BY Rebecca Rigg | June 7 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


We need Catholic leaders unafraid to speak the truth

Bishop Devine represented the best of the hierarchy by preaching the authentic Gospel — By Fr Michael Kane

Last Monday I attended the Requiem Mass of the late Bishop Joseph Devine, the bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Motherwell.

Bishop Devine is remembered as a strong and outspoken Catholic leader who gave 30 years of service to our diocese as our bishop.

The fact that so many people, from all walks of life were present at his Requiem Mass in our cathedral is testament to his life and ministry.

Bishop Joseph Toal, paying tribute to his predecessor, spoke eloquently of his wise leadership and the many traits that marked him out as a strong and at times formidable Church leader.



Bishop Devine’s death did not come to many as a surprise since he had been suffering from ill-health for some time.

However, what did surprise me was my own reaction to his death. He has occupied my thoughts during the days since his death.

He, was, of course, the only bishop I knew in my youth.

I received the Sacrament of Confirmation from his hands (alongside probably tens of thousands of others!) and he was the face of the Church in Motherwell for as long as I can remember.

In fact, he became the Bishop of Motherwell in 1983, three years before I was even born. Still, this is not the main reason that I feel so connected to Bishop Devine.



Most importantly, he ordained me a priest of Jesus Christ on June 24, 2011, the greatest day of my life.

On that day the bishop laid hands on me and configured me to the Lord; through this ancient and unbroken apostolic action he gave me a new identity.

Priests, therefore, are uniquely connected to the bishop through whose hands he receives this most precious gift.

In that moment the Lord gives to every new priest a spiritual father whom he promises to respect in giving his obedience.


A wise father

Every priest understands that in ordination our life is no longer truly our own, for God has placed another man to care for us like a wise father.

Therefore the death of your ordination bishop, the death of the one who anointed you, is a poignant moment in the life of every priest.

In recent times, of course, bishops have found themselves subject to all manner of public scrutiny.

As the face of the Church they have had to respond to present day crises and give account for past failings.

As a result the standing of bishops in our society has taken a knock.


Dismissing Church teaching

People feel quite at liberty now to question and dismiss the teaching of bishops in favour of a more palatable version of Christianity.

Their role as the first teacher and shepherd of a diocese has been corroded immensely over a few short years; a change which has certainly not benefited the life and unity of the Church.

I noted with interest a few comments that appeared in a national newspaper following the news of Bishop Devine’s death.

Most letters spoke positively of the bishop as a man of virtue who gave his life to the service of God and his people.

However, a few took the opportunity to berate the late bishop as an old-fashioned defender of marriage and family and an out-of-step pro-life advocate.

It was a surprising eulogy for a bishop. Surely these are all prerequisite, core positions for any Catholic bishop to uphold?


Societal change

That such moral teachings have become surprising is a sign of worrying societal change. What doctrines do people expect a Catholic bishop to uphold?

Bishop Devine, of course, had no such concern for public approval. He was a leader in the truest sense; a man of principle, resolute in his moral teaching who was able to withstand the heat of public debate.

Of course, we live in different times which calls for a real discernment of language and tone.

Nonetheless, our message is unchanging, even when that message is berated by the modern world.

As a Church we need to pray for our bishops who have been entrusted with tremendous responsibilities in this high office.


Future generations

Their task is to live, preach, defend and hand-on the authentic and unchanging Gospel to the next generation. It is an unenviable task which, in our secular world, places a target on their back.

Alongside the gifts of leadership and good administration our bishops also need to be thick-skinned, courageous and resilient.

Today, I give thanks that ‘Devine’ are the hands that made me a priest! I ask God to help me be as courageous as he was in defending the Catholic Faith.

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