Monday, November 5, 2018

A bishop must know his flock. . .

In 1950, the Roman Catholic diocese of Los Angeles numbered 832,375. In 2016, the same diocese had a population of 4,392,000.  Italy, with a total population of 60M in just over 115K square miles, has 227 diocese.  The US, with a population of more than 325M and nearly 3.8M square miles, in contrast has 167 dioceses.  The top four dioceses in the US have populations of 4.2M, 2.5M, 2.4M, and 2.1M.  Could it be that their sheer size has contributed to the numbers of priests who strayed from their vows and heaped terrible sexual abuse on so many?  Could it be that these mega-dioceses have contributed to the decline in the numbers of people actually in the pews on Sunday morning?

Of course, that is Rome's problem.  Rome will have to sort it out. But it would be foolish for us not to learn something from all of this.  There was a suggestion of a plan to have an LCMS made up of districts of 60 or so congregations, led by a part-time district president (bishop) to exercise ecclesiastical supervision, with most of the other district responsibilities being distributed to either national or regional resources.  It was worth more discussion than it got and perhaps we are too wedded to what we have to think in such radical terms but no one can deny that distance from clergy and parishes is a problem (no, I do not mean simply geographical distance).  Consider that Rome has archdioceses twice as large as the LCMS!  If we struggle with ecclesiastical supervision of 300 congregations and the numbers of ordained and commissioned church workers associated with such a size, can you imagine how difficult it is for the bishop of Los Angeles?  Why do we presume that economy comes with size or efficiency requires size.  I believe that in the church, economy and efficiency with respect to doctrinal oversight is the least of our concerns.

Remember how exhausted Moses was overseeing some 400,000 Israelites under his pastoral care and supervision?  Do you recall how his father-in-law Jethro watched this and called out Moses with the plan to break up this large responsibility into smaller units?  Why do we think we can do what Moses could not?  To be sure, no mega Protestant churches intend to provide the same kind of pastoral care a liturgical congregation and its people expect.  They have replaced pastoral care with care from laity, devoid of a sacramental character, and still they have broken up the large group into units.

If a bishop had 100 clergy and 100,000 people under his care, that might just be manageable.  You want my view?  60 congregations per bishop (and before someone in particular gets on his high horse about that Biblical term, that is the historical and Biblical term for the person who exercises ecclesiastical supervision (even if your constitutional documents call him something else).  We can call the man a grand poobah but Scripture says the episcopus watching over doctrine and practice is doing the work of a bishop.  But don't miss the forest for the trees.  Rome is suffering because of dioceses way too large (indeed, the smaller ones tend to do better at everything from supervision to recruitment of church workers).  We need to heed the lesson and take the time to have a real discussion about what is best, not whether or not it is politically expedient in the climate of our church body today.

12 comments:

Carl Vehse said...

From the 1996 "Fort Wayne visitation" summary report by then LCMS President A.L. Barry on the findings of his official visitation of Concordia Theological Seminary:

"It became apparent to the visitation team that there are certain theological issues that have caused problems in the past. These issues continue to be a concern at the seminary among the faculty and larger seminary family….

"1) The relationship between the church and the office of the public pastoral ministry. In such discussions it needs to be recognized that in the matter of church and ministry our Synod and seminaries still stand clearly behind Dr. C.F.W. Walther’s position as he articulated it in his book Kirche und Amt. Because of this, our Synod rejects both the errors in the positions of Loehe and Grabau positions, as well as the errors in the position of Hoefling."

In addition to Fort Wayne being checked for lingering problems, perhaps the Commission on Constitutional Matters might need an official visitiation.

James Kellerman said...

While I think your overall point is worth pondering, there are a few errors you made in your statistics:

1.) Moses wasn't in charge of 400,000 Israelites. Rather there were 600,000 or so male Israelites at least 20 years old. That would mean that the total number of Israelites probably was around 2 million.

2.) Wikipedia gives 177 Latin Catholic dioceses in the United States, not 167. If you count Eastern Rite Catholics and personal ordinariates, the figure is bumped up to 196 dioceses.

3.) When comparing Italy and the United States, you compared the size of the total population of the country rather than the size of the Catholic population. Italy has a Catholic population of 50 million; the United States, somewhere around 70 million. Thus, dioceses are indeed bigger on average in the United States than in Italy, but not by a factor of seven, as your post would seem to suggest.

4.) Italy has the most dioceses of any country, but it also has the most parishes (25,694 compared to 17,561 in the United States). If you look at the number of parishes per diocese, Italy has an average of 114 parishes per diocese, while the United States has just shy of 90 parishes per diocese.

5.) The real problem isn't the size of the dioceses in the United States. It is the size of the parishes. The Chicago Archdiocese won't allow a parish to stay open with fewer than 400 registered families. (Not all Catholic attendees are registered, so the pool of worshippers is substantially higher than those registered.) That means a "tiny" Catholic parish has 1,000 members or so. One of my classmates in grad school was a deacon serving a south-side parish of about 25,000 souls--while teaching Latin full-time and trying to get his MA in Latin too. When there was a pastoral vacancy, he was at wit's end, as you might imagine. Even when the church was fully staffed, how could two or three priests and a deacon really take care of so many people?

