Should You Become An Old Catholic Bishop?
Written By Bishop Karl Pruter
St. Willibrord’s Day 1983
One of the peculiarities of the Old Catholic Movement is the great number of bishops and the ease with which one can become consecrated a bishop. There are currently, in the United States, approximately eight hundred independent Catholic and Orthodox bishops. This has created a great deal of scandal and it is reason enough not to seek a mitre. What is scandalous is that few of these bishops have valid apostolates. They speak of valid orders but many of them have no congregations and minister to no one. Most people upon discovering that a bishop has no congregations or only one congregation as bewildered and wonder why he should be a bishop and not simply enjoy the title of priest.
Second, I believe, no man should seek a mitre, but he should let the miter seek him. St. Martin of Tours refused to become a bishop until the men and women of the diocese of Tours came and brought him to Tours by force.
Third, a common reason for seeking a mitre is the claim by a priest that he has no bishop who will come and confirm those whom he has instructed. In any well run jurisdiction, this is not a great problem an arrangements can be made to meet the needs of everyone within the jurisdiction. If the bishop cannot come, either the problems within the jurisdiction need to be resolved, or perhaps, the priest should seek a better run jurisdiction.
Fourth, if you are serving a parish, the title priest is all you need. In fact, you will have more respect and credibility as “Father” than as “Bishop.” People instantly know what a priest is and what he is expected to do. They are not as familiar with what a bishop does, especially if the bishop does not serve a viable diocese. As a bishop of sixteen years, I still usually introduce myself as “Father Karl,” since it is the quickest way to establish rapport with any new person I meet.
Fifth, what are your educational qualifications? In the twentieth century, the Church, like all institutions needs highly educated people in positions of administration and leadership. Many of the scandals and mistakes made by Old Catholic leaders in the past, would properly be avoided if those leaders had been properly educated. Also, if you do not have degrees from an accredited college and seminary both your credibility and the credibility of Old Catholicism will be questioned by many thinking people. If you wish to be a bishop, it would be wise, first, to obtain the necessary educational credits.
Sixth, the mitre tends to distract the wearer from the real business at hand. We are called to feed the hungry, minister to the lame and the halt, and visit the prisoner. Since most Old Catholic and Independent Orthodox priests have secular jobs, and must minister to their parishes after a full day of work, their time is very limited. Should you receive a mitre your time will be taken by many who come to you seeking Holy Orders. Nine out of ten are not qualified. They seek Holy Orders from us because they are unable or unwilling to meet the educational standards of the Roman, the Episcopal, or the Orthodox Churches. But a bishop has a responsibility to investigate and act on each and every application. To do so he has to take the time that should be given to the parish. His first responsibility is to feed the sheep. Before long he no longer had a valid apostolate, but has become an ordainer of priests and the maker of bishops.
Seventh, the profusion of bishops has led to an unseemly power struggle. The bishops without parishes spend a great deal of time, not in gathering new parishes of their own, but in trying to gain control over the few existing Old Catholic and Independent Catholic congregations. I have started many new missions and everyone of them has been besieged with offers from other bishops to leave my jurisdiction and join theirs. It is obvious why they wish to steal sheep from others, since they themselves are not missionaries and do not know how to gather congregations. One who is truly called to preach, will be able to gather parishes. A friend of mine once said, “If God has called me to preach, He has surely called people to listen.” A true bishop is first of all a missionary priest. Show me the congregations you have gathered, before you seek to wear a mitre.
Finally, if you obtain a mitre is there not a danger that some will ask, “How is it that you are a bishop? Would it not better if you were to remain a priest and people should ask, “How is it that you are not a bishop?”