Writing to the Bishop
Addressing the Letter
The letter to a bishop is properly addressed according to the example in Questions Commonly Asked. We address a bishop or archbishop as Your Excellency, and a cardinal as Your Eminence.
We are writing to a direct successor of the Apostles. We always treat a bishop with the greatest respect. Every bishop is under tremendous assault from Satan and needs all the help he can get from the laity. Our assurance that he is in our prayers, or even that we have prayed a Rosary for him, will comfort him.
A bishop not in union with Rome needs our prayers all the more.
The letter, like all formal Catholic writing, should be a model of clarity, brevity, and organization. Clarity means that the reader can immediately understand the situation. Brevity means it should occupy one page, and if possible only part of the page; if additional material is absolutely necessary it can be included as an attachment containing background information. Organization means it should present all the important information in an appropriate sequence without repetition, and cite the relevant Vatican or bishops’ conference documents.
I recommend a five-paragraph format. The first paragraph states succinctly what occurred. The second identifies the controlling Church document by name and paragraph and quotes the relevant words. The third describes the effort to resolve it at the parish level. The fourth expresses what we would like the bishop to do. The fifth conveys our spiritual support for the bishop.
Bishop Blank Blank
Diocese of Blank
1 Catholic Way
Blank City, BL 00000
Dear Bishop Blank,
On July 20, 2003, at St. Blank parish in Blank City, the pastor, Father Blank Blank, stated in his homily that it is not necessary to attend Mass every Sunday.
As you know, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, # 2181 states: “The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.”
After the Mass, I discussed this with Father Blank. He replied that we all have a fundamental option to accept God’s grace, and that if we exercise our fundamental option for God, it does not matter how many individual sins we accumulate. I showed him the Declaration on Certain Problems of Sexual Ethics, (personae humanae) issued by the Vatican’s Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on December 29, 1975. Section IV specifically describes fundamental option as a dissent from Church teaching, and states: “The Church teaches that deliberate transgression of the moral law in a grave matter is a mortal sin and is opposed to God.” Father Blank, however, continued to promote the fundamental option.
Please do all you can as a successor of the Apostles to assure that St. Blank parishioners receive Catholic teaching consistent with the Magisterium.
As you pray for all the souls entrusted to your care, know that I pray for your soul as well.
St. Blank Parish
What About the Vatican
Generally, I recommend writing to a Vatican dicastery, and certainly to the Holy Father, only congratulatory messages that do not require a reply. The Holy Father and the dicasteries receive more mail than they can possibly deal with. They will pay attention to correspondence from a bishop, but other correspondence tends to get buried in the avalanche of mail that arrives at the Vatican each day.