Pope Francis’s Refreshing Take on What Makes a Good Bishop
Pastors, not bureaucrats nor political climbers.
It was again a welcomed sign that Pope Francis’s view of what it means to be a leader in the church extends beyond his own office as Bishop of Rome when, earlier this week, he addressed the papal nuncios — those archbishops who serve as representatives of the Holy See in a given country and whose task, in part, it is to recommend certain priests to the Vatican for appointments as bishops — and challenged them to shift their way of thinking, shift the culture of hierarchical rank-climbing, and shift their understanding of what categories best define a good candidate for bishop.
The church needs pastors, the pope said, not those who “have the psychology of ‘Princes.’” As Tom Reese, SJ, wrote on the NCR blog the other day: “In an address to papal nuncios, whose job it is to nominate bishops, Pope Francis described the kind of persons he wants them to put forward. He wants pastors who are ‘close to the people, fathers and brothers.’ They should be ‘gentle, patient and merciful; animated by inner poverty, the freedom of the Lord and also by outward simplicity and austerity of life.’”
Additionally, and most strikingly given the a clear change from the previous prefect of the CDF-turned-pope’s attitude, Reese points out that: “What was missing from Francis’s list of episcopal attributes were loyalty and orthodoxy, the two criteria that dominated the nomination process under Popes John Paul and Benedict.”
Reese offerred some insightful commentary:
The pope places greater stress on prudence for leaders than on holiness or scholarship. “Si sanctus est oret pro nobis, si doctus est doceat nos, si prudens est regat nos - if holy let him pray for us, if learned teach us, if prudent govern us.”
Some would argue that pope’s tend to want bishops who are very much like themselves. John Paul wanted bishops who would be aggressive in taking on cultural values contrary to church teaching, even if that meant getting into the political arena. Benedict looked for bishops who could be teachers of the faith. Francis is looking for bishops who with simplicity and joy can reinvigorate the church with a positive, compassionate message and witness.
In the coming years we will see whether the nuncios find such men for the pope.
To read the full address of Francis to his nuncios, visit the Vatican Radio translation of the comments.