There is unquestionably a new style of bishop about these days. They can't usually be drawn much about it because they are still playing themselves in.
One recently did confide some thoughts to a private Newman meeting. He declined to be named or reported, but I'm sure he'll forgive the use of some of his ideas as practice shots.
The more obvious are that the new-style bishop is not aloof. He wears his authority more lightly now. No longer the holy sanctifier one minute and holy terror the next.
He's friendly, approachable. He gives the impression that he does not regret that Cardinal Cushing never did raise that million dollars for the College of Bishops.
He has found that the one thing which doesn't upset any of the people any of the time is to increase spirituality. The largest part of his role is relations with his priests. What he has wrought in this particular sphere of human relations is perhaps the outstanding characteristic of the new-style bishop.
He has found a gentleness, a humility, after the painful events of recent years — an inner strength that comes as a man realises just what he's come through.
He is close enough to his priests (because the Vatican Council described bishops and priests as one priesthood) to be' on relaxed first-name terms with them. A charming idea is that if a brand-new priest is to come to his diocese from elsewhere, even another country, the bishop will go and ordain him. This makes a strong, unforgettable spirital link.
One bishop (in America it must be said) even has a council of married priests in his diocese to.assist him as far as they can ("After all, they're part of my flock too," he insists).
Like the scions of famous fathers and mothers, the newstyle bishop tries not to capitalise on the title — the temptation that being an elder son of Rome would bring him a cheap headline.
The postbags of letters from those who cry for moral leadership sadly turn out, when analysed, to be very largely those who want condemnation.
Recent correspondence in The Times arising from Lord Longford's article about moral leadership offered support to the bishop who declines to condemn. Lord Longford had argued that "the duty of condemnation, so repugnant to most of us in this generation, cannot be shirked without sabotaging the total guidance."
One correspondent swiftly quoted Pope John saying that though the Church had frequently condemned moral errors with the greatest severity "she considers that she meets the needs of the present day by demonstrating the validity of her teaching rather than by condemnation." It was also pointed out that the assumptions on which condemnations were based were increasingly questioned.
But of course good Pope John died ten years ago. Perhaps the letter from an academic pointed up the question more sharply. He_ said the idea of moral leadershipwas-ambiguous. "It is one thing to lead in the sense of breaking new gtound in moral argument, of applying rational judgment to issues on which people were generally confused; it is quite another for a leader to acquire the sort of moral charisma which results in people unthinkingly accepting and imitating the moral life of that leader
"The latter is as likely in the long run to have evil results as good ones, unless the people are themselves morally educated and understand precisely what it is about the leader that fhey morally approve.
"What we should be fooking for, therefore, is not moral leadership but a morally educated public who will elect the leaders they deserve. To achieve this is surely the most important task of educationists."
With any luck, attacking bishops will become deja vu now and the heat will he on the education system.
The new-style bishop, faced with the question whether he teaches or extends the validity of the teaching, seems to have opted for concentrating on the latter. How far is direct moral education his responsibility. aside from ensuring adminis tratively the provision of good Catholic educational establishments? In every bishop's office there is obviously going to be a copy of "The Power of Positive Thinking." But other power generally, Left or Right, he seems against. A question looming on the horizon is whether he should take his place alongside his Anglican brethren in the House of Lords. What will our new-style bishop do about that one?
The Anglican bishop who was observer to the Vatican Council said that this seat in the Upper House only increased the expectation that bishops would give a lead in all kinds of social and political matters "many of which are beyond their ken and for which they have neither training nor inclination" (Bishop Moorman in "Vatican Observed"),
In leaning towards the spiritual pastoral side of his office the new-style Catholic bishop relates historically to Bede's great Celtic bishops.
It is also possible to see another interesting point which makes him very much the man of his time he believes he should be. But this is a little complex of explanation.
In our age the great thing is to be open. In a society such as ours it's practically impossible to be otherwise. But the great spiritual danger is dispersion. The distinguished French writer Albert Camus thought that "man has to live lucidly In a world where dispersion is the rule, he thus realises that the real problem is the problem of psychological unity and inner peace."
In a remarkable pastoral letter, Cardinal Suenens once developed the same theme. He said that commitment and the fidelity that constantly recreates it are situated in the depth of being. They were what brought us to a new level, the spiritual and divine dimension, He quoted Roger Garaudy: "The joy of a man is to have remained faithful at 60 to the dream of his twenties." Another writer, de Vigny, said: "Life is a dream of youth realised in maturity."
Perhaps posterity will see more clearly that the new-style bishop's response to his vocation at the present time is a "commitment that saves life from dispersion and confers on it vigour and strength," Cardinal Suenens again.
"Fidelity is not reassuring continuity, bringing security; it is not routine or fixity. It is a daily deepening ot the ontological relation, a creation in order to respond to variable circumstances, a victory over temptations, a way of growing in trials."
Is this what has brought him about?