Episode 17 – Dear Bishops
The bishops meet again next month to reflect further on the path forward beyond the scandals destroying trust in the Catholic Church. With that in mind, I would like to offer the following suggestion for their consideration.
Let’s start by considering the problem that must be solved. In many instances, the trust of the faithful has been squandered. Confidence in the future of the Church has bottomed out. Concern regarding the abuse scandals and the cover-ups is widespread. The faithful anxiously await the bishops’ response to the current crisis.
The bishops face a considerable challenge. They must propose new and significant solutions that signal real changes, not cosmetic fixes. Bishops must propose creative and exciting changes — changes that nonetheless respect and honor tradition.
While proposed solutions must address the current crisis and put out the fires, they must also heal underlying wounds that have been allowed to fester. A crisis of this magnitude does not spring up overnight. Its roots are deep.
So we might ask what solution might be both new and traditional? Nothing could be more traditional than the basic faith mission — the salvation of souls. Perhaps that which is new will actually be a renewal — a passionate renewed focus on the salvation of souls, a renewed dedication to individual spiritual pilgrimage.
What might this renewal look like? I suggest each diocese establish a Pastoral Services Center overseen directly by the bishop. These centers will function as spiritual incubators where salvation journeys will be nurtured. Each will deliver the highest level of pastoral care available in the diocese. Each bishop who establishes a Pastoral Services Center will thereby signal a personal desire to foster meaningful renewal.
The Pastoral Services Centers will deliver mediation and peacemaking, pastoral counseling, and spiritual direction.
First, let’s consider the mediation and peacemaking component. Faith-based mediation, inspired by Christ the Mediator, simultaneously reconciles us with God and with our fellow man. This dual-axis model, introduced in an earlier episode, compliments the basics of mediation. In addition to delivering mediation and reconciliation, the proposed pastoral centers will offer training in conflict prevention, management, and resolution.
Peacemaking is a vital component of our faith. It transforms lives, families, parishes, and communities. But, if we’re fully honest, we must admit that mediation is missing from our parishes and dioceses. Instead, we assume that peace will magically unfold with no effort on our part — but that is not reality.
If we look closely, we discover a lack of adequate conflict resolution systems played a role in the current crisis. I would even argue that the crushing burden of distrust that the bishops now face is a direct result of a failure to train and employ an army of faith-based mediators. This culture of conflict avoidance has led to what now appears to be a culture of cover-up.
In contrast, in a diocese with a robust mediation protocol, situations that might later escalate into scandal will come to light before they generate a crisis. In this way, a dispute resolution system functions as an early warning system. Scandal and distrust are avoided. The profound lack of such systems in the Church contributed to the current crisis.
With the solution I propose, bishops automatically signal that they care about the welfare and peace of the flock. Bishops demonstrate a pastoral demeanor by overseeing the delivery of conflict resolution, reconciliation, and peacemaking services. This is both new and bold and yet consistent with the traditional core of the faith.
I suggest that bishops become noisy public advocates for peacemaking programs that bring conversion, heal broken relationships, and reconcile man with God. Mediation is not mere clever technique, but rather a pastoral service that reconciles man with God. Each bishop should commit to making it a priority within their diocese.
The Pastoral Services Center should feature an ombudsperson that mans the “front door” and “triages” pastoral care, making sure those seeking help receive the correct services. A bishop who wants to send the message that “things have changed” should welcome the presence of such an ombudsperson.
A diocesan pastoral center should offer pastoral counseling. Unfortunately, over the past four decades, the Church steadily abandoned its role as a caregiver for souls in despair. A deficit of pastoral counseling was the result. The Church ceded its counseling role to a mental health profession steeped in atheist views. Over the years, many have been denied the benefit of this important pastoral service, including clergy as well as laity. This contributed to the current crisis.
Bishops can create meaningful renewal by reclaiming the Church’s role in delivering counseling. When such healing was turned over to the secular mental health profession built on atheist premises, the stage was set for the abuse scandal that now threatens our Church. Bishops should reclaim this ministry of healing. This would signal a new beginning based solidly on the faith’s tradition of healing.
Another underlying cause of the current crisis was the loss of an applied theology. Theology became academic, scholastic. The lack of an applied or living theology, once so common, weakened our relationship with God. When we no longer had a practical theology that spiritual warriors could use to fend off secular attacks, the Church was weakened. Christians were forced to retreat in the face of cultural assaults. Any meaningful renewal must arm Christians with effective theological weapons. This will take place through the pastoral service known as spiritual direction.
Bishops seeking renewal may also want to embrace my earlier suggestion for training that consists of alternating hermitage with ministry. This regimen allows the faithful to heal wounds commonly incurred in spiritual warfare so they might return to the battlefield. Bishops who provide such pastoral care to a small army of spiritual warriors will regain trust.
My suggestion also calls for helping the faithful marry faith with reason — so they might grasp the deeper theological truths of this world and the next. Today, there is very little adult catechism. Most of what exists is geared to training teachers for the primary grades.
The advanced catechism offered through the Pastoral Center will nurture creative souls who will become leaders of the new evangelization. These souls, with strong divine relationship, will model “being-in-love” that draws others into relationship with Christ. The bishop should oversee this vital service of the Pastoral Center.
The crisis we face is more serious than most realize. Conflict avoidance is no longer an option. The same old failed approaches will not work. Major reform and renewal are needed.
In many instances, the laity have already responded with anger driven by their distrust, disappointment, and dismay. Conflict has escalated. Thus, bishops must now act boldly. Words will mean little. Actions will be closely scrutinized.
For this reason, I have suggested significant renewal begins with a robust pastoral plan, such as the one I have outlined. We must turn dramatically to peacemaking, pastoral counseling, spiritual direction, and applied theology. This may be the only way to significantly touch hearts with a renewal that is grounded in tradition.
This is not a plan that will take shape in the parishes where it will only wilt and fade. Rather it is a plan for Pastoral Centers that fall directly under the oversight of the bishops. This hands-on reform will incubate meaningful renewal and then the vine, healed and strengthened, will begin to grow again.
If we listen carefully in the quiet of our contemplative hearts, I believe we will hear the Holy Spirit summoning us down this path. May God bless you and bring you peace, and may God infuse the bishops with the grace needed to see the path forward beyond this crisis.