The National Catholic Review
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The following letter is fiction.

Dear Josh,

This letter comes from both Joe and me, but he knows you and I were close in college and thought I should write it because I’m more “sensitive.” We haven’t seen you in several years, but we three were best friends when we graduated from Georgeham in 1980. Your ordination was a high point in our lives, and the following year we picked you to celebrate our wedding. We still love you. But we follow your career and sometimes wonder if you are the same person we knew 30 years ago.

It crystallized with last year’s Christmas card. You posed—still handsome, though a bit thick around the middle—in bishop’s robes as if you were a Renaissance prince! As if Christmas were about you. Do you remember our college immersion trip to Latin America, when you were so appalled by the lavishly decorated cathedral next to a slum full of poor people, and how upset you were by that overweight monsignor who sneered at liberation theology? You said he was a “pompous so-and-so,” and you swore that would never happen to you.

What has happened to you, Josh? Joe and I used to say the priesthood needed fearless men like you. But instead of building on your political science education, you went to Rome and did a degree in canon law. Then you came home to be a bishop’s secretary and were made a bishop, with no more than a few summers’ parish experience.

You cut your diocesan newspaper down to a monthly. It doesn’t allow letters to the editor, never covers social issues, prints only right-wing columnists and runs way too many pictures of you. Your own column never deals with war, race, poverty, capital punishment or labor and reads as if contraception and gay marriage were the biggest problems facing the world.

Finally, we are most disturbed about your role in the reprimand issued by your Bishops’ Committee on Orthodoxy to our old theology professor at Georgeham, Bill Worthy, because of his new book Jesus and the World. I’m sure you remember his Jesus and Ourselves, which we used in the course we took with him.

You loved that man. He took you to dinner, visited you in jail when you were arrested in that demonstration, talked you out of quitting school when you broke up with Sally and presided at your father’s funeral. But you were on that committee and signed the report accusing him of “heterodoxy.” In his rebuttal Bill asked whether all the committee members actually read the book. Did you read it? Did you defend him? Why didn’t you let him testify? What has happened to you?

You can’t be deaf and blind to what has happened to the church, the alienation and empty pews. Joe and I receive the Eucharist and pray for leadership that will remind us of Jesus curing the sick and slamming the rich who hog their wealth and the Pharisees who love titles and fame.

Joe suggests that now that you’re a bishop you want to be a cardinal; and once you’re a cardinal you will think you can be pope. So you keep your mouth shut. Joe has a cynical streak. I can’t believe that your mind actually works that way. But a lot can happen in 30 years.

My Irish mother told me that people don’t change. I remember the evening in 1980 when you and I went out for a few beers after finals, and you told me you were going to be a priest who would fight for the weak and the poor, and you asked me to pray for you. Then you reached across the table and kissed me. I haven’t given up.

Love,

Mary and Joe

Raymond A. Schroth, S.J., is an associate editor of America.

Comments

LARRY | 1/26/2012 - 9:40pm



AMERICA is still my favorite Catholic weekly, but after publishing some twenty letters of mine, you sadly disappointed me this time.
Inadvertently, but carelessly, your editor moved a set of quotation marks from the end to the middle of the bishop’s statement I had submitted, causing half of it to appear as my own comments and not as the unusually courageous words of the bishop himself.
Please note also that Geoffrey Robinson is not the bishop of Sydney but the auxiliary bishop to the very conservative Archbishop of Sydney, George Cardinal Pell. My problem is delicate not only because Bishop Robinson had to weigh carefully every word of his book “Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church,” (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, 2008), but also because we, as a church, have been hurting recently by the Vatican treatment of Bishop William Morris of Toowoomba, another Australian bishop.

It may prove helpful historically, and pleasing to Fr. Raymond Schroth, S.J., I am sure, if you just quote in its entirety Bishop Robinson’s courageous words from page 292 of his own book: “During the second millennium many bishops adopted clothes and ornaments that spoke of power and riches. I do not believe we have yet gone far enough in abandoning this trend. The church could start by consigning the mitre to the dustbin of history. Only a small part of communication is verbal. Body language is of great importance. Wearing a hat that makes one far taller than any other person present is strong body language, conveying the message, ‘I am more powerful and important than anyone else here.’  Is this the message that Jesus wished to convey? After the mitre I would want bishops to look at pectoral crosses, pastoral staffs and rings made of expensive materials.”


