It's time to end the "imperial episcopate." What do you think?


I found this article over at First Things rather refreshing.

Exalted titles and elaborate uniforms, for example, tend to distance bishops from their priests and people, and also subtly nudge them toward self-important and self-referential ways of thinking and acting. As the recent catastrophic scandals demonstrate, too many bishops have proven unable to act as pastors and evangelists and have instead behaved as managers and bureaucrats. The current crisis in the Catholic Church reveals that the clerical culture in which bishops and priests live is in many ways diseased and deformed, requiring renewal through the fire of divine love and the revealed truth of the Word of God.

The basic thrust of the article is to say that bishops and priests need to regain their original “evangelical” purpose: to be fathers above administrators.

I tend to agree about him even with regards to the elaborate clerical ornamentation. I recall a few weeks ago, there was an online discussion about whether or not the papal tiara should be brought back. This is not the exact same issue, but I think it’s an example of the “imperial” hierarchy. We need to stop this kind of clericalism.

What do you think? How can we actually do this at an institutional level? After all, many bishops and priests themselves are perfectly fine and “evangelical.” So beyond individual personality, how can we actually reform the church itself?


I stopped reading First Things for a reason.

As a convert, and a convert who knew what it was like to be backstage with Tammy Faye & Jim, at the 700 Club, in the speakers green room at many national & international conferences, I saw the celebrity “don’t mix with the unwashed masses” as simply part of the job. We would NEVER simply walk the floor of a conference or mingle with the crowd. We were above all of that.

After conversion when I attended my first Eucharistic Congress and saw the Bishop standing in line for a lemonade, I almost fell over! To this day when I attend a conference with Bishops, Archbishops, famous TV Catholic religious or lay persons, I am constantly moved by the humility of these people. When you bump into well known Catholic blogger in the ladies room or sit and have a small talk conversation with a famous EWTN priest, that does NOT happen outside of Catholicism.

Believe me, when (insert name of well known televangelist) comes to town, he/she does not stand in line for lemonade or use the same bathrooms as the general public.


I don’t know much about First Things, but I do know the article makes good points regarding the “imperial episcopate.”

I’m not sure how to reply to the rest of your comment except to say that I’m glad there are humble Catholics out there. I think most bishops as well are good folk. The point of the article was getting rid of those things that promote clerical culture, like auxiliary bishops.


Because we should send retired Bishops packing? These men have given their lives in service to the Church, the very least we can do is give them respect in return.


The article is NOT about getting rid of the episcopate.

The article is about getting rid of the imperial episcopate – those things that came from ancient Pagan Rome, for starters, as well as those institutions that promote clericalism, and have even fostered the recent scandals.

Eliminating auxiliary bishops would also remove a chief temptation to clerical careerism. At present, priests work to become auxiliaries so that later they can become diocesan bishops and eventually be promoted to metropolitan archbishop. But the custom of moving bishops from one diocese to another is deeply contrary to the spousal significance of the bishop’s ring. The bishop who is united to his diocese as the groom is to his bride cannot be a mere functionary; he is a pastor after the heart of Christ, who gave his life for his bride, the Church. And living as a shepherd in precisely that way will be the end of the Imperial Episcopate and a source of deep reform in the Church.


Did you read the article? It explains what is meant by getting rid of auxiliary bishops. The underlying problems being careerism, and distorting the nature of what it means to be bishop, and mega-dioceses.


Yep, read the article. Do not agree with it. I can only speak to the culture in the USA, it might be different other places.


The Church is hierarchy, modeled after Heaven.

A hierarchy of service and authority, yes. But not of power and honor for the sake of power and honor.

The former comes from Christ and is found in Scripture and reflected in the Early Church. The latter comes from imperial influence, pageantry, and more secular purposes.

The article isn’t denying that there is a hierarchical priesthood in the Church.

Please read the article.

I find it odd that someone can’t agree with making the episcopate more “evangelical” and like the original spirit of the office, rather than more imperial, administrative, and promoting clericalism.


So you don’t agree that bishops need to be more fatherly and evangelical?

Or do you just reject that there is a problem in the episcopate today?


I agree with a lot of the article, but I think there’s a place for treating clergy with special respect. My bishop has a podcast where (it seems) he works to demonstrate that he’s “one of the guys” (talking about football, etc.). I don’t want him to be one of the guys, I want him to be the leader for his flock.


I agree, and as the article says:

While deference to the bishop may begin with true reverence for his office, it too often leads to the growth of vanity, ambition, and clerical careerism. And so it is time to end the Imperial Episcopate.


“Fatherly and evangelical” are rather subjective terms. I believe that those who are Priests, Bishops and Archbishops are called to humility and that they deserve our deep respect and love.

Priests have different personalities, when the become Bishops and Archbishops, they retain those personalities. I would not want a man to somehow “fake” a fatherly personality, and if by evangelical you mean acting in the way that evangelical pastors do - striving for success, being separate from the crowd, striving to be celebrities, no way do I want priests turning into that!

