An important distinction.
I have just had an “ahah!” moment while reading a comment from Tony in a combox to the post below.
As the Holy Father said to the bishops of France just recently, the bishops of the Church are charged to “carry out with fidelity and humility the triple task towards the flock entrusted to [them] of teaching, governing, sanctifying“. In return, “the Christian people must regard you with affection and respect” – not because of their own personal qualities, but because, as St Ignatius of Antioch wrote back in the very early years of the Church: “When someone is sent by the master of a house to manage his household for him, it is our duty to give him the same kind of reception as we should give to the sender” (Letter to the Ephesians, 6:1).
Now, the light bulb has finally lit up in my head (which might have something to do with me knocking it hard against the edge of the pool while doing backstroke this morning…)
Brian and Alan and Cliffy et aliter over at Catholica have a problem with obedience to the hierarchy of the Church. Brian characterised this obedience as “the Yes, Sir, no, Sir, three bags full , Sir, game”. Many strings on the Catholica discussion board are about the failure in governance of the bishops. To be honest, so are many discussions on the conservative boards – just do a search on for recent blogs on the local ordinary of the archdiocese of Brisbane and you will see what I mean.
The point is that a proper distinction is not being made between the three aspects of the “triple task” which has been committed by Christ to the bishops of his Church.
While every Christian is bound to relate to his bishop with affection and respect “rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to men” (as St Paul might have said in this situation also, cf. Eph 6:7), he is not bound to agree that everything his bishop (let alone someone else’s bishop) does is right, good or wise.
The charism of infallibility does not adhere to the person of the bishop, and still less to the governing office of the bishop, but only to the teaching office of the bishop, and even then only when he teaches in communion with his brother bishops and (most importantly) the bishop of Rome. No-one in their right minds would suggest that bishops are “infallible” in their governing office, yet that is what it seems is sometimes supposed of those of us who profess loyalty the the magisterium! We are well aware that bishops are just as capable of making big stuff ups when it comes to how they administer a diocese as anyone else.
As regards the sanctifying office of the bishop, even the most morally wicked or adminstratively inept bishop can’t really fail to get that one right, in so far as that office depends on the grace promised by Christ ex opere operato through the sacraments (although certainly the wickedness or ineptness of a bishop can hinder the degree to which this aspect of his triple task is effective).
When we cite great examples of saints who opposed their bishop (eg. Bl. Mary McKillop) or even pope (eg. St Catherine), we need to be aware that – with full affection and respect for the office – their criticism was offered in order to hold to account the governing office of the bishop/pope, not the teaching office.
This is an important point – on which many who set themselves against the magisterium are confused. Loyalty to the magisterium does not mean agreeing with everything the bishops do (or any single bishop does). It means assenting to the teaching of the Church.
As Fr Z. said recently in a podcast, we are obliged to obey those in authority over us in the Church, and to give assent to their teaching, but we are not obliged to agree with everything they do. That includes the popes.
Oh, and Tony also said that “the ‘church police’ remark was lost on me :-( “ Allow me to suggest some greater familiarity with Monty Python might lighten life up a little.