 


 



 
LARRY | 1/26/2012 - 9:40pm



AMERICA is still my favorite Catholic weekly, but after publishing some twenty letters of mine, you sadly disappointed me this time.
Inadvertently, but carelessly, your editor moved a set of quotation marks from the end to the middle of the bishop’s statement I had submitted, causing half of it to appear as my own comments and not as the unusually courageous words of the bishop himself.
Please note also that Geoffrey Robinson is not the bishop of Sydney but the auxiliary bishop to the very conservative Archbishop of Sydney, George Cardinal Pell. My problem is delicate not only because Bishop Robinson had to weigh carefully every word of his book “Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church,” (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, 2008), but also because we, as a church, have been hurting recently by the Vatican treatment of Bishop William Morris of Toowoomba, another Australian bishop.

It may prove helpful historically, and pleasing to Fr. Raymond Schroth, S.J., I am sure, if you just quote in its entirety Bishop Robinson’s courageous words from page 292 of his own book: “During the second millennium many bishops adopted clothes and ornaments that spoke of power and riches. I do not believe we have yet gone far enough in abandoning this trend. The church could start by consigning the mitre to the dustbin of history. Only a small part of communication is verbal. Body language is of great importance. Wearing a hat that makes one far taller than any other person present is strong body language, conveying the message, ‘I am more powerful and important than anyone else here.’  Is this the message that Jesus wished to convey? After the mitre I would want bishops to look at pectoral crosses, pastoral staffs and rings made of expensive materials.”


 


 



 
HENRY ACKELS | 1/21/2012 - 5:53pm
Thank you for a thought provoking letter. It is certainly challenging toward the hierarchy. Yet when i finished reading it i found i was asking myself "What has happened to you?" rather than asking that question only of my friend the bishop. What happened to my commitment to Catholic education? After all, i decided to send the children to public schools so we may 'live more comfortably'. What have i done to help my own family live out the faith given us more fully? I haven't served as anything in my parish-lector, usher, CCD teacher. And though i am a community leader i am certainly not serving as a leader of anything in my parish.

What happened to my commitment to the poor? It seems the only time i'll give toward a 'cause' is when there is a fundraising gala involved so that i am entertained. I never encounter the poor and marginalized there. I don't find them in the boardrooms or on planning committees either. How is it that i presume i know more about what they need and how to get it than they do? How is it that only 3% of Catholic Charities income is from parishes or dioceses? Isn't my responsibility a bit larger than 3%?

I found myself wondering where do my priorities lie? where is my energy and excitement for the life of faith and hope the Lord is giving me? is it the Bishop's fault that the poor are not served by my parish? or that children are receiving less than the education we all hope for? I don't think any of this provides excuse or safe harbor for Bishop Josh, but i do wonder if Bishop Josh would be where he is, doing what he is doing, in the way that he is doing it, if Mary and Joe had been a little more present to the issues, and to their relationship with the Lord and with the Church over the past 30 years. I suppose what i am trying to say is that the Bishops and priests do not stand alone if the Church isn't what we want it to be, or more importantly, what the Lord hopes it to be. I am as convicted as Bishop Josh by the letter. I cannot judge others when the plank in my own eye is blinding. Perhaps when Bishop Josh gets wind of my hope and my energy, my commitment and my generosity, his eyes will open toward new possibilities. Perhaps when he sees what i am willing to do rather than just talk about, he can consider doing something different. Perhaps not, but either way, i can have more clarity regarding my own relationship with the Lord and with others. I do thank you for writing this 'fictional' piece as it has launched a lot of prayer, which will in God's grace result in my doing something different.
So thank you. Thank you very much.
9522999 | 1/20/2012 - 10:39am
GREAT letter, well written.  Only disagreement is that it is really not fiction !!!
NICHOLAS CLIFFORD | 1/18/2012 - 1:54pm
When I got to the part in Raymond Schroth's article that described Bishop Josh's diocesan "newspaper," I immediately wondered how he described our local diocesan paper so perfectly, when he lives hundreds of miles away? Could it really be that my paper is not so atypical after all?

About the gorgeous episcopal and cardinalate robes, and so forth: imagine the international reaction if Benedict XVI were to stage a Bonfire of the Vanities in Rome, overseeing (for starters) the combustion of every extant cappa magna. The scarlet and lace dresses could come later. A suggested venue might be the Campo dei Fiori, where, 412 years ago, Father Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake.

About comment no. 15: I don't think America is stirring up hatred of anyone, episcopal or otherwise. It is simply engaged in properly Christian fraternal correction of those whose actions might occasionally seem rather distant from the faith they profess. Such correction is certainly part of a long Catholic tradition. If you want stronger examples, go read Dante's Divine Comedy - particularly, but not only, the Inferno. (Warning: this dangerous book is still taught today, even in many so-called Catholic colleges).

