Church reform 101: No more divorced and remarried bishops

The LA Times ran a rather lengthy profile of the new archbishop of San Francisco, Salvatore Cordileone, focusing primarily on his outspoken support of California's Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot initiative that overturned a court ruling allowing same-sex couples to wed. Cordileone's views on that matter are well-covered; in the interview he strangely joins issues around homosexuality to fatherlessness in SF's "100 blocks of inner city neighborhood" as the consequence of the "misuse" of sexuality. But what disturbed me more was the willingness with which his move from Oakland (where he has been bishop for only three years) to San Fran is styled a "promotion."

Tom Reese, once editor of America magazine, noted that Cordileone's appointment "re-emphasizes the Vatican's concern, and the U.S. bishops' concern, about gay marriage." (I think Tom is right, but note that the pastoral care of the church of San Francisco doesn't warrant comment.) Charles LiMandri, president of something called the Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund, was more straightforward: "Cordileone was the first to step up to the plate [on gay marriage]. That's why his career has skyrocketed."

No bishop will say a thing like that, of course, but it seems painfully obvious that Cordileone's appointment, along with William Lori's move from Bridgeport to Baltimore, seems to be a reward for being the best company man on some issue, most recently around perceived threats to religious freedom. The pastoral care of the local church doesn't seem to enter into the equation; Cordileone's appointment seems almost directed "at" San Francisco as an attack on its character and history. 

In the ancient church, once a bishop was a bishop, he never left his diocese for another; he was considered married to his church–one reason why in the Christian East only monks (celibates) were made bishops. Nowadays, especially here in the U.S. but elsewhere as well, local churches are often stepping stones to a higher-profile see. This has the effect of divorcing the office of bishop from its purpose–to pastor a local church–and of keeping the loyalty of the local bishop squarely with those who have the power to "promote" him–outside his diocese.

This is a serious abuse and flat bad ecclesiology, so let's call a halt to the episcopal dating game.


About the author

Bryan Cones

Bryan Cones is a writer living in Chicago.