"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Episcopal Accountability

As I noted last fall when the publisher drew my attention to a the imminent publication of Michael J. Lacey and Francis Oakley, eds., The Crisis of Authority in Catholic Modernity (Oxford UP, 2011), viii+381pp.
we are living through a time in which any claims to ecclesial authority are controverted. This is true for bishops in several Orthodox Churches--including, inter alia, the OCA and the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese of North America--and it is true, a fortiori, for Catholic bishops the world over, but perhaps especially in North America and Ireland. Part of this has to do with the culture we inhabit at this moment in history, where emotivism, as Alasdair MacIntyre demonstrated, destroys the distinction between power and authority and makes all forms of authority appear inherently irrational and intrinsically manipulative; but much of it has to do with the bishops themselves and their conduct (or lack thereof) when dealing with, inter alia, financially corrupt or sexually abusive priests--or being abusers themselves as happened, e.g., not once but twice with two bishops in succession in the same diocese (Palm Beach, Florida between 1998 and 2002). The lack of accountability of such bishops is the real skandalon here for most people, and without addressing it the hierarchs are unlikely to recover some measure of hard-won respectability. In this regard, I was encouraged by the newly appointed archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles Chaput, when, in an interview with John Allen, he said:
JA: Do you think there are sufficient accountability provisions for bishops right now?

CC: I'll say something that many people in the church aren't saying, which is that we ought to study this question and reflect on it very seriously. We should take up the issue of accountability, including accountability for bishops, in a formal, clear, and decisive kind of way.
To which let all the faithful say: Amen, and Amen. Clearly this is an archbishop who is ἄξιος.

I spent a great deal of time in my book Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity
sketching out the diverse ways in which various Eastern Churches are synodally structured. When it works, synodality within a patriarchal church is a marvellous gift in which it is clearly possible to see "accountability" in action--to find instances of "fraternal correction" by and among bishops together (following Apostolic Canon 34) with the one who is their "head."

No system is perfect, but much of what frustrates Western Christians, especially Roman Catholics today, is precisely the lack of any visible correction by bishops of bishops. Part of this is by design: Catholic "episcopal conferences" (as one must ceaselessly remind even those who should know better) are most certainly not the equivalent of a synod. The former have no real authority whereas the latter in the East are legislative, electoral, and disciplinary bodies with real powers expressed in diverse forms that I review in great detail. I also show that the West, too, has a very long and venerable history of real synodality that was gradually lost in the second millennium, but desperately needs to be recovered today.

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