Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Sandro Magister, The City of Florence Has a Special Defender: Its Bishop
Just recently appointed, Giuseppe Betori has inaugurated a new pastoral style: very much engaged in the public square, and with the defense of human life as a priority. In reality, he has implemented an episcopal model that is classical in Church history. The analysis and interpretation of Pietro De Marco

From the analysis by Pietro De Marco:
Since the first centuries of Christianity, the bishop has been both the center of liturgical life, which is public in and of itself, and – in keeping with his ministry as "overseer" – a unique civil authority. An historian of late antiquity, Bernard Flusin, wrote that "the list of areas in which the bishop is called to act is startling." Although he is not a territorial lord, the bishop is a "defensor civitatis" with a role of balancing with respect to the imperial officials. Through the bishops, the Church brings to new institutional prominence, compared with pre-Christian systems, the functions of assistance and governance: the bishops organize worship, they teach, they help the poor, they influence urban space. The bishop, within the boundaries of his city, holds legally defined powers that put him at the head of the community in front of secular power. Other historians confirm this, including Luce Pietri: "His titles declare him the guarantor of justice and the protector of the weak, often in contrast" with civil jurisdiction. He is the minister of assistance.

These longstanding features were later updated and harmonized with the provisions of the modern state and the pluralist democracies, but they were not eliminated. They remain essential. And this is so true and so evident to public awareness and to the strategy of the rulers that when the bishop's responsibilities to the "polis" are expressed in "supplemental" social activities they are appreciated, sought out, praised. But when the bishop's concern – which is not for welfare per se, but responds to the absolute evangelical command and is ultimately ordered to the salvation of souls, even when he is providing physical assistance – is addressed to other decisive forms of protecting the spiritual and moral well-being of citizens, and does this authoritatively, it is whistled down as a "foul."

And yet these are nothing other than distinct features of the same mandate and the same office. The statement of the archdiocese is, in its substance, Archbishop Giuseppe Betori's first letter to the city, and about the city. It is an act of concern of the pastor, who becomes "guarantor of justice and protector of the weak" on anthropological terrain, even in contrast with the public authorities. He analyzes the reality, and warns against the dangers. The call to the "respect of roles and of reciprocal autonomy," which appears in the letter sent to the archbishop by the president of the city council of Florence, demonstrates little understanding of this episcopal responsibility.

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