No Place to Hide

For a long time, the pope and the bishops were seen as “men apart,” occupying a lofty sphere that no layman could dare enter, with a special standing that blocked all criticism. This attitude has a reasonable foundation: We are dealing here with the successors of the apostles, with those who represent Christ the Good Shepherd on earth, teaching, ruling, and sanctifying in His name and by His authority.

However, it is an attitude that has its limits, too, when we remember that we are dealing not with Christ Himself, nor with the irreplaceable Apostles who sit on the 12 thrones, but with fallen men who can either live up to their high calling or fail badly in it.

In past ages, sinful prelates often lived “high off the hog” at the expense of the laity, and there was little enough that could be done to expose them, influence them, or shame them. In like manner, holy and courageous prelates might be praised locally, and perhaps their reputation would eventually spread (especially after their death, when a cultus would begin for the holiest of them all), but again, there was a practical limit on the reach of their good influence.

Today, however, the situation has changed dramatically, thanks to the media. It is no longer possible for a bishop to do good quietly or to do evil quietly. Already this was true in the age of newspapers and magazines, but the internet has exponentially intensified the bright spotlight shining on the public actions and statements of any bishop. He cannot hide. He must make a choice: be boldly good; be boldly evil; or look indifferent, disengaged, cowardly.

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