In continuing looking at the ministry of governance – again, the term for this in Latin is munus regendi – which is exercised by bishops and the priests who are their coworkers in the Church, it’s important to remember that it’s just one of their responsibilities. They also are responsible for the ministries of teaching and of sanctifying.
The term “hierarchy” traditionally designates the structure of sacramental authority in the Church: bishops and priests are ordained to act in the place of Christ, with deacons also ordained to serve. Some people see this as authoritarian rather than pastoral, but in truth there is no opposition between the two ideas: a hierarchical Church can be and in fact is pastoral in the best sense. True, often popular opinion views the concept of “hierarchy” as a rigid and judgmental – and sometimes dominating and arrogant – structure, in contrast with the flexibility and vitality of the Gospel, in which leaders are supposed to be humble. Quite a few examples from history make it clear that sin can still certainly exist in and among the ordained! But it is possible to be both a good leader and still a pastoral one.
In fact, a good leader must be a pastoral one: if ecclesiastical authority has its origins in the Sacrament of Holy Orders, so makes the ordained even more servants of Christ. Only as servants of Christ can they govern His flock on His behalf. Therefore those in Holy Orders, the “hierarchy,” are not autocrats but are bound even more strongly in obedience – in communion with the other bishops and priests of their Sacred Order – to Christ and His mission to seek out the lost and offer them the life-giving graces of salvation. As Pope Francis has emphasized, “The power of grace comes alive and flourishes” when priests go out and give themselves and the Gospel to others. “Bringing God’s healing and comfort to others is the priority,” he has said. If we – because I’m one of them, after all – are paying attention, we have to be good and humble shepherds in order to do our job!