The danger of being in love with the Church

The then Bishop Karol Wojtyla of Krakow – a great shepherd (CNS)

A friend has lent me The Worlock Archive by journalist Clifford Longley, published in 2000. I have been flicking through it and it strikes me, while not being a biography, as a fair-minded assessment of the late Archbishop of Liverpool. But the picture of Derek Worlock that emerges depresses me. These are some of Longley’s remarks:

“On the national stage, Worlock gave the Catholic Church in England and Wales its internal structures of secretaries and boards, committees and commissions.”

“He was… too much in love with the Church, not enough in love with God.”

“Gradually he became de facto and eventually de jure Secretary to all the Catholic bishops of England and Wales… On becoming the first post-Vatican II English bishop in December 1965 he moved to prominence on the national stage as Episcopal secretary of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and President of the Conference’s Laity Commission.”

“What he really thought and felt about his faith is hard to excavate.”

“He found the appointment of Dom (later Cardinal) Basil Hume OSB to Westminster, and his own move to Liverpool instead, hard to accept. It had been his conviction for some years that he was himself a fairly obvious choice to succeed Cardinal Heenan at Westminster…He felt he had earned it and would have been right for it.”

Ok, these quotes are taken out of context; nevertheless, they do provide a feel of the man: absorbed in administration and committees, exercising great power behind the scenes, highly assiduous and ambitious, working his way up to the top job. Further, if it is true that you are in love with the Church rather than with God, you are not really in love with the Church at all. The Church, to quote an old-fashioned formula is “the mystical body of Christ” – not a separate entity. As soon as you see it just as an institution, you start to become like a politician, your energies taken up with the machinery of power and how to move its levers to the best effect. You forget that bishops are primarily pastors of souls, helping their flock to become holy through their example, their preaching and teaching.

In his chapter “Making Bishops”, George Weigel, in his recent book Evangelical Catholicism, mentions some of the great bishops of Church history: Augustine, Charles Borromeo, John Fisher, Francis de Sales and others (including, in modern times, Karol Wojtyla, who was to become Pope John Paul II). He contrasts them with the bureaucratic mindset of post-modern society, in which bishops “can begin to imagine themselves as mitred referees, discussion-group facilitators.” Weigel comments, “That is not a model of the Catholic episcopate that would have made sense to the great bishops mentioned a moment ago.” He adds: “Nor does it embody for the twenty-first century the Second Vatican Council’s recovery of the prophetic and sanctifying missions of the local bishop. No-one is going to be converted to friendship with the Lord Jesus and enflamed with a passion for mission by a discussion-group moderator…”

Weigel goes on to discuss the transfer of bishops, remarking that “The “career path” by which a man becomes, first, an auxiliary bishop, then a diocesan ordinary, then an archbishop somewhere else reinforces every untoward image of the Catholic episcopate as a group of bureaucratic branch managers who can be readily moved around the corporation as the global chief executive officer demands.” One thinks of St John Fisher in the obscure and poor diocese of Rochester, or St Augustine in the equally obscure diocese of Hippo.

His remarks are echoed by blogger Fr Ray Blake who writes that the Holy Father has said he wants “Bishops to be Pastors not Princes”. Fr Blake adds, “It will be interesting to see if we can find men in England who do not follow that traditional path of our Episcopate, after ordination a short time in a parish followed by a succession of administrative jobs around Eccleston Square, Cafod or some other Catholic charity…”

Fr Blake prefaces his blog with a wonderful illustration from an old French postcard, of an elderly shepherd with his rifle and a crook, guarding his sheep; he looks tough, poor and vigilant, weathered by storms and with one mission in mind – to save his flock from predators and to keep them safe.