P.S. Yes, that last sentence is meant to be ironic (like Schroth).
DAVID BURTON | 1/17/2012 - 3:22pm

I did not like this article. As a "work of fiction", I found it heavy-handed and predictable. This fictional Bishop is such an uninteresting stereotype: A villain through and through. And he's only worse because he once was a "good guy" but then he went over to the "other side." He isn't very realistic, but he’s so easy to hate.

It isn’t good to incite people to hatred of anyone. It’s worse to create a stereotype of a whole group of people and stir up hatred for the whole group – even those who are innocent. And worst of all, this is a Catholic magazine stirring up hatred for our own Bishops. Please don't do this.

Bill Freeman | 1/15/2012 - 9:27pm
#6 - Craig - Your post is phenomenal!  I reposted it on facebook.  Wonderful.  Thanks so much.   
ed gleason | 1/15/2012 - 3:20pm
Bishop Goeffrey Robinson said that bishop stance is all learned in Rome when the pick up on what 'bella figura' really looks like.
ROBERT NUNZ MR | 1/13/2012 - 4:41pm
The letter is spot on.
I think of poor Bishop Gumbleton and how he was treated by his fellow Bishops.
C Walter Mattingly | 1/12/2012 - 3:34pm
I would like to see a bishop true to his church, beloved by his people, who stands up for the freedom, dignity, and right to worship for those who are oppressed by a godless dicatatorship, who when gutshot recovers and fearlessly resumes his ministry for the Church and the oppressed, who forgives his assassin, who visits the lame and the lepers, who asks forgiveness of the sins of the church, and who, even when himself in error, remains beloved by the young, the old, and in his last days shows us all how to die in Christ. One whose funeral overwhelms a great city in joy and grief. Who makes those who complain about the fine linens he wore when he was gunned down seem petty and wearing the silk slippers themeselves in their complaints. 
6466379 | 1/8/2012 - 4:44pm

I agree. Yes Josh, what happened to you? Your clownish regalia with that funny hat and that jeweled stick you carry around. What’s that all about? You think you’re a prince or something? Really you’re not. You’re a servant, a caretaker of sheep and goats and as such you should dress like shepherds do in hand-me-downs, not expensive stuff and you should  smell like sheep do, so to speak, and like sheep eat grass, I mean the food of the poor not elegantly like kings with marbled bar, and  a vintage wine cellar and more. In other words you shouldn’t be living high off the hog and dressing like royalty  while all around you people you are supposedly shepherding are inadequately housed, clothed and fed. Children crying for bread while parents are forced to steal to put something on the table or in their shack- homes! Jesus once said to you know who, “Rebuild my Church which is falling into ruin” ruined then and being ruined now by sheep and goat  watchers who would rather watch themselves  wrapped in lace and silk while Jesus in the person of the faithful is wrapped in a sweaty, bloody loincloth, on a Cross heaving for breath and choking on thirst! Yes, Josh, what has happened to you?

And it’s not just Bishops – oops! I’ve used that word, that behave so pompously. Priests too, are starting to devolve back to Tridentine habits, especially the youngsters  coming out of seminaries – they appear so stiff, so formal, so Lordly, smelling more of incense than sweat, indicating very little involvement in “real life” flock realities! Some older priest too are being sucked into the pompous past, liking tasseled sashes flowing black capes Dracular-like, and pom-pom Birettas. Such stuff is not helpful to the flock and militates directly against Gospel simplicity and good humor which guarantees Faith, devoted sheep and repentant goats, all with our sheep and goat herders on the road to the universal call to holiness. Wow! This all sounds so harsh! Call it “tough love.” I do love our Bishops and priests, but for heaven’s sake, get with it!
KEN LOVASIK | 1/7/2012 - 8:28am
Thank you, Fr. Schroth, for this poignant 'fictional' name-has-been-changed-to-protect-the-guilty letter.  It could probably be sent, in all honesty, to many, if not most, of our bishops (at least most of the bishops I know) and to a many of our pastors!  The message makes my heart ache because it is another reminder of how out of sync and out of touch our 'shepherds' are with those committed to their care.  I often think of Jesus' words, "the shepherd lays down his life for his sheep ... the sheep recognize his voice ... they will not follow one whose voice they do not recognize."  Could this be why the Pew research has found that one out of every ten Americans is a 'former Catholic'?
I am a member of a parish community with 600 families registered ... and only 100 attending Mass each week.  This letter sheds a powerful light on a dreadful situation.
ANN CLEM | 1/6/2012 - 11:01pm
Thank you, America!  It is so rewarding to see a Catholic magazine willing to discuss the REAL issues of the Church.  All the commercials on TV (i.e. www.catholicscomehome.org) will do nothing, when there's nothing to come home to.  If our hierarchy can't deal with the REAL world by their example, what kind of church do they expect us to come home to?
LARRY | 1/6/2012 - 9:35pm