I have never met or encountered a Bishop or Archbishop who was anything but humble.

ETA. I draw a parallel to the military. I don’t want a General who is disrespected.


I went into this article with the assumption that I would reject pretty much everything it had to say. The premise was off putting to me. …but, having read through the actual arguments, I actually agree with much of what Father writes here. Some of it is the logical extension of reforms that began under Bl. Paul VI. Already, the day-to-day dress and ceremony of bishops has been greatly simplified from bygone days.

I have no issue with all bishops, regardless of rank, wearing simple black cassocks OUTSIDE of liturgical contexts… within the liturgy, the bishop should wear proper, dignified vestments befitting the High Priesthood of Christ, for in this context we honour Christ the King in our midst, rather than the person of the bishop.

His point regarding titular bishops also resonated with me. The bishop is the vicar of Christ for a particular local Church. He is the groom and the local Church is the bride. Titular bishops can’t claim this role…at least not in the same concrete manner. The “job” of an auxiliary bishop can be carried out by a priest appointed as an episcopal vicar. Likewise, the “job” of most Roman Curia officials, and even Nuncios for that matter, could likewise be carried out by priests delegated appropriate authority by the Bishop of Rome. Look at religious orders. Their superiors exercise all sorts of special jurisdictional authority, sometimes overseeing hundreds of priests, without the episcopal character.


Yes, but Christ didn’t tell us to come as kings, but as slaves.


I found this article a mixed bag. The part about reducing auxiliaries and having smaller dioceses is a good one, I think. Some bishops proposed for the agenda of Vatican II (including, maybe surprisingly, Archbishop Lefebvre) that the Church increase the number of ordinaries–perhaps even double it. I think there is wisdom in that.

Bishops being in their Cathedral on Sunday is an interesting point–I can see the positive side the author puts forth… I would quibble and say the bishop is the ordinary pastor of the whole diocese. Priests are his vicars. As such, I think there are also benefits to the bishop coming to the parishes for Mass periodically–smaller dioceses would make this even easier.

On some other points, bishops acting more like middle management bureaucrats and less like successors to the Apostles has come along more with the downplay of the “imperial episcopacy” we’ve seen since Vatican II. At least from what I can tell, the ones with a healthy respect for the traditions surrounding their offices tend to also take its responsibilities seriously. Those that discard such things tend to discard other things as well…

Too much familiarity can also be a problem. Despite having an exalted office, “Uncle Ted” certainly wasn’t using exalted titles to distance himself from people. He used familiar titles to get too close!


Likewise, the “job” of most Roman Curia officials, and even Nuncios for that matter, could likewise be carried out by priests delegated appropriate authority by the Bishop of Rome.

Not to mention lay people!


We should encourage bishops to abandon colored sashes, buttons, piping, and capes and stick to simple black. Like the Eastern Orthodox clergy, let all bishops, priests, and deacons wear the same black cassock, with bishops identifiable by their miters, pectoral crosses, and rings.

It’s a rare day when I see a priest in a cassock. :stuck_out_tongue:

But if he’s saying that “you can’t have lace on your sleeves or piping on your clothing without it going to your head”, that sounds like an individual’s problem, and would remain the individual’s problem, regardless of the color of their buttons. As a matter of fact, a priest in a cassock is pretty eye-catching, regardless! How about if we just put them in business suits, and maybe give them a distinguishing tie-tack?

Every diocesan bishop is known by the title of his See city because it is the place of his cathedra, the apostolic chair from which he teaches the gospel. For this reason, every diocesan bishop should celebrate at least the principal Sunday Mass in his cathedral church every week. This will require ending the common practice of bishops moving around their dioceses on Sunday to celebrate Mass in different parishes. A diocesan bishop is not the pastor of all the parishes in his diocese; each parish has its own proper pastor, a priest appointed by the bishop.

I don’t know about other bishops, but it’s pretty common in our diocese that when we get a new bishop, he makes a point of going to say Mass at every parish in his Diocese within the first year or two or three. In my particular diocese, there are 89 parishes. One neighboring Diocese has 80 parishes; another has 123 parishes, plus six Catholic student centers. It’s their way of Not-Being-the-Guy-in-the-Ivory-Tower, and Being Visible To The People His Decisions Affect. My Diocese is about 24,000 square miles— so circulating at least once, even to the humblest, poorest, most rural parish, is pretty much the opposite of being aloof and imperially remote! :slight_smile:

I agree, the Church can be very bureaucratic. I disagree with some of the issues my Bishop/the USCCB choose to weigh in on. I think they can exist in a bubble. I think they can be very Political. (Like that’s new! :stuck_out_tongue: ) But there’s no way you could pay me to carry the burden they carry---- or be judged in the way they’ll be judged in the end. And so I do my work, and I let them do theirs as best they can.


The Bishop comes to our parish on an average of 3 times each year. He comes to Confirm and then is invited for various special events.


In some cases, yes.


The imperial episcopate is from the early days of Christianity.

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