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Being a bishop is more than a job

Opinion

When the announcement was made by Pope Francis that Adelaide’s very own Father Charles Gauci was to be the next Bishop of Darwin, it was a welcome relief to have some good news to spread.

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Although Fr Charles – now Bishop Elect Gauci – will be greatly missed here in Adelaide, his exuberant preaching style, his ability to communicate with people of all ages especially the young, and his humble approach to being a pastor will make him a valuable asset to the vast and diverse Diocese of Darwin.

Being my first experience of the ordination of a bishop, it was interesting to learn from Fr Charles a little about the way such an appointment comes about and what it means for him.

For a start, there is no job application or interviewing process to be had, not even a behind the scenes chat about whether the person is interested in the role. As Fr Charles told me when I interviewed him for The Southern Cross, he was ‘dumbfounded’ when he got the phone call.

Of course he was given a brief period to reflect on the Pope’s decision – and he happily said yes after a couple of days – but as Fr Charles pointed out to me, if you really want to be a bishop, then you probably shouldn’t be one.

That’s not to say the Holy See doesn’t do its homework in choosing a bishop – there are thorough investigations and discussions with people at all different levels of the Church. And it certainly is a great honour for those chosen to serve God in this way.

Fr Gauci says being a bishop will be very much an extension of the way he has approached being a priest. But he adds: “One of the differences perhaps is that there is something about being part of the apostolic succession, something quite special in the sense of a love for the universal Church and a sense of continuity of 2000 years of spirit-filled tradition and about being very much as Jesus said, a partaker of things old and new.”

I think this describes well the difference and suggests that taking on such a role brings with it a very strong sense of responsibility. It also indicates that being a bishop is much more than just a job, it’s not something you can just stop being, as some people who have commented on the Archbishop’s situation seem to misunderstand.

Sr Maria Casey, who was the postulator for the canonisation of Mary MacKillop and was the first woman to be elected president of the Australia and New Zealand Canon Law Society in 2012, went out on a limb and spoke on ABC Radio’s AM program about the Prime Minister’s call for the Pope to sack the Archbishop, even though he had stood down from all duties.

Sr Maria knows all about injustice and persecution – I refer to St Mary MacKillop’s unlawful ex-communication – and I am sure she would never sanction a bishop abusing his power in any way, but in this instance she described the Prime Minister’s actions in lobbying the Pope via the Australian ambassador to the Vatican as “very unfair”. She argues that the Pope has already taken action and that those calling for his resignation are overlooking this fact.

The Tablet’s Rome correspondent Christopher Lamb told AM Radio that he believed the call was “unprecedented” and yet there has been very little discussion about the ramifications, such is the anger and hurt in the community as a result of the clerical sex abuse crisis.

Surely there is good reason for informed and rational debate about the Prime Minister’s stance when you consider what precedent it might set.

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