Sunday, December 02, 2007
Waiting and waiting and...
It took Rome over two years to replace the bishop of Birmingham just to the north of us. Our own bishop, Oscar H. Lipscomb, put in his papers in September of 2006. It is now December of 2007, with no indication from Rome who our successor will be or when he will be arriving. In both cases, the bishops put in their resignation papers at the age of 75 as required by canon law. Their resignations were not a sudden surprise that caught Rome unaware!
If we truly believe in the central importance of bishops as successors to Christ, there is really no excuse for these delays. In both of the local cases above, the bishops remained in place, but like all out-going leaders, their tendency is/was to put off making major decisions until the next bishop is in place. "I don't want to tie the hands of my successor" is the oft-repeated phrase, and at age of 75+, having faithfully served the Church for 50 years, who can blame them? One can only imagine the weariness with which these bishops approach/approached confirmation season! Meanwhile, parishes and schools may need closing, high schools may need building, priests may need pastoral care, archdiocesan offices may need restructuring, and pastors and executive employees of the Church may need vision to lead their institutions. But everyone waits.
I suspect one cause of this unreasonably slow process is a reluctance to embrace new technologies to expedite selections. I see no reason the Vatican could not keep an updated "Top 50" list of potential bishops, with resumes that include a history of service to the Church, achievements, strengths, a recommendation from their current bishop and special talents. Each of the 50 would be "pre-cleared", making it unnecessary to go through a stringent investigation for each new placement. Secured email exchanges would clear up questions and assist the Vatican in updating this list frequently, as well as uncovering new men to place on the list. Then, when an episcopacy becomes "open", it is really only a matter of matching the needs of the diocese with the talents of those on the list. The process should take no more than 3months, if that.
The problem is many of those in leadership positions in our Church were born in a different era and are uncomfortable with technology and unaware of how it could enhance their administrative efficiency . Look carefully at how most chanceries and tribunals do business and you will see little has changed from 30 years ago, excepting the use of word-processors for type-writers. Almost all official correspondence is still through the U.S. mail. Rarely will you find a chancery that knows email addresses for each of its priests or uses these for routine sharing of information. Rarely will you find dioceses with truly active, helpful web pages (with some notable exceptions). The same is true at the Vatican. Church officials may defend these practices, citing concerns about privacy or about proper ecclesiastical authentication, even though banks and vendors have been authenticating and conducting business for ten years now over the internet.
By not becoming fluent in the arena of technology, the Church misses out on using a tool that can aid it in its evangelization. My daughter, vice-president of her freshman class at Notre Dame, sent a "Facebook" message to her classmates that they would be hosting a night time rosary and hot chocolate at the Grotto on campus, and over 300 members of her class came to out to pray! Technology is the "vernacular" of modernity, and we can advance our gospel mission by learning its language.
We can also use it to improve the efficiency of our Church in doing routine busines, like selecting bishops. Its December, 2007, and we're still waiting...