawler’s April 2 article, When our churches open again . . . for a taste of (masterfully-contained) righteous fury on this issue.
    Yes, I’m signing the petition.

    Yes, I’m signing the petition.

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. The shepherds we need—or the shepherds I want? - Catholic Mass Search
  2. Don't expect too much from the U.S. bishops right now - California Catholic Daily

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