Friday, December 11, 2009
On the Accountability of Bishops
I am no radical but whatever the "changes" are they need to be more than early retirement of a few bishops.
Reading the Irish press, apart from horror at the acts of abuse, the real objects of criticism are the bishops named in the report but there has also be criticism of other bishops, of the Nuncio, there have been calls for his expulsion and criticism of the Pope himself.
Superficial changes will not be good enough, there needs to be changes in the government of the Church itself. Readers might be surprised to hear me say that the feudal structures where inadequate men are raised to the purple and rule a diocese, accountability only to God, must go.
In theory bishops are accountable to the College of Consultors, the Council of Priests and on financial matters the Trustees of the Diocese, and ultimately to Rome. As far as Rome is concerned, one Irish bishop claims to throw anything that comes from their unopened into the bin, so one can imagine other organs of accountability are treated in the same way. It is all too easy for a bishop to suborn both the College of Conultors and Council of Priests, he can pack these with his cronies, he can intimidate its members, he chooses the agenda, he chairs the meetings.
The vision of the 2nd Vatican Council, was one of "collegiality" and "communion", not of monarchy. If there is a problem with a bishop, there is also a problem with the priests around him. In Ireland the Murphy Report indicates there are many problems, though Ireland is not alone. Whether the issue is bishops covering up criminal activity of their clergy, living immorally, preaching heresy or failing in their pastoral duties to their priests and people, it is not their responsibility alone, the presbyterate also has a responsibility. I would hope that Rome might strengthen the role the other hierarchs might exercise, priests are also hierarchs and have a responsibility, to call to account their bishops. There needs to be some type of structure to facilitate this.
As one old priest said to me, when I was first ordained, "You have a duty of obedience to your bishop as his subject but a greater duty as priest to save his soul".
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