The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

“If God chose me to be a bishop…”

Over at Renew America, Matt Abbott has posted a provocative essay from a parish priest in Texas by the name of Fr. James Farfaglia. I’ll just re-post the first half, and you can jump to the link for the rest.

My thoughts are at the end. But I’d be curious to hear what others think of this:

I do not want to be a bishop. However, I do know some priests who do. Even St. Paul says that to aspire to the episcopacy is a noble task (1 Timothy 3: 1). I am very content being the pastor of a new parish in the city of Corpus Christi, Texas. However, when I look at the sad situation of the Catholic Church in the United States, I have often asked myself what I would do if God chose me to be a bishop.


First of all, in order to bring about any kind of serious reform in a diocese, the bishop has to have the support of his priests. Diocesan priests could be won over easily by a newly installed bishop by dramatically reducing the size of the chancery and allow the pastors and their assistants to do their job more effectively. Assessments on parish collections could be dramatically reduced or eliminated all together; the Bishop’s Annual Appeal could be ended, and all past debt on unpaid assessments could be eliminated as well. Funds could be obtained by selling the chancery building(s) and moving the dramatically reduced offices to the facilities of the Cathedral where the bishop of any diocese should be in the first place. Further funds could be gained by selling the bishop’s mansion (if he lives in one) and the newly installed bishop could live in the cathedral rectory and live with his priests.


As to what offices should actually exist in the chancery, thinking quickly, I would eliminate such offices as the Family Life Office, the Youth Office, and the Office for Evangelization. Are not the parish priests supposed to take care of their families? Are they not supposed to minister to their young people? Are they not supposed to be visiting the homes within their parish boundaries? And why do we need a diocesan newspaper when we have the Internet? I would say that all we really need in a chancery is a secretary for the bishop, one person to handle finances and properties, and someone to handle the tribunal. The new bishop would not be in the chancery like the CEO of a large corporation, rather he could spend time with his priests and seminarians, visit his parishes, visit the convents, visit the sick in the hospitals, and spend time at the abortion clinics.


If a new bishop were to do the things that I mentioned, he would have the support of the clergy. Once this took place, the new bishop could take the next step within this first priority.

As a new bishop I would dedicate most of my time to my priests. Every month I would have a mandatory day for my priests. The morning would be a well prepared monthly morning of recollection that I would direct to my priests. A delicious, well prepared lunch would follow. The priests would then be encouraged to spend time together. Sports, table games and hiking would be well organized. We could all come back together in the evening for Rosary and Benediction and then enjoy a nice supper together. The next morning, we could join together for Morning Prayer and Mass, and then everyone could leave for their parishes.


Along with a monthly day for priests, I would also organize and direct a monthly mandatory formation renewal day. I would teach my priests the entire Catechism of the Catholic Church and then I would take them through an extensive course on the Catholic liturgy. All of this I would do personally.

Aside from the retreat and formation days, I would make myself available to any priest that desires counsel, spiritual direction and/or confession. They would always be the priority of my mission as a bishop.

Regarding my priests, I would not tolerate any form of heresy, sexual misconduct, or abusive practices in the liturgy. Since the chancery is now reduced to what it should be, parish priests would be expected to work; to be missionaries; to be on fire for Jesus and be filled with zeal for souls. I would expect them to spend many hours preparing their Sunday homilies. Every parish would be expected to have well prepared programs for adult faith formation, CCD for children, youth groups, and evangelization teams visiting homes. Where needed, parishes will also reach out to the poor and the homeless. Priests would be encouraged to provide confessions for their parishioners thirty minutes before every Mass celebrated in their respective parishes. My priests would be my first concern.


Secondly, I would dedicate myself to the recruitment of vocations and to the formation of my seminarians. I would send my seminarians to the best seminaries available in the U.S. and Rome. Nothing can take the place of solid formation. Gay lifestyles would not be tolerated and normal young men will have to be serious, authentic, mature and coherent.

Before sending them off to the seminary, I would establish a two year spiritual formation program based on what serious novices do in religious life. Seminarians would be taught the art of prayer and community life. Once they completed the two year spiritual formation program, they could then begin their studies of philosophy. After philosophy they could spend a year or two in a parish, and then they could return to the seminary for theology. Along with their ecclesiastical studies, seminarians would be required to have business and accounting courses that would equip them for the complicated demands of parish finances.


The next priority would be Catholic education. Benefactors would be cultivated so that my diocese would have an abundance of well run Catholic schools. Every parish would be encouraged to maintain or start a Catholic elementary school and the diocese would have sufficient Catholic High Schools.

Catholic parents would be told that they have a moral obligation to send their children to Catholic schools. If they could not manage to pay for the affordable tuition, I would look for a way to provide the economic assistance that they needed so that their children could attend a Catholic school.

My fourth priority would be marriage preparation. Marriage formation institutes would be established regionally throughout the diocese. Anyone who is married in my diocese would have to participate in an extensive preparation for marriage at the marriage institute and not at the local parish. The institute would also provide on-going marriage formation courses that couples would be encouraged to participate in. The marriage preparation course and the on-going marriage formation programs would all be based on John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. Any priest, deacon, religious or lay instructor that was confused about Humanae Vitae would not be tolerated.


