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If bishops represent anyone it's Jesus, not pope.

Two weeks ago I wrote a column on the recent peremptory dismissal of Bishop Jacques Gaillot from his diocese in France on the grounds that he had somehow failed in his "ministry of unity."

Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that Bishop Gaillot did in fact fail in his episcopal responsibilities and that there was just pastoral cause for his removal as bishop of Evreux That wouldn't end the matter.

What is centrally at issue in the controversy is the process by which the bishop's dismissal took place.

There was no canonical process, and there was no involvement on the part of the French bishops' conference. The decision was taken unilaterally by the Vatican and personally communicated to the bishop by Cardinal Gantin, prefect of the Congregation for the Bishops.

Some Catholics might argue that the mode of action was justified because every bishop serves at the pleasure of the pope. Just as in any business organization, the CEO determines whom he wants on his administrative team. When job performance no longer matches expectations, you make a change.

But that line of reasoning - common among Catholics with little or no biblical, historical or theological background - is erroneous.

Bishops do not serve at the pleasure of the pope. Bishops are not extensions of the pope. Bishops are not members of the pope's administrative team. Bishops are not the colonels of the church serving under one commander in chief.

As the Second Vatican Council declared: "Nor are they [i.e., bishops] to be regarded as vicars [i.e., representatives] of the Roman pontiff, for they exercise an authority which is proper to them [i.e., not delegated by someone higher up] and are quite correctly called `prelates,' heads of the people whom they govern. Their power, therefore, is not destroyed by the supreme universal power [Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, n. 27]."

If bishops are "representatives" or "vicars" of anyone, it is of Jesus Christ, not the pope. Indeed, during most of the first thousand years of the church's history, all bishops, not just the bishop of Rome, were considered to be "vicars of Christ." The pope's distinctive title, on the other hand, was "vicar of Peter."

The controversy surrounding Bishop Gaillot is reminiscent of an earlier one surrounding the former archbishop of Seattle, Raymond Hunthausen, some eight or nine years ago.

Responding to complaints from extreme right-wing Catholics, the Vatican installed a conservative auxiliary bishop from outside the archdiocese with full authority over pastoral matters that canonically belong to the diocesan bishop: liturgy, clergy formation, marriage tribunals, the handling of priests' applications for laicization and moral issues relating to health care institutions and the ministry to homosexuals.

The reaction of an overwhelming number of Catholics in Seattle - laity, clergy and religious alike - was swift and strong. Support for the archbishop was at once widespread and deep.

The Vatican took note of the protests but would probably have done nothing if it were not for the fact that a similarly negative reaction developed within the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The great majority of U.S. bishops, conservatives and so-called moderates, were troubled, even angered, by the manner in which the Vatican had moved against a brother bishop.

Some of the bishops were appalled that the Vatican had placed so much credence in the complaints of extremists. other bishops were simply worried about the precedent such action might set. Still others were personally offended that so respected a bishop as "Dutch" Hunthausen was being so unfairly attacked and punished.

The upshot was that the bishops, meeting as a body in executive session in the presence of the Vatican's diplomatic representative tO the United States, expressed their concerns in vivid terms and urged the Vatican to reconsider its action.

A three-member visitation team, headed by the moderate cardinal archbishop of Chicago, Joseph Bernardin, subsequently reviewed the situation and recommended a compromise that finally resolved the matter: The conservative auxiliary bishop who had been imposed on the archdiocese was removed; a new and more moderate bishop was appointed coadjutor archbishop with the right of succession; and Archbishop Hunthausen's episcopal authority was fully restored.

If the French bishops, in contrast with their American counterparts, allow the action against Bishop Gaillot to stand, they will have altered the nature of the episcopate in France and may even have contributed to its erosion elsewhere in the church.

The fact is that bishops do not serve at the pleasure of the pope, nor are they vicars of the pope. The Gaillot case reminds us, however, that there are still many Catholics - some in very high places - who think otherwise. that way, but

They may indeed think they cannot call that manner of thinking Catholic.
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Author:McBrien, Richard
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:Feb 24, 1995
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