Pope Francis offers a blueprint for the perfect bishop

August 26, 2013

RIO DE JANEIRO – Bishops should lead without being authoritarian, adopt "simplicity and austerity of life" and care for their dioceses without ambitions for more prominent appointments, said Pope Francis.

At a July 28 meeting with the coordinating committee of the Latin American bishops' conference, CELAM, the pope said prizing administrative efficiency over missionary zeal is one temptation bishops face.

They can also go wrong by reducing the faith to a worldly ideology and by exalting the role of clergy to the detriment of the laity, he said.

"The bishop has to be among his people in three ways," the pope said.

"In front of them, pointing the way; among them, keeping them together and preventing them from being scattered; and behind them, ensuring that no one is left behind, but also, and primarily, so that the flock itself can sniff out new paths."

Pope Francis also warned against a "functionalism" that "reduces the reality of the Church to the structure of an NGO (nongovernmental organization)," where "what counts are quantifiable results and statistics," and efficiency takes precedence over mystery.


This temptation can arise, he said, when the Church becomes self-centred and forgets that it is supposed to be a "bride, mother and servant, a facilitator of faith and not an inspector of faith."

A related danger, the pope indicated, is that of clericalism, or making the ordained ministry of bishops, priests and deacons the standard and the model for the mission of lay Catholics.

Clericalism, he said, explained the continuing "lack of maturity and Christian freedom in a good part of the Latin American laity."

Remedies for clericalism include increased "opportunities for laypeople to participate in pastoral consultation, organization and planning," the pope said, as well as an appreciation of traditions of popular piety.