Saturday, June 08, 2013

Adulterous Clerics

Pope Francis has been talking a great deal about "careerism" amongst clergy, Chiesa suggests he should look no further that the College of Cardinal to begin a reform. Most Cardinals once ordained Bishop are then moved, or promoted, from one See to another, eventually ending up in a Metropolitan Cardinalatial See, like Westminster or New York, it places careerism at the heart of the Church. The solution Magister concludes is abolish the connection between certain Sees and the "red hat". Some Cardinals can have as many as four dioceses under their fascia.

As holy as individual Cardinals might be, the appearance of "promotion" or of ambition being rewarded amongst the episcopacy, is plainly contrary to the Gospel. It creates a certain culture within the Church that is outside of the perview of the Gospel. It also creates a circle of the ambitious, a "magic circle" if you will.

Nicea saw the movement of Bishops from one See to another as a grave sin. The Fathers saw such moves as adulerous, as bishops like, Christ, are the bridegroom of their Churches, hence even the great Augustine remained Bishop of obscure Hippo all his life.

The role of a Bishop in the Church is not one of power but of service and relationships, primarily of being a spiritual Father, of being the mystical spouse, the Shepherd, the teacher, the guide. Today, more than ever a Bishop cannot rule by imposed authority but by his own fidelity. As in a marriage trust is essential, of the many crisis in the Church today one of the most significant is perhaps the breakdown in trust in the heirarchy. One of the reasons I suspect is that many bishops look outside their dioceses for "success" rather than in it.

One is more likely to become a Cardinal not by serving the poor and needy within one's own patch, not by huge numbers of converts, full seminaries, orthodox catechetical programmes, or even outstanding personal holiness but by heading prestigious committees in the National Episcopal Conference

Magister quotes the great Cardinal Gantin
"On his appointment, the bishop must be a father and a pastor for the people of God. One is always a father. Once a bishop is appointed to a particular see, he must generally and in principle stay there for ever. Let that be clear. The relationship between a bishop and a diocese is also depicted as a marriage and a marriage, according to the spirit of the Gospel, is indissoluble. The new bishop must not make other personal plans. There may well be serious reasons, very serious reasons for a decision by the authorities that the bishop go from one family, so to speak, to another. In making this decision, the authorities take numerous factors into consideration. They do not include an eventual desire by a bishop to change see."
Of course what can be said about Bishops being moved to more prestigious diocese can also be said about Parish Priests.


umblepie said...

Interesting post Father, and very apposite.

GOR said...

bilingaFood for thought, certainly. The ‘indissoluble marriage’ to the diocese hadn’t struck me before - but I like it.

I recall that when the then Bishop Timothy Dolan - auxiliary of St. Louis - was appointed Archbishop of Milwaukee, many people here felt it would be a transitional appointment - a step on the way to a ‘more important’ See. And that’s what it turned out to be.

In the case of Cardinal O’Malley, it appears that after his first episcopal appointment in the Virgin Islands he became “Mr. Fixit” – being sent first to the Fall River Diocese in Massachusetts, then briefly to the Palm Beach diocese in Florida and finally to Boston. All three dioceses had figured prominently in the abuse scandal – encompassing at least two successive Ordinaries in Palm Beach.

I can see some merit in O’Malley’s case – a genuinely devout bishop sent to dioceses that had suffered much under less than stellar incumbents. Dolan’s case smacks simply of ‘promotion’. Milwaukee, too, needed a lot of healing after the Weakland tenure, but Dolan was not left here long enough to affect it. It is still a work in progress.

I do like Cardinal Gantin’s line that “transfers should be to less developed, more difficult sees rather than to more comfortable and prestigious ones." While he was referring to mission territories, I think that should be applied universally.

Let’s see how Pope Francis deals with the issue.

James said...

Great post. Just talking about something similar over lunch today.

Anita Moore said...

I agree 100% that the same analysis applies to parish priests. The creeping secularization of the Church has led to dioceses and parishes being run along secular business lines, instead of subsisting like a family. A family has a father, and the father, by definition, stays put until he dies. Nowadays, we don't have fathers, and parishes more closely resemble the households of cohabitation or divorce and remarriage that are now so prevalent, with a constant stream of men moving in and out. Neither the priest nor the parishioners can be invested in each other's long-term well-being when the priests are constantly being shuffled. This is why so many parishes are in states of spiritual poverty, and why we have so many heartbreaking stories of elderly priests who can no longer work living in penury.

Frankly, in the case of parish priests, I have long suspected that the real purpose of constant transfers was to conceal abusers. If everybody is always on the move, it's harder to tell who the bad apples are.

JARay said...

