The words bishop and humor don’t often go together for many of us,  but people are people! Our bishops are actually a pretty lively bunch—if you understand their culture.  SAM editor Susan Hines-Brigger and I were in Baltimore, back in November,  covering the annual assembly of the United States bishops for St. Anthony Messenger, when we heard a good one.

Cardinal George, who was completing his term as chairperson of the U.S. bishops, was preparing his 200-or-so-fellow-bishops (a sea of black outfits, pectoral chains and gray or balding heads!) for a vote.

During their days together, our bishops have discussions in a very formal way (until recently, Mr. Roberts, of Roberts’ Rules of Order fame, served as parliamentarian for the assembly), often followed by votes on whatever topic is under discussion. In recent years, the votes have been electronically gathered and tallied.

This meeting had reports from Haiti, votes about the changes in the Mass, election of a new president and other officers,  recognition of a common agreement that came out of meetings between Roman Catholics and Reformed Christians, and so on. It’s a busy time!

The whole method, a very American approach to “collegiality,” was devised under the leadership of St. Anthony Messenger’s beloved friend, the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.  At the assembly, between the more formal meetings, many informal gatherings take place, so there are many journalists and interest groups present for their own purposes. But, as my friend Judy says, I digress. Back to my story.

So Cardinal George, this past November,  posed a test question for the bishops to be sure that the computerized polling machinery was working well. The question was, “Will you play golf in the coming year?” Up on the large screen behind the dais came the answers: 207 voted no; only 25 voted yes. (We can only presume that these were honest answers!) In this light moment in a very serious assembly, Cardinal George commented, “That will signal the end of clerical culture.”

Could it be that easy?


About the Author

John Feister is editor in chief of St. Anthony Messenger magazine. He has a B.A. in American Studies from University of Dayton, and master's degrees in Humanities and in Theology from Xavier University. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada, and was previously an adviser to the Communications Committee of the U.S. Catholic bishops (2000-2006). His latest book, Thank You, Sisters: Stories of Women Religious and How They Enrich Our Lives is available from the Franciscan Media catalog. He has cauthored four books with Richard Rohr (Franciscan Media), and coauthored, with Charlene Smith, the biography of Thea Bowman (Orbis books).