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, Auxiliary Bishop in the Archdiocese of Sydney from 1984 to his retirement in 2004 (three years under Cardinal George Pell), hit the nail on the Episcopal head when he wrote: “During the second millennium many bishops adopted clothes and ornaments that spoke of power and riches. I do not believe we have yet gone far enough in abandoning his trend. The church could start by consigning the miter to the dustbin of history. Only a small part of communication is verbal. Body language is of great importance. Wearing a hat that makes one far taller than any other person present is strong body language, conveying the message, ‘I am more powerful and important than anyone else here.’  Is this the message that Jesus wished to convey? After the miter I would want bishops to look at pectoral crosses, pastoral staffs and rings made of expensive materials.”  (“Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church”, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, 2008)


Also poor Bishop Josh, like many of his fellow bishops, had become the victim of his canonically proper episcopal attire.

Craig McKee | 1/6/2012 - 8:48pm
I WANT A BISHOP...another piece of fiction (adapted from an early 90's political flyer):

I want a bishop who has AIDS. I want a bishop with no health insurance who grew up in a place where the earth is so saturated with toxic waste that they didn't have a choice about getting leukemia. I want a bishop who was kicked out of the house at fourteen and I want a bishop who lost their last lover to breast cancer, who still sees that in their eyes every time they lay down to rest, who held their lover in their arms and knew they were dying. I want a bishop who has stood on line at the clinic, at the dmv, at the welfare office and has been unemployed and laid off and sexually harrassed and gaybashed and deported. I want a bishop who has spent the night on the street dumpster diving for a meal and had a cross burned on their lawn and survived rape. I want a bishop who has been in love and been hurt, who respects sex, who has made mistakes and learned from them. I want a bishop with bad teeth and an attitude, who has eaten nasty hospital food, a bishop who crossdresses and has done drugs and been in therapy. I want a bishop who has committed civil disobedience. And I want to know why this isn't possible. I want to know why we started learning somewhere down the line that a bishop is always a clown: always a john and never a hooker. Always a boss and never a worker...
Gary Nicolosi | 1/6/2012 - 7:36pm
Father Schroth's article is right on target about what is happening in the church today, but not just the Roman Catholic Church but in any hierarchical church where clergy want to climb the career ladder. Courage, conviction, compassion and an openness to the Holy Spirit are being put aside and replaced by conformity, obedience and a rigid adherence to canon law. As an Anglican priest, one of the concerns often mentioned is that bishops seem to love being dressed in copes and miters in all their regal splendor, and yet they seem to be far removed from being the priests and pastors they were ordained to be. So many are mere maintenance keepers of the institution, and that is very sad. Lastly, Ray's point about how someone can change with  being elected bishop is true. I have seen it time and time again. In the Anglican and Episcopal churches, we we elect our bishops thinking they are true pastors, people of faith and vision, and have a heart for God and people. Many of us know these persons quite well and served in ministry with them. But for some reason, something changes when they become bishops - their unwillingness to risk, their focus on the institution, their corporate mindset, their insistence on the letter of the law and their seeming love for vestments, ritual and ceremonial that make them appear lordly and very medieval. No wonder they become distant, out of touch with reality, and inwardly focused on institutional matters. I remember an excellent article by Jim Fenhagan, former Dean at General Seminary, who said that when bishops in the Episcopal Church began wearing miters, they also began to distance themselves from the clergy and people. I think he is right. So thank you, Father Ray, for the courage to write such a true and much needed article about being a bishop today.
John Holl | 1/6/2012 - 5:45pm
Maybe if he were true to himself, Bishop Josh, in an updated verslon of the Grand Inquisitor, would respond to Mary and Joe that the Church has outgrown Jesus's original vision, and that people like him are needed to tend the flock and prevent them from straying. Certainly it is hard to envision Jesus fitting comfortably with today's Church leadership.
John Holl | 1/6/2012 - 3:18pm
Like most good "fiction", Mary and Joe's letter is all too true. The Church's leadership seems wildly disconnected from Jesus's message of love, embracing instead the need to control its flock. The timing couldn't be much better, coming on the day the Vatican has announced the "elevation" of new Cardinals.
William McGarvey | 1/6/2012 - 1:44pm
Ray:

Thanks.

Enjoyed the letter.

Very realistic, poignant and challenging.

Bill '51 
LARRY | 1/6/2012 - 1:21pm
Re 'The following letter is fiction," no, it is not fiction. I am a personal friend of Joe and Mary.  Of lots of Joes and Marys.

If AMERICA eventually treats us to a "Bishop Josh's reply," to be credible let it be  published as fiction. Bishop Josh can no longer be as honest now as he used to be before becoming "His Excellency".

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