St. Thomas Newsroom

What Defines a ‘Good’ Bishop?

Pope Francis brought a spirit of encounter and desire for dialogue to St. Matthew’s Cathedral on Wednesday.

After praying the liturgy of the hours with the U.S. bishops, the pontiff received words of welcome from the local bishop, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, and from the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz.

During his remarks, Francis made it clear that he has heard the concerns of the U.S. Catholic Church and that he hoped for encounter with each of the bishops. In fact, as part of the ceremony Francis greeted a number of bishops and a few lay leaders individually. And before leaving, he expressed his desire to meet all of the bishops, if only time had allowed for it.

Francis’s message to the U.S. bishops was one of encouragement and support intended to empower local bishops to seek collaborative ministry in service of the Gospel. He did not want to be judgmental or serve as a problem solver offering plans and strategies. Instead, Francis shared a reflection on the characteristics of a good bishop.

This vision of episcopal ministry is, of course, of particular interest to the St. Paul and Minneapolis as Catholics in our archdiocese await the appointment of a new bishop by Francis.

Francis’ vision of a bishop calls for loving responsibility toward the local church. He encouraged the bishops to engage in practices that bear witness to Christ’s love, particularly for those who are suffering. Francis went on to recognize the need for courage, self-criticism, trustworthiness, single-heartedness, joy, humility, creativity and “trusting union with Christ” (Vatican’s English translation) in all bishops, and that they are to be sacraments and witnesses of God’s generous love.

In the spirit of Vatican II, Francis sought to advocate for dialogue as a method for episcopal ministry. He called for compassion and warned against “harsh and divisive language.” And finally, Francis wants bishops to foster communion and act collegially.

“Be pastors close to people,” he said. “Be pastors who are neighbors and servants.”

In his reflection, Francis clearly defined the sort of bishops he hopes will serve the church, and he demonstrated a commitment to finding bishops whose style is pastoral and reflects a commitment to the poor.

Francis’ ideal bishop, it seems, can be found in his first major appointment in the United States – the naming St. Thomas alumnus Blase Cupich ’** as Archbishop of Chicago.

As Francis prepares to appoint a bishop for St. Paul and Minneapolis, he has now publically identified the characteristics he finds most suitable in this role. It’s entirely possible that the next appointed leader of the Catholic Church in the Twin Cities was in that St. Matthew’s Cathedral and was inspired by Francis’s vision.

St. Thomas theology professor Angela Senander will contribute stories to the Newsroom as she attends events surrounding Pope Francis’ visit to the United States. Follow her on Twitter @drsenander.