Bishop de Gouveia Gave us Prophetic Witness
This month we learnt of the resignation of Bishop Francisco de Gouveia from the pastoral leadership of the diocese of Oudtshoorn, after just eight years in office.
A statement by the SACBC president, Archbishop Stephen Brislin, cited physical ailments and depression. The revelation of the latter, made no doubt with Bishop de Gouveia’s consent, is a good witness by the Church to the world which still stigmatises mental and psychological ailments.
Walking the Talk of Self-Knowledge
Bishop de Gouveia has walked the talk of self-knowledge and self-acceptance which he taught us as rector of St Francis Xavier Orientation Seminary in Crawford, Cape Town, in 1996. He stressed that these were the signs of maturity which every priest — and every sound person — should portray.
He resigned in his 67th year of life. Bishops are expected to retire at 75, though some continue to serve right up to 80. Depending on how old they were at appointment, bishops can be at the helm for 40 years, as 35 is the minimum eligible age of being named to the episcopate. Bishop de Gouveia retired after eight years.
This renders Bishop de Gouveia’s resignation, or early retirement, very prophetic. He realised that, due to his health situation, he could not carry on with the pastoral leadership of his diocese, admitted this to himself, and was brave enough to apply to the pope for retirement.
A sense of inadequacy, regarding one’s health or otherwise, should propel anyone in pastoral leadership — bishops, priests, parish pastoral council members and so forth — to step down, as Pope Benedict XVI did in 2013. The Church should not suffer due to insistent inadequate leadership which adds no value to, or even jeopardises, its mission.
Bishop de Gouveia’s eight-year tenure poses a challenge to us, as pastoral leaders. Many years ago, the SACBC suggested that the term of a parish priest should be six years, renewable once by three years for a total of nine years. This makes sense.
Leadership is Not F or a Lifetime
As a Church worldwide, we always cry foul when a political leader wants a third-term, which generally is after ten years. Yet, we allow that within our own structures. Many ordained and lay leaders often remain in office for more than ten years. Are we using a different yardstick for ourselves?
One may ask: what will Bishop de Gouveia do now that he has retired. Clearly, he will pray. Praying for the people of God and the world is the primary task of a bishop or any pastoral leader for that matter, especially the ordained one.
He might also do other things that may benefit the Church, like writing (especially reflections from his pastoral experience), preaching retreats, giving spiritual direction and so on. He will also be available to offer counsel and mediation in difficult pastoral situations from the wisdom he has gained as pastor, counsellor, spiritual director, formator for priests, vicar-general and bishop.
I pray that all pastoral leaders consider Bishop de Gouveia’s resignation as a prophetic challenge and a witness to political leadership, especially in Africa, that leadership is not for a lifetime and that the institution matters more than us, no matter how indispensable we may consider ourselves to be.
Blessed retirement, Bishop de Gouveia!