I am privileged to live in the Diocese of Lancaster.
Perhaps because it is the furthest in England you can get from Ecclestone Square, the Bishop here sometimes breaks step with the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales.
Bishop O'Donoghue famously did it with his Fit for Mission series; this was well received by Rome (and many lay Catholics and priests), but ignored by the Conference...
Now our current Bishop, Bishop Campbell has done the same thing, with his New Year Pastoral Letter, about which I shall probably write more.
Why is it that when individual Bishops speak out, they are sometimes so much more Catholic than anything that emerges from the collective bureaucracy?
Bishop O'Donoghue addressed that, too, in Fit for Mission, Church. His analysis was that dividing important issues into "areas of responsibility" for designated bishops to lead on, had the effect of making the rest of them "reluctant … to speak out on these issues, as if somehow they had handed over their competence in these areas to the responsible bishop and his particular committee".
This collegial approach does not seem to be working. Bishop O'Donoghue lamented that, too. For example: "I must register, too, my disappointment that our Bishops' Conference recently could not agree a collegial response to the Government's legislation on same-sex adoption."
So what should we do about it?
The good bishop had plenty to say about that as well: at a talk to the Oxford Newman Society soon after the publication of Fit for Mission, Church, he had several practical and excellent suggestions. The talk is well worth reading - and re-reading - and then acting on.
However, what has not been resolved is the problem of the Conference vs the individual bishop, the dampening effect of bureaucracy and the party line. What we need is more bishops prepared to act as bishops: teaching with authority, in accordance with the Faith of our Fathers.
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