Ramesh Ponnuru quotes a letter he received from a scholar discussing the Church's stance on slavery (in response to Andrew Sullivan's use of the issue last week..
One passing thought: why, in mine and the other hierarchical Christian churches, is it hardly ever the devout, humble, hard-working parish priests like Rev. Byrum who ascend to bishoprics? Why is it so much more often, it seems to me, the bureaucrats, time-servers, schmoozers and fixers like Robinson--who has not done regular parish duties since (I think) the Carter administration? Not that I want them to take Rev. Byrum away from us to give him a bishopric. No, no, please not. Hey--maybe that's why.
I find it surprising that this is a mystery to Derbyshire, because this is not just a fact of life in churches - it's on of the odditites of institutional leadership in general. It's partly the Peter Principle, of course (we rise to the level of our incompetence), but also it has to do with the demands of institutional leadership these days and who the heck wants to bother with them.
Now, there are fantastic RC bishops. Not all are careerists. There are rare souls out there who have not campaigned for their positions at all, not made the right donations to the right Vatican charities, who have been raised to the episcopacy. I can think of several, right off the bat. But there is a strain of careerism in the RC episcopacy, obviously. It's been commented on and decried, if I recall correctly, even by the Pope. Some men actually want to be bishops and align themselves accordingly, the way that any other aspiring leader in any other institution would: ingratiate yourself to the right powers, serve on the right commissions, agree with the right people, maybe make yourself privy to a few interesting secrets along the way, and there you go.
But the fact is, even if you don't engage at this crass kind of level, you won't be noticed or thought about for the office of bishop if...you're not noticed by the people who count. So sure, if you throw yourself into parish service or service to the poor, and don't show up at the chancery unless you have to, don't work whatever circuits are sizzling the most in your diocese...you're name isn't going to come up.
(As I said, there are exceptions, and, we have to be honest, as the numbers of priests continue to decline, it gets harder not to get noticed, doesn't it? I sometimes wonder if, in 20 years, we'll even have enough priests to spare for bishops!)
And then, in a way that would probably apply to both Anglican and RC contexts, there is the issue of the priest himself and his sense of his own ministry. Some feel called to episcopal leadership, perhaps, but then some others look at what getting there and being a bishop entails today and they think, "Well, I'll just stick with parish work. This is why I became a priest, and this is what I love."
A lame analogy. When I was teaching, I briefly considered going into administration - going back to school and getting an Ed. D, becoming a principal, maybe getting into diocesan administration. It would have been an easy degree to get and the jobs it could get me sure would have paid better. But then I thought...what do principals have to do? The work during the day was fine, I thought, but then..there's the other stuff. School board meetings, financial council meetings, parents' groups meetings or sports events or other extra-curriculars literally every night of the week (and try to be a Catholic school principal without showing up at even the JV golf match at least once during the season. Try it, and watch your numbers fall.). Dealing with irrational, increasingly litigious parents and immovable teachers and clueless coaches. On the diocesan level, pretty much constant meetings and (in a larger diocese, geographically speaking), a whole lot of travel.
Sure, you think, it's worthy work and seriously, God bless those who give themselves over to it... but me? Well, I'd rather spend time with my kids and (at that time at least) in the classroom.
Because you see, it's not the sacrifice that's discouraging - it's the type of activities you're asked to sacrifice your life for. Anything worth doing requires sacrifice, and doing anything really well requires sacrifice. As does, of course, that little thing called following Christ. The problem is that demands of institutional leadership today often involve so much meaningless, mind-frying activity that don't meet any real needs, but instead work to further distance leaders from the real needs by layering theory after seminar after workshop after innovative paradigm between them and those they are supposed to - and would like to - be serving.