Build church unity, shun clericalism, pope tells new bishops

Pope Francis speaks during a meeting with new bishops from mission territories at the Vatican Sept. 8. The pope told them that the church needs bishops who promote unity, not "soloists singing their own tune or captains fighting personal battles." (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Catholic Church needs bishops who promote unity, "not soloists singing their own tune or captains fighting personal battles," Pope Francis told new bishops from the church's mission territories.

"And, dear brothers, flee from clericalism, an anomalous way of understanding the church's authority, one common in many communities where sexual abuse and the abuse of power and conscience have occurred," the pope told the bishops Sept. 8.

While some bishops, "poor things," think they have "all the talents, all the charisms" necessary to run the church, the pope said that is never true. But what a good bishop does have, he said, is passion for communion with the church and with each and every member of his flock.

On the other hand, clericalism "generates a division in the church body that supports and helps perpetuate many of the evils that we are condemning today," he said, quoting from his letter Aug. 20 to the church about the clerical abuse scandal.

The pope was meeting with 74 bishops from 34 countries in Africa, Asia, Oceania and Latin America. The prelates had been in Rome for a course for new bishops sponsored by the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

A bishop, Pope Francis told them, must be "a man of prayer, a man of proclamation and a man of communion," and he must show special care and concern for families, for the defense of life from the moment of conception, for seminarians, for young people and for the poor.

"Don't think you are lords of the flock -- you are not the masters of the flock, even if some people would like you to be or certain local customs promote that," the pope told them. "Be men who are poor in things and rich in relationships, never harsh or surly, but friendly, patient, simple and open."

Prayer is not just one of a bishop's daily tasks, but rather must be the foundation of everything a bishop does, he said. And the chief concern in a bishop's prayer must be his people and their needs. They must come first.

"It is easy to wear a cross on your chest," the pope said, "but the Lord is asking you to carry a much heavier one on your shoulders and in your heart: he asks you to share his cross."

The task of a bishop also involves proclaiming to the world the good news of salvation in Jesus and that cannot be done from one's desk, he said. "A bishop doesn't live in his office like a company administrator but among the people on the roads of the world."

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