Friday, December 11, 2009

On the Accountability of Bishops

The Holy Father's Friday penitential exercise as Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith was to deal with cases of sex abuse of children by clergy, this Friday he has met with members of the Irish Bishops Conference to discuss the Murphy Report. Apparently changes in Ireland are afoot.

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".


gemoftheocean said...

Well said!!!

[BTW, I do have a poll on my website re: if a person's bishop made the Goodbye, Bad Bishops website -- you can see the post and associate poll here. So far 48% of people who took the poll said "yes, my bishop is on it and deserves to be!"

Anonymous said...

If anyone was thinking of a liberal-democratic model (a la USA/Revolutionary France), practical experience has shown that it is just as productive of corrupt government as any other type of regime.

What is the answer?

I suggest that it is the same as ever - a genuine spiritual life, which obviously many of the clergy have not been leading for some time prior to Vatican II, despite (or perhaps because of) the typical regime of ascetic and mystical theology fostered in the seminaries. One only need go to the average traditionalist seminary at witness its own internal regime at work, how seminarians are typically treated, and the dynamics thereof, to appreciate how the current lamentable situation arose.

+ Wolsey

me said...

Power corrupts, they say. I can understand insane behaviour as I battle with addiction one day at a time, although the latter has more to do with the removal of power than bestowing of same haha.

I always assumed Bishops thought about souls and Judgment day all day, but of course the devil would tempt and distract them in their own weak areas. Maybe their ambition, their self seeking and their ego, esteem.
The big boss of us all, Jesus held no position on earth other than the son of a carpenter. This tells me something of my value, apart from position or circumstance, in God's eyes. He met mixed, lived and died with ordinary people. The only time He officially came before the powers that be, was to be mocked, ridiculed and condemned.They should have been crowning Him King of the Universe!

Bishops would do well to take a closer look at their Gaffa(boss) and maybe seek to imitate His prayer life and humility whilst on earth. They'll be glad of His Life being wrought into theirs one day. God help them all.He has mercy on me,daily so I must pray for the same for them.

Marich said...

My priest left the parish in October because Archbishop Vincent Nichols (and the Cardinal) willed it. Nobody else did. We all loved our priest and appreciated him very much. The parish was horrified. We wanted him to stay. Everybody wrote letters; a petition was signed and handed over. All Archbishop Nichols could say was "support your new priest." He couldn't even answer the basic question of why our priest was being moved. How disappointing is that? Does Archbishop Nichols think we are all stupid? I looked forward to his inauguration earlier this year very much and now I just feel he's a pen pusher who loves publicity and doesn't appreciate good priests who have the love and appreciation of the people they serve.

On the side of the angels said...

'fraid on this one you're not quite getting what's wrong in Ireland - it's not the monarchical-paradigm ; it's the clerical 'old-boys network'; cliques, inner rings etc and bishops are expected to be figureheads who don't rock the boat and conform to everything the real powerbrokers - i.e. the 'professional' clergy and laity - want.

They've spent years desperately trying to climb that greasy pole and get into every inner ring available and be seen as a 'mover and shaker' amongst academics or political leaders or campaigners or reformers.

...and that means never dealing with real critical problems of the diocese but spending an awful lot of time and resources on the trendy 'relevant' modern issues ; and where there are priests or religious representatives who are inept, corrupt, bloody useless or dangerous or heretical or sexually reckless or tyrannical or even a sexual abuser - you GO WITH THE FLOW - you suppress, you sweep things under the carpet, you live in denial, you support the inexcusable , you promote the calamitous, you praise the renegade reprobate ; you spin messages, you ensure there's blatant disregard for the rules providing everything SEEMS to be running smoothly and all the vociferous and powerful and RICH are placated....

Ambition, snobbery, vanity, narcissism , sycophancy, violent anti-traditionalism and a hatred of Rome or anyone above them in the hierarchy is endemic.

But there is one phenomenon which has done more damage than anything else : Their notion of Priesthood.

Anti-clericalism is rife - with good reason given the history of the tyrannical tin-pot dictator pastors of the past ; but what's happened has been threefold.

a] some priests have reacted in the extreme against this notion and have become utterly impotent and devoid of any responsibility in a parish - being a figurehead while the laity have taken over everything ; the priest no longer visits, does as little as possible except in his role as parish administrator/facilitaor, enabler, co-ordinator on committees , dodgy cultic groups etc. They abrogate all responsibility and leadership within their communities ; and as they don't consider themselves as priests ; because the priesthood is defunct and of no intrinsic value to the contemporary horizontal church - they can act in whatever way they wish, believing and saying what they want and following whatever interests they choose to explore....

b] other priests [especially those in their late 30s/early 40s have reacted against the reckless trendy hippiedom of the seventies and eighties and have reverted back to tyrannical stereotypes of the old-school - more conservative in appearance and peripherals ; but basically empty and just as inept and disillusioned as their anti-clerical counterparts.

c] Those who have joined the anti-clericalists to dismantle the role of 'presbyteral ministry' to basically emasculate their brother priests ; but in order to maintain their own status become 'specialists' and leaders and 'movers and shakers' in something else - usually along a futurechurch or ultra-liberal line - in other words all priests are defunct EXCEPT me! Your demi-god gnostic pharisaical cult-leader !

...and into all of this banal travesty comes the Bishop - he can't beat them so he either joins them or he placates them in order for an easier life or he hides in his diocese busying himself with finances or restructuring or personal hobbies or travelling or dealing with the rich and the renowned among the locals...

all an unmitigated farce - a lot of good men became bishops and the position itself - the hellish quagmires of depravity and corruption and dodgy friendships and alliances worse than any bunch of freemasons;

....and give this a massive dose of machiavelian one-upmanship among half of them

...and downright arrogant laziness/hatred of authority/just wanting to be left alone among the other half ?