Anonymous said...

The typical Roman Catholic parish in America is too large
for meaningful relationships to develop between the priests
and the laity. The Bishop of a diocese is not trained to
hold the priests accountable. It is still the good ole boy
network where cover up of any scandal is the normal response.
The Pope will never be able to clean up the decades old
tragedy of sexual crimes by the priests.

Unknown said...

The word "Superintendent" was chosen for use in Germany to refer to the person responsible for the churchly oversight of persons in his particular "consistory." John Gerhard rightly notes in his Dogmatics that a superintendent was ... the bishop. And of course Walther points to Gerhard as the preeminent doctrinal resource to which we need to look for further expansion and clarification of his work on Church and Ministry, which is not and never was intended by Walther to be the last and final word, to be treated as if canonical, on matters of Church and Ministry.

Turning to your post, Pr. Peters, I do not think that The LCMS District President is able adequately to do his job given how, usually, has so many under his care. I like your suggestion of smaller groups of congregations and clergy under the "supervision" ... which is a word that is the Latin translation for Greek word "episkopos" which is translated...there it is again ... Bishop.

P-T. McCain

James Kellerman said...

Paul McCain (along with John Gerhard) is absolutely correct: the German "Superintendent" is simply a Latinate way of rendering the Greek "episkopos" into German.

But so too is the word used by the Missouri Synod to describe its leaders at the Synod and district level. We were not influenced by the business or governmental spheres when we chose the title "president," as is clear when you look at the German original: Präses (plural: Präsides). This word is almost always used in ecclesiastical contexts, unlike the political term "Präsident." "Präses" comes from the Latin "praeses" and means "one who sits in front." It is equivalent to the Latin "antistes," Latin for "bishop."

Of course, Article 28 of the Augsburg Confession rightly points out that there are limits to the power of bishops. The Reformation question was not how to abolish ecclesiastical oversight, but how to stop it from snuffing out the gospel and letting abuses go unchecked.

James Kellerman said...

Anonymous, there are two distinct but not entirely unrelated problems Rome faces. One is that there aren't enough priests to provide adequate pastoral care to their flock. The other is that the Vatican runs the Catholic Church the same way the ancient Romans ran their vast empire: a trusted coterie has networks that have networks that have networks. Ancient Rome was too complicated for any individual to navigate and there was no professional bureaucracy to help anyone. Instead one would rely on patrons or on friends who had friends. This procedure allowed both ancient Rome and the Vatican to operate relatively smoothly without a highly centralized bureaucracy in a pre-industrial age. But it seems hopelessly corrupt to us who are used to a more professional form of governance.

Carl Vehse said...

The Missouri Synod Constitution has no mention of "bishop" or "superintendent," and a previous synodical convention resolution made this clear, as noted in June 15, 2000, CCM Opinion 00-2202 (p. 67 of 80), when an errant English District tried to change the title of their district president to "Bishop" (and failed to learn their lesson repeatedly over the next 15 years)

What the LCMS Constitution/Bylaws do mention in detail (Bylaw 5.2) is a Circuit Visitor as "the principal officer of the circuit." Of course, the circuit visitor doesn't wear a mitre and carry a crozier are part of his listed duties and privileges.

The Missouri Synod has a congregational polity, so the Missouri Synod needs a Romish episcopal structure and titles like a fish needs a bicycle.

Anonymous said...

This Vehse person is intent on missing the point every chance he gets. LOL.

James Kellerman said...

No, we don't have a strictly congregational polity. If we did, we couldn't discipline errant pastors or congregations. Just look at how the Congregationalists, who have a strictly congregational polity, ended up with a third of their congregations embracing unitarian beliefs, and nothing could be done about it.

But I don't want a "Romish episcopal structure," either. I'm even rather "meh" about miters and croziers. I do want there to be ecclesiastical oversight without ecclesiastical tyranny. Call him whatever you want, a president/bishop/Präses should be all about ensuring sound doctrine and practice. On other matters he may put in his two cents worth or appeal to good order in the church, but he only has the power to persuade, not the power to enforce his will. No Grabau clone need apply for the job.

Carl Vehse said...

No one here has claimed the Synod is a "strictly congregational polity." However, Wilhelm Loehe did refer to the Missouri Synod polity as "amerikanische Poebelherrschaft" (American mob-rule).

As for ecclessiastical supervision, the Missouri Synod did have a working adjudication system until SP Bohlmann got his CCM minions to pull a Jan 1992 CCM opinion out of their keister that prevented Bohlmann's ecclessiastical supervisor (the Missouri District DP, per the then-Bylaws) from suspending the SP. And then the 1992 Synod Convention dudheads replaced the adjudication system with an effeminate DRP process. Today, that DRP process has essentially be replaced by the so-called Koinonia project an even more useless process.

Anonymous said...

Vehse, have you ever been a delegate to a district or synodical convention? If not, why not put your hat in the ring and then you would be able to share your wisdom from the floor of the convention with all the "dudhead" delegates. Just a suggestion.

Carl Vehse said...

Yes, I have, and I did argue against and had removed some false (and leftist) teaching in an overture being considered by the convention.

So you can take your suggestion back.