This is a very telling post. It makes a great deal of sense to me. I really do see Anita's point that frequent transfers are a means of covering up bad apples. Once upon a time it was always assumed that if a priest was appointed Parish Priest then he was there for keeps. Curates were moved but not PPs. I can also remember the Leeds diocese being referred to as "The Cruel See" when Bishop Heenan was at the helm, because he moved and moved and moved priests, all around his diocese. It was very unpopular at the time.

Hughie said...

I am afraid, Fr, that your argument might have been valid in Augustine’s day or in Cardinal Gantin’s Africa at the time he commented. But not today. The population of dioceses is larger, the population of metropolitan archdioceses immeasurably larger. If one diocese had roughly the same Catholic population as any other; if one metropolitan archdiocese had roughly the same population as both of any ordinary diocese and of any other metropolitan archdiocese; if any diocese was regarded by society at large in just the same light as any other; if any metropolitan archdiocese was regarded by society at large in just the same light as both any ordinary diocese or any other metropolitan archdiocese; and, if all other valid considerations could be neutralised without detriment to the Catholic Church and People, and society at large, then and only then would your argument hold. Because then no particular bishop or archbishop or metropolitan archbishop could cause disproportionate damage to either Holy Mother Church, or to her people, or to society at large.

This not being an ideal, or an idealised world, the best man must be picked for any particular job. But when it comes to a job in which greater things might be achieved AND greater harm might be done then it has to be accepted that if a serving bishop has shown particular aptitudes and/or talents and/or virtues, but has been discerned to have no disqualifying vices then it has to be accepted that the best man may already be a bishop.

Need I remind you that His Eminence Keith Patrick Cardinal O’Brien had little pastoral experience in the presbytery and none in the bishop’s palace before he was appointed in 1985 to St Andrews and Edinburgh in succession to Gordon Joseph Cardinal Gray. Having said that, the man who was expected to be appointed, Fr Clarence Gallagher SJ (RIP, Fr Clarence died on May 5 at Boscombe), was in much the same position but what a difference his appointment would have made to the Church in Scotland.

PS: if anyone would like to know a little more about Fr Clarence I have posted an appreciation of him (he was a fellow parishioner of Holy Family, Mossend, a friend and a very distant relation) at

Fr Ray Blake said...

A truly worldly arguement!

Nicolas Bellord said...

Father: You may be right but if things were to be like that some of us laity might be tempted to move to another diocese rather than continuing to live in hope!

George said...

100% agree father.

I also think that the regular movement of parish priests and bishops leads to having parish priests and bishops who don't truly have a long term commitment to their flocks. Just as one example, there may exist some disturbing personality within the parish or some great clash among people. Some priests may chose to ride out the problem and bide time. However, if the priest was committed to the parish for life, he'd likely be much more aggressive in addressing the thorny problems within his parish.

If one knows he has only 3 to 7 years at his position compared to one who knows he will spend his lifetime at his position there will be such differences of behavior on some many levels. And not only on the part of the priest or bishop, but on the part of the laity too.

I've always thought that some of the reasons behind the modern protocol of moving parish priests and bishops around has to do with control. Bishops have much more control over priests if the priests are regularly moved around. The Vatican has much more control over the bishops if they are regularly moved around. On the surface, and from a purely natural perspective, it always seemed like a control mechanism to me.

But I agree with you. Bring stability back to the Church by having permanent pastors in place over the flock.

Hughie said...

Yes, Fr Ray and wordy. But the important point is the possibility of disproportionate damage being done in the name of anti-careerism. And that is not entirely a worldy consideration.

JB36 said...

The Martyred & Sainted John Cardinal Fisher also resisted being promoted to a larger and more prestigious See (Rochester being the smallest Diocese in the Kingdom); he said that he was "unwilling to divorce his poor old wife Rochester for any rich widow in England".

Pablo the Mexican said...

More Adulterous Clergy:

It will take lowly Priests traveling the World, as did the Apostles, to reestablish Roman Catholicism.

"Priests shall be sought among those who wield the hoe, the spade, and the hammer, as David prophesied: God lifted the poor man from the fields to place him on the throne of His people".

The means of achieving this will be God's will, but it will be ugly.

God bless the Padres that have remodeled their Churches away from the Diabolical tables and sterile walls, and made them Catholic places once more.

Just in doing this, they have gained a place in Heaven.

I suggest to these Priests that they immerse themselves completely in Tradition, that on the day of their martyrdom no detail has been omitted.

Please pray for those of us that are fighting in the trenches, and suffer much at the hands of those that meet against God and His Christ.

Pray for those innocent souls most abandoned.

Pray for the Holy Father.

(A relic has been mailed in England on my behalf, please contact me when you receive it).


Deacon Augustine said...

The idea of "Cardinalatial Sees" being done away with is an excellent one. However, I can think of one Archbishop who would be a tad upset if that happened in the very near future! T'would be a crying shame.