If I were a bishop, I would put a moratorium on all new petitions for annulments. All abuses would be ended abruptly, and more than likely, any annulment would have to have my personal review and approval before it would be granted. At the root of most annulments is the lack of serious marriage preparation in the parishes.

Okay. I’m not sure how much of this is idealistic, and how much is realistic. But a couple things leap out at me.

First, for much of the first half of this essay, it’s all about the priests — or, as he phrases it, “my priests.” I’m a little surprised that there is virtually no mention of his relationship to the people in the pews — the flock he shepherds.

And second, he neglects to mention (except in passing) the bishop’s other valuable (invaluable?) arm, the deacons. Or, as he might put it, “my deacons.”

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posted October 23, 2007 at 6:15 pm

As a former lay administrator, I think much of what he says is well put. The people in the pews do have to be the first responsibility of the local priest (and deacons), and the bishop must minister to those priests. Now in a different world, where dioceses were smaller as they are in Europe, a more personal approach with the people would be welcome. But for now, this is America with dioceses of hyper sized geographies.One thing I wish he would have mentioned would be the de emphasising of regional meetings of bishops. A bishop has a collegial office to be sure, but if they weren’t engaged in endless journeys to this or that other city for committee meetings, and simply taught their people and clergy the faith from their own cathedra/cathedral/seminary, the people in the pews would not be left out in the cold.

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posted October 23, 2007 at 6:17 pm

Fr. Abbott (Perhaps he should consider becoming a monk. Instead of becoming a bishop, he could be Abbot Abbott.) makes some good points. But judging from his picture he’s a young man. He writes “I would expect them to spend many hours preparing their Sunday homilies. Every parish would be expected to have well prepared programs for adult faith formation, CCD for children, youth groups, and evangelization teams visiting homes. Where needed, parishes will also reach out to the poor and the homeless. Priests would be encouraged to provide confessions for their parishioners thirty minutes before every Mass celebrated in their respective parishes.” I’m afraid his priests might not be so supportive when they try to get all these things done. He wants to eliminate most of the diocesan jobs which means even more work for the already time-challenged clergy (priests and deacons.Then he wants to ensure that every Catholic child goes to Catholic school, whether the parents can afford it or not. I wonder where he intends to get the money? Maybe the priests can fit in a few car washes.Seriously, the good Father seems like a very sincere man with good intentions, but I’m afraid he needs a dose of reality. God bless him in his quest to become bishop.

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posted October 23, 2007 at 6:18 pm

I have to wonder about the age of this “ideal” bishop. Bishops do tend to appear to have boundless energy, but some become less energetic as they age.

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Deacon Greg Kandra

posted October 23, 2007 at 6:41 pm

Mike: A clarification: Matt Abbott didn’t write the essay. A parish priest did, who sent it to Abbott for publication. Dcn. G.

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posted October 23, 2007 at 6:48 pm

well… i would love to see all of my pastors energetic and on fire – regardless how old they are…

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posted October 23, 2007 at 11:04 pm

As a parent of two small children, I’ll say that I’d be against mandatory Catholic schooling. My wife and I are converts and in our RCIA program, we met a science teacher from one of our local Catholic high schools. Prior to this encounter, we had planned on sending our children to our local parish school, but now we’re strongly considering homeschooling. Long story short: she told us she requires all her students to take home Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and have their parents watch it. And she was emphatic about how wonderful it was that her students were able to change their parents’ minds.Global warming aside, Gore’s movie is clearly more propaganda than truth (see the recent story out of the UK), and if that’s what the biology department is dishing out, we’ll pass, thank you.

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posted October 24, 2007 at 12:23 am

In a perfect world, with an abundance of top tier priests, I would agree with the author’s reliance of the parish priest to perform many of the functions currently farmed out to diocesan departments.The reality is that many parish priests (a) barely have a pulse, (b)genuinely have no interest in what the parish will look like five years from now when they retire, (c) are using 20 – 30 year old organizational behavior tools, (d) don’t have a clue what effective collaboration looks like, and (e) embrace technology about as well as Abp. Burke embraces John Kerry.I applaud the attempt to enroll all Catholic children in Catholic schools, but wish that he put an equal emphasis on the value of adult catechesis and effective relgious education programs.

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Just another mad Catholic

posted October 24, 2007 at 7:47 am

I think that the priest in question makes good points, prehaps what’s needed is to promote younger priests with more energy (one Father Roderick from the netherlands-daily 30 minutes podcast to the faithfull)sooner rather than later. Also a crash course in modern management tools and prehaps (and only prehaps!!!) removing the celibacy requiremnet to recruit more priests.

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posted October 24, 2007 at 3:11 pm

Is this a joke? Should we expect our bishops to be spiritual leaders who enforce Church discipline and teach Church doctrine on matters of grave importance?If I were a bishop and concerned with these issues, I would be worried about being stuck in a place like Lincoln, NE. The Vatican and the other bishops would not tolerate it. Look at what they did with Cardinal O’Boyle.

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posted January 25, 2008 at 1:39 am

Come now, Thomas… Catholics in Nebraska deserve strong leadership just anyone else.

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