Monday, January 19, 2009

Making bishops accountable and deposing them

There is a crisis in the Church in Ireland, another scandal, another assault on its credibility. It is of course a continuation of the pederasty scandal and the Church's mishandling of it. At its heart is the Bishop of Cloyne, one of Pope John Paul's former secretaries Bishop John Magee. The bishop is accused of cover-up, of obfuscation, of lying, of incompetence, well, of everything really.

I feel sorry for the Irish Church, when we actually decided in the late 1970s that the sexual abuse of children was a serious a problem and not something that should be brushed under the carpet, as had happened everywhere, previously. In the rest of the world investigations revealed problems in the Church, in schools, in social services, youth organisations, orphanages, etc. etc. it was diffused, except in Ireland, because for the most part it was the Church which ran these other sectors of society, rather than social service, local authorities or independent charities.

The row in Ireland places all the wrath and blame on the Bishop of Cloyne, there are calls for his resignation, but for the moment he is still in place. Other bishops like the Archbishops of Amagh and Dublin come to his defence only to appear weasily and lacking in credibility, defending what appears to be the indefensible. Ultimately it damages the faith of the Irish people and plays directly into the hands of the anti-clerical and secularist groups in Ireland.

The truth of the matter is that Rome alone can depose Bishop Magee, he can resign, his brother bishops can press him to go, his clergy can express their lack of confidence in him but there is no way for the local Church to get rid of him. Indeed, the theology of the relationship of the bishop and his Church doesn't quite allow for his disposition, so often an incompetent bishop is left in place to sort out the mess he has created. Serious financial mismanagement, open co-habitation with a concubine might just cause Rome to act but very little else.

Call me a wet liberal if you must but we really do need some mechanism to make bishops accountable and possibly ultimately to depose them. In the past there was a tension between the bishop and senior clergy, historically there are accounts of bishops being denied access to their cathedrals, the rights of clergy and therefore of their parishes formed an anvil hardened by the Church's law and custom, and Rome formed a hammer, in between was the bishop. Now the bishop is in so many ways is unconstrained, he can establish a diocese of lay consultants and advisers independent of his clergy, a virtual diocese within his diocese, unaccountable to anyone.
The ancient model still much in evidence within the Byzantine Churches is that the bishop does very little that is not in consort with his clergy, he is their father and ruler, they are his sons, advisers and at times critics, without their good will he can do very little.


Anonymous said...

I often wonder what St.Peter would make of all this. I can't help thinking he would get these people by the scruff of the neck and show them the door.

St. Peter pray for us
St. Athanasius pray for us
St. Antony of Padua pray for us.

Jane Teresa said...

I would never call you a "wet liberal", Fr. Blake!

Sadie Vacantist said...

Fr Blake you have got it right! The issue isn't the imperfection of the bishops, as we are all imperfect but simply the lack of accountability and unwillingnes to either accept criticism or indeed welcome it.

The UK Catholic Church has become a cash cow for liberal project managers many of them, as you rightly say, either salaried laymen/women or simply lay volunteers with time on their hands.

This is corruption on an unparalled scale.

Anonymous said...

Look up St Bruno and the simoniac bishop of Rheims ...

Anonymous said...

Isn't there something in canon law that allows litigation against a Bishop before the Roman tribunals?

And when minors are sexually abused or suspected of being so, wouldn't it be de rigeur to involve the police?

nickbris said...

We will get over these scandals,we survived a lot worse in the 18th and 19th centuries when the entire propaganda machine of the Anglican Church was out to destroy Catholicism completely.

We must be costantly on guard against EVIL.The Bishops have to be on guard.I do not think that resignations are the answer,sackings or weeding out may be one way but we must remain calm and above all STAUNCH.

Anonymous said...

The Holy Father could appoint a coadjutor bishop and reserve areas of responsibility to him. It is not unknown for Rome to appoint coadjutors as a way of reducing the authority of the ordinary and bringing him into line. I am sure that the ordinary would eventually get tired of someone looking over his shoulder and concede the diocese to him!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the Vatican should just interfere more often.

St Wulstan: pray for us.
(He's was a jolly good bishop and it's his feast day today!)

Anonymous said...

Scandals disappear when right is done and seen to be done and justice is done and seen to be done.
Far too often it seems to non-Catholics that if you have enough friends in Rome you escape censure.
The Pope is regarded by many religious as just another bishop and by some as not even first among equals.
This allows bishops to be absolute monarchs of their dioceses and we all know that power corrupts, etc.

Joe of St. Thérèse said...

The rite of deposition should be pulled out of the closet and used more often...My archdiocese would be a great start.

There are times when things must be cut off and start anew. Of course we constantly pray for their conversion, but if their hearts are hardened, no conversion will happen.

I agree Father, Bishops' must be accountable for their actions. One of the many things we can learn from the East is the relationship between Bishop and priest.

Maurice said...

'obfuscation', surely?

Fr Ray Blake said...

yes, and "advisers"

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the Byzantine model has been reinforced by the dispossession of secular authority and influence through the conquest of their Sees by non-Christians? Thoughts?

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