Emasculated Bishops and Church Presence

The male presence of bishops in public is the key to the public presence of the Church in society. Vatican II taught a gendered understanding of the Church where the Church is the spouse of Jesus Christ. The marital language hearkens back to the language of God’s pursuit and espousal of his People in the Old Testament. The gendered relationship continues in the Church where the community is receptively “feminine” to the masculine intentionality of the hierarchy. This is the day-to-day living out of Christ’s espousal of his people.

So one finds paragraphs in the conciliar texts such as: “Christ loves the Church as His bride, having become the model of a man loving his wife as his body; the Church, indeed, is subject to its Head. ‘Because in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily,’ He fills the Church, which is His body and His fullness, with His divine gifts so that it may expand and reach all the fullness of God.”

Bishops are the graced physical presence of Christ where “he who hears them, hears Christ, and he who rejects them, rejects Christ and Him who sent Christ.” (also Vatican II) The feminine complement to their activity is the act of faith of the community exemplified in the faithful receptivity of Mary. Hence “in the most holy Virgin the Church has already reached that perfection whereby she is without spot or wrinkle.”

This gendered structure of the Church does not fit current ideologies of gender but it is based on how humans interrelate and is how God chose to proceed.

Male bishops, “as fathers in Christ, take care of the faithful whom they have begotten by baptism and their teaching.” The council’s document on bishops was clear. Bishops have been “given the command and the power to teach all nations, to hallow men in the truth, and to feed them.” Now pretty obviously the men who wrote the text ignored it when they got home, otherwise we would have had an epidemic of bishops teaching the Gospel. Imagine where we would be if they had.

It is not manly to be entrusted with such a massive task and to put it aside. Yet how many bishops spend a couple of hours a day teaching the Gospel? It is not manly to know the Gospel and not to want to share it personally. This is the key. We meditate on Jesus’ preaching the Kingdom in the Rosary. This happened on street corners, in fields, in public buildings. Jesus personally intervened in people’s lives. The officially ordained male professes the truth of the Kingdom to the receptive “feminine” faith of the individual standing there in front of him.

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One especially manly bishop (and teacher) meeting with American seminarians

In terms of the values and narratives being passed around the culture today, a lot rests on having men ordained for public leadership standing up and being counted. There is a crying need for masculine figures in the general public who will demonstrate the value of holding the Gospel dear. We have enough male figures doing the opposite.

Graced masculinity in action, presenting the Church directly to the faithful, shows the Church in all of her gendered beauty. The Church’s union with Christ becomes visible as the foundation of the union between a man and a woman for all society to see. The male presence of Christ working through the evangelizing bishop expresses Christ’s relationship to his Church. Reducing the Church’s presence to that of a corporation like a bank or a hamburger chain, however, means that the unique character of the presence of the Church and of its relating spousally is frittered away. The institution becomes as blah as any other.

The bishops have contributed to the national failure of marriage. Bishops are espoused to the Church in Christ and should be manifesting the treasure of actually living as a spouse rather than presenting a merely juridical Church. The bishops have contributed to the poor understanding of the Church in American society simply by saying nothing, by never being on the radar. Most people now learn about the Church from the New York Times or CNN. Jesus would be so proud.

Acting in this way both leaves a lot of doctrine unaffirmed and it does not fit the operation of concrete historical maleness of the gendered pair of Christ and his Church. If Christ had kept his mouth shut the Church would have evaporated. His death would have been meaningless without his explanations.

Acquiescing in the culture’s emasculation of men, as if American culture is some kind of divine revelation, only pulls the whole structure of Church teaching apart. The teaching ends up not coming from a male espoused person and loses all of the “bits” that are gendered like the meaning of marriage, male-female relationships, what we can learn from Mary, the nature of the Church and so on. This mainly happens when things are not said and that perhaps are never said because that would be a masculine thing to do.

It is but a small step from official teachers not teaching to the Church having no teachings.

Bevil Bramwell, OMI

Bevil Bramwell, OMI

Fr. Bevil Bramwell, OMI, PhD is the former Undergraduate Dean at Catholic Distance University. His books are: Laity: Beautiful, Good and True; The World of the Sacraments; Catholics Read the Scriptures: Commentary on Benedict XVI’s Verbum Domini, and, most recently, John Paul II's Ex Corde Ecclesiae: The Gift of Catholic Universities to the World.



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