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“I am the Good Shepherd .. I lay down My life for My sheep.”
John 10: 14,15

A short while ago, I read a tweet from one of the American Bishops. In it, he said –

“Got a letter recently from a lifelong Catholic announcing their departure from the Catholic Church because of our attitude about women and priestly celibacy. They’ve become an Episcopalian. While it’s regrettable it’s okay. Better a happy Protestant than an unfaithful Catholic.”

I can’t remember the last time I felt as disheartened as I do in this moment, nor the last time just a few words were able to inflict such damage on how I see the Church.

A few minutes ago I sat and re-read part of the tenth chapter of Saint John’s Gospel – the text where Jesus describes Himself as ‘the Good Shepherd’. Jesus offers this key criterion – a shepherd is good when he is ready to lay down his life for his sheep. And a good shepherd leaves the flock to go after the one sheep that is lost, not resting until that sheep is found and safely back with the flock.

I am so saddened that this criteria was not what I saw reflected in the bishop’s words. 

Losing a wallet is ‘regrettable but okay’. Losing a lifelong member of the Church is not okay. It is anything but okay. And to discuss it publicly and so flippantly and with not so much as a hint of compassion is also not okay. Of course, I can only go on what the bishop wrote – no further background details were offered to provide context. But on the basis of the words alone, there was no reason to believe there had been any attempt to engage with this person, to talk things over, or to suggest time out rather than an exit. It was simply ‘regrettable but okay’. In fact, it was more than okay – “better a happy Protestant than an unfaithful Catholic”, he wrote. I don’t know on what basis he was able to justify the ‘unfaithful’ part.

I learned two things from all this.

First, never write a letter to a Bishop – simply put it online rather than wait for him to reveal the contents to the world, even though the subject is so incredibly personal – to the one writing, even if not to the one reading.

And secondly – not all bishops are good shepherds. Some seem not to care for the sheep at all.

The problem is, this leaves me – and, no doubt, others – wondering just what the Church can offer if not compassion and if not the promise to act ‘in persona Christi’.

Further, both priests and people take their lead from bishops – and I’m not sure this is a lead which should be followed.

My prayers this evening are, I think, going to be somewhat difficult.

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