Wanted: Young Bishops

(Patheos) In our icons and stained glass windows and statues and portraits, Paul is always portrayed as an old man, with that famous bald plate and long beard. But when Paul was called on the road to Damascus, he was in his mid-twenties. We have almost no iconography of young Paul.

I don’t think it’s unfair to say, speaking neutrally, that the Church hierarchy at present is a gerontocracy. Pope Francis is 77. Cardinal Maradiaga, head of the Pope’s “G8″ council of cardinals, is 72. Cardinal O’Malley is 70. Blase Cupich, the new archbishop of Chicago, is a spry youngster at 65.

Before +Cupich was appointed, there was a rumor that Fr Robert Barron might be appointed to the see of Chicago. Of course, that was always crazy: Barron isn’t old and isn’t already a bishop. You know, like Peter and Paul. (This post isn’t about Fr Barron or +Cupich or Chicago.)

Readers of my religious work will know that I often like to compare the Church to an army. And readers of my non-religious work will know that one of my frequent (sincerely-held) provocations is the proposal that the military should set a firm retirement age of 50. Militaries that lose have old generals; militaries that win have young generals. Napoleon had field marshals in their late twenties.

When people pay attention to Silicon Valley, there is constant astonishment at the fact that so many people in their twenties can build large businesses and do great things. I think the greater astonishment should be the following: how many more twenty-somethings are toiling away at cubicle jobs and would do great things if given a chance?

It should go without saying that careerism is a species of clericalism. Spend X years in parish work, spend Y years in some central office, be appointed bishop of a small diocese, then maybe a stint in the Curia, or as auxiliary in a major see, or whatever, then be appointed to a larger archdiocese, and then a major metropolitan see and somebody wake me up, I’ve fallen asleep. [More]