The Deacon's Bench

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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