Monday, November 14, 2005

Skylstad to Bishops: Rebuild Priestly Morale

In his Presidential Address, delivered earlier this morning, Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane, president of the USCCB, devoted the core of his message to the subject of priestly life and ministry. Shedding light on the tragically under-covered backstory of the abuse crisis, he spoke of the need for bishops to reach out and reaffirm their presbyterates.
Our Catholic teaching consistently speaks of priests as our closest collaborators and co-workers in the Lord's vineyard. Yet we Bishops need to recognize honestly that many priests do not sense that this is true. In the studies that I have been referencing, more than half of the priests interviewed said that the way in which the crisis of the past few years has been handled has affected their view of Church leadership negatively. Only 42% believe they will be dealt with fairly if they are accused; 58% do not. Only 27% believe that accused priests have been treated fairly; the vast majority does not.

Over the last three years, some actions we Bishops have taken have been interpreted as signaling a lack of concern for priests. I want to affirm that this Conference's goal of protecting children and young people is a goal we want to work toward with our priests and not against them. Clearly, the Bishops are required by law and in conscience to respond vigorously to allegations of sexual abuse of a minor and to take the necessary action in those cases where such abuse has been admitted or established. That having been said, the presumption of innocence – and not guilt – should follow an accused priest until the facts of the case indicate otherwise. All the other steps we have put in place for the protection of children and young people, such as codes of conduct and background checks, should be clearly seen as having the aim of sustaining the kind of presbyterate in which the Catholic people, we Bishops, and our priests themselves can have confidence. Moreover, in associating ourselves with the goal of protecting children and young people and taking active steps to make that goal a reality, Bishops and priests together will sense not only that we are dealing with a crisis that has afflicted the Church alone but that we are also helping society face up to a problem, too often hidden, that afflicts far too many children and young people and which we must work to eradicate wherever it occurs whether that be the church, the school, or the home.
Skylstad also noted that the bishops see a crisis of morale amongst themselves
As I offer these thoughts about our priests, I am keenly aware that work needs to be done to support and sustain the fraternity and the morale of the Bishops. There is no question, Brothers, that these past few years have taken a great toll on us. We need to give more attention to our relationships with and support of one another....

One major challenge still before us – as I have heard other Bishops name it and as I see it – is for us to strengthen our affective collegiality in such a way that we come to a better balance between the proper exercise of authority and governance in our own dioceses and the need we have to work and support each other more effectively when it comes to those pastoral responsibilities that we must fulfill collectively.
And by that, the good President seems to indicate three things:

1. politicians and communion
2. the commoditization of bishops into national ear-ticklers for warmongering factions, and
3. the rise of the "flying bishop" (e.g. people in California who have repudiated communio and seek alternative episcopal oversight from the diocese of Lincoln as if they were renegade Episcopalians, and other such manifestations of bad Catholicism).

Stay tuned for more.