On the side of the angels said...


The Bishop usually falls at every hurdle ; to mix metaphors he abrogates his apostolic duty and drowns ! Decent men doing terrible things and allowing dreadful evil to occur - for a peaceful life, or to be seen to be an effective leader or to gain access into the higher elitist eschelons along the way...

The [ex] Bishop of Limerick Donal Murray was my lecturer [theology of prayer - terrible meaningless course] for a while ; and he was a close friend and confidante of my girlfriend of the time - he was an amiable, innocuous, inoffensive congenial man and a priest who seemed to know what he was about and he attempted to live it [however contaminated by modernist anti-clerical sentiments]...

How did two decades turn this man into a bishop who would protect child-abusing clerics ? I have no bloody idea ; but I have to suggest in fairness that irrespective of human responsibility and culpability for one's sins - the system in no way assisted this priest become either a better one or a good Bishop - and it was this pernicious nightmare opf a system which probably aided and abetted the scandals which ensued - It's the gyges ring syndrome - if you can get away with doing something ; it's so much more tempting ; especially when the authorities are compelled to look the other way because 'it's the way we do things!!!'

Anonymous said...

Reasonable idea Fr, but still rather clerical. What about the laity?

Fr. Vincent Twomey has just this week written a short article for the Irish Times:

"Part of the collective task of coming to terms with our immediate Catholic past must be to explore possibilities for more positive input into church life by laity and priests, including the exercise of a greater role in choosing bishops – successors to the Apostles and major public figures in Irish society."

From my reading, I understand that Pope Benedict, speaking personally whilst still a cardinal, favours this idea of the laity having an official role in the selection of bishops.

We've already seen this unofficially with blogs etc when Westminster was vacant. I think Marich's comment is germane to the point I'm making.

gemoftheocean said...

Angels: I never knew you made it to my corner of California. :-D Big stars on the "old boy network." that describes my diocese to a T.

FR MARK said...


Peter said...

Thank you Father. I think that you echo the comments I made after your first blog on the published report.
I would only add that bishops can only make best use of the limited clergy available to them, both in numbers and quality.
Perhaps part of the problem was an all too forgiving approach by bishops.
Some of the abusers may have been priests really trying to be good but unable to resist temptation and opportunity. I wonder if there is a practical way that they could serve the Church whilst being supervised so as to keep them out of temptation. Easier said than done I accept.

Francis said...

Fr. Ray,

I'm not convinced that the abuse crisis is necessarily central to the "bishop crisis" in the Church. It's acutely painful and shaming for the Church, and hugely undermining of her mission and moral authority, but I think it is in a special category since the cover-ups were done (ironically) by way of damage limitation. The hierarchy would have behaved totally differently if they knew they were just creating time-bombs.

The "bishop crisis" is really about two things: heterodoxy and nepotism. For the Church to appoint de facto heretics as bishops -- men actively hostile to core Catholic teachings and to papal authority -- is a scandal that implicates everyone who is involved in the selection and approval process. Where heterodox appointments are made not out of carelessness but because of conspiracies to "pack the jury" -- that is doubly heinous.

Several steps need to be taken to address these problems. First, the secrecy around the selection process must be lifted. Let the Nuncio go about his work, but abolish the pontifical secret -- the terna should be released to the public at the same time as it is submitted to Rome. If terna nominees are modernists, magic circlers, if they have mistresses,
boyfriends or other dirty secrets, that must all come out in the wash -- and be addressed by Rome -- before anyone is consecrated.

Secondly, episcopal retirement at 75 must go. This only gives a good result if a good bishop is selected; in other cases a diocese gets three decades of decay. Appoint bishops for 10 year terms with a possible 5 year extension, if the clergy of the diocese, and the CDF, raise no objection to the rollover.

Thirdly, the breaking, by a bishop, of his oath of allegiance to the Holy See, should be formalized as immediate grounds for his deposition. Priests and laity should be free to whistle-blow to Rome. The CDF should investigate these claims and determine if deposition is warranted, question the bishop concerned and then take the necessary action.

Implement measures like these and big improvements will happen overnight.

Fr Ray Blake said...

My arguement here is simply that priest should scrutinise bishops.

I am all for getting rid of unnecessary secrecy, I am a little anxious about increasing the power, therefore the size of the Curia.

Jack said...

we could of course put Lord Fellay in charge of the CDF and Lord Williamson in charge of the congregation for Bishops :) that would have the modernist bishops running for the nearest eccelesial boot camp

Joshua said...

In olden times, bishops could be expected to be brought to account by their metropolitans... history is replete with examples of this.

If only bishops kept an eye on each other, rather than winking at each other's inanition and laziness!

And of course the Bishop of Rome should be unafraid to try bishops before him, and depose them if necessary.

Once the first few are thrown off their cathedras, it will be remarkable how the others shape up.

The culture of impunity that arose in the church in about, oh, 1968, I suppose, is the whole problem.

Laity won't follow the Church's teachings; neither will priests; neither will bishops; and no one higher up ever disciplines those whose cure they should undertake - for it is forgotten what cure of souls implies. Tough love is the phrase.

Unless and until a far higher standard of moral and doctrinal conformity to the precepts of Holy Church is enforced, the sly and the lazy and the deceitful will simply act as wolves, slaying the sheep and committing the most shameful outrages.

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