In my last ti morceau I noted that three types of priest can serve as institutional head of a diocese: a bishop, a plain old diocesan administrator, and an apostolic administrator named by the Pope. Even though the Diocese of Baton Rouge is a relatively young one by worldwide standards, we’ve been headed by all three kinds over the 53 years of our history.
But administrators are always understood to be temporary. The proper shepherd of any portion of the people of God – that territorial division within the Church universal which is known as a “diocese” – is its own bishop.
As I mentioned a few months ago in a morceau, a bishop takes the place of Christ Himself and thus acts as His representative within the community. While a popular title of the Pope is “Vicar of Christ,” the Church teaches this role properly applies to each bishop for his own diocese (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in arts. 894 and 1560, for example). The bishop is not the delegate of the Pope; rather, he is in his own right a successor to the apostles. He is empowered sacramentally to safeguard the faith and undertake every task of ministry, and so lead the faithful in his care.
True, a bishop must always act lawfully, and this means above all keeping communion with the Holy Father and the other members of the college of bishops. This unity of faith and purpose with the Pope and other bishops of the Church provides the diocesan family of faith a reliable leader, someone joined to the other successors of the apostles, that group of high priests which has the shared authority and responsibility for leading the entire Church until the end of time.
In the next few morceaux, we’ll speak a little more about the way in which bishops lead the flock entrusted to them. As you might suspect, the job description is a pretty daunting one! Thank goodness the Holy Spirit gives special graces to those who are called to this special ministry!