[Excerpt from a talk by RC Bishop Kevin Dowling of Rustenburg, South Africa] It has become more and more difficult over the past years for the College of Bishops as a whole, or in a particular territory, to exercise their theologically-based servant leadership to discern appropriate responses to their particular socio-economic, cultural, liturgical, spiritual and other pastoral realities and needs; much less to disagree with or seek alternatives to policies and decisions taken in Rome. And what appears to be more and more the policy of appointing "safe", unquestionably orthodox and even very conservative bishops to fill vacant dioceses over the past 30 years, only makes it less and less likely that the College of Bishops -- even in powerful conferences like the United States -- will question what comes out of Rome, and certainly not publicly. Instead, there will be every effort to try and find an accommodation with those in power, which means that the Roman position will prevail in the end. And, taking this further, when an individual bishop takes issue with something, especially in public, the impression or judgment will be that he is "breaking ranks" with the other bishops and will only cause confusion to the lay faithful -- so it is said -- because it will appear that the bishops are not united in their teaching and leadership role. The pressure, therefore, to conform.
What we should have, in my view, is a church where the leadership recognizes and empowers decision-making at the appropriate levels in the local church; where local leadership listens to and discerns with the people of God of that area what "the Spirit is saying to the church" and then articulates that as a consensus of the believing, praying, serving community. It needs faith in God and trust in the people of God to take what may seem to some or many as a risk. The church could be enriched as a result through a diversity which truly integrates socio-cultural values and insights into a living and developing faith, together with a discernment of how such diversity can promote unity in the church -- and not, therefore, require uniformity to be truly authentic.