Irish Bishops Free To Go Home

In the past, the Vatican has not hesitated to criticize individual bishops or manipulate their authority for matters grave or petty. Marcel LeFebvre was excommunicated. Raymond Hunthausen was given a co-adjutor. Emmanuel Milingo … well, the less said there, the better.

I’ve seen the statement coming out of the Pope’s meeting with the Irish bishops. Rock also has the “body language” report from Rome. I have to confess I’m not impressed, but then I didn’t think I was going to be, barring some sort of conversion at the top of the ecclesiastical heap.

Lots of lament, to be sure, about the horrific sins of offending clergy and religious. Notable praise for lay people working with the Church to ensure widespread abuse will never happen again. But icy stares will not satisfy people who are demanding an authentic “full force of renewal.”

Unless the pope is holding his tongue and pen for the sake of saving the faces of his brother bishops, nothing in the press release addresses the reason why people are white-hot upset. It’s still no news that tortured souls in the presbyterate have abused children, teens, women, and men. The shock of the last decade has been the degree to which bishops cooperate with manifest evil in their ordained ranks. And that the Roman hierarchy is practically a secret society within the Church in spirit and practice gives no confidence to lay people and clergy who rightly want their bishops to cooperate with reform, and publicly reject the status quo.

For the pope’s letter to Ireland to have any traction, it will have to include changes. Plans for changes. The desire to make changes. And those changes will have to include bishops.

Addicts flourish in secret societies. They also groom their superiors, cultivating allies and potential allies, and sowing the seeds of doubt and confusion in both bosses and bystanders. On the surface, they look like charmers. Just like real charming people who don’t actually lead a secret life.

Bishops, too, say and do all the right things. But even guys like Bernard Law who cultivated a certain cred with liberals for his stance on race relations and conservatives for his “law and order” approach, found the whole thing crumble when the truth came out. Who knows who the next facade bishop will be? What country will be hit next?

I’m glad to know at least that Rome recognizes the grave wound this is to the Magisterium.

(T)his grave crisis has led to a breakdown in trust in the Church’s leadership and has damaged her witness to the Gospel and its moral teaching.

Readers here know of many of my suggestions. I’ve written of them often here and on other sites: ending careerism in the episcopacy–the routine switching of bishops to larger sees, promoting priests from within a diocese to lead it, upping the age of presbyteral ordination to 40, or in special cases 35, closing down seminaries and schooling clergy with lay people, breaking up large archdioceses, upending the college of cardinals, etc..

These days I’m wondering if promoting bishops from the diocesan presbyterate is even a good idea in the most wounded of dioceses. Maybe it’s time to look to religious orders, especially monastics, to provide some stability and credibility for the episcopacy. I’m sure that Cardinal Sean is doing fine in Boston, but at what cost? His fourth diocese? The Eastern and Western Fathers would be scandalized by that alone, not to mention the reasons why it was done.

Abbots and others formed in the monastic tradition–carefully vetted by the actual fruits of their leadership–may be part of the solution for a deeply damaged episcopacy. It would be a balm for the multi-faceted challenge of careerism, autocracy, secrecy, and ambition among bishops.

I wouldn’t expect it to be a perfect solution. But it would be an unmistakable gesture of reform. Monastics I know take the Christian life seriously. If called upon, would they serve the Church in an hour of dire need?


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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13 Responses to Irish Bishops Free To Go Home

  1. Jeannie Cole says:

    I disagree in part with your conclusion that promoting monastics to bishoprics would be the solution. Just look at all of the problems the Christian Brothers and Oblates caused in Ireland. Most orphanages and reform schools, with the most horrendous and egregious records of Pedophilia run by the RCC, were also controlled by brothers or monks.

    In the Early Church the leaders were vetted by the Laity. This fact is evidenced in the 2nd chapter of the Book of Revelations of St. John. Here we have an instance where the Laity threw out their leaders, because “they were found to be LIARS!” Contemplate this quote for a minute: These leaders “were found to be liars!” I think that we can be assured that the Holy Spirit wasn’t just making up Scripture, when He directed St. John to tell the Church this story. If our leaders are found to lie to the press, the laity and those abused are they worthy of our trust to be bishops? I don’t know if they have your confidence and if you can overlook the above examples of immorality, but I can’t and won’t. The problems in the Church are not insolvable. Let’s go back to the Bible and the New Testament for our solutions.

  2. Tony de New York says:

    The main problem was the disregard of Canon law by the bishops.

  3. No, the main problem was not the disregard of Canon Law. The main problem was the everlasting curse of clericalism. The fact that some priests raped children was not seen as a requirement for compassion toward the victims, but compassion toward the clerical offenders. And it goes forth at every level. The bishops ignored the victims and had compassion on the priests; Benedict ignores the victims and has compassion on the bishops who covered up the entire sorry mess.

    We all know of parishes that were once vibrant and growing until a new pastor was assigned. We’ve seen pastors smother the life out of parishes; numbers decline, collections plummet and parishioners leave for other parishes. But the pastor is left for two or more terms, free to drive a parish into the ground for 12 years or more (depending on the diocese). There is ZERO accountability.

    Because, you see, it’s not about the people, it’s about the clergy. Parishes are fiefdoms, doncha know, and priests are the princes. If the priest assaults you or derides you or is too lazy to proclaim the Gospel, well you have no choice but to go elsewhere, because he is the little prince. The bishop will always take the side of the pastor against the people.

    And that’s the problem.

  4. Michael says:

    Deacon Eric says it well, and with far less profanity than I’m tempted to use. :-)

  5. Amos says:

    Joseph Ratzinger continues, adamantly, to remain in a state of serious sin. His contrition is without merit in that he clings tenaciously to the knowledge that he is the source of the spiritual, emotional, psychological, and physical damage inflicted on countless people, but refuses to admit his personal liability and that he continues as a source of scandal not only to the Church, but to the whole world. Ratzinger is not a dumb man. He knows full well his complicity in the evil he has condoned, perpetrated and continues to foster. Please pray for Joseph Ratzinger that he finally acknowledges himself as the root cause of the evil of sexual abuse and collusion in its cover up among the clergy, bishops and cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church; that he makes a death-bed confession of his guilt. He has much to answer for before the throne of Almighty God!

  6. smf says:

    I have often thought the Eastern tradition of bishops coming from monastic backgrounds had some merit, but we must remember that is also tied in with the universal tradition of episcopal celibacy, and in the East for the most part the regular clergy are not celibate, so thus the monastics are the only option. Further, at least in ages past, the monastic priests tended to be far better educated and read.

    Increasing the age of ordination will do nothing of great help that I can think of. Instead it will make the current priest shortage look like a great overabundance. I suppose if all those discerning a vocation to the priesthood spent that many extra years in formation, living a quasi-monastic life, reading, praying, and doing works for the church, it could make for better priests, so that would be an upside.

    While I do agree that there is considerable evidence of a clericalism related problem in the past and present of the Irish Church, I do not think the above commenter identifies it properly. Virtually all organizations and groups tend to protect and defer to their own. In hierarchical organizations the further up the chain someone is, the more likely they will be backed up in a conflict. This is true of every human institution I am experienced with, and thus this is clearly not clericalism. Clericalism is a real issue, let us not confuse it with others. Too often all the organizational and institutional problems of the Church are blamed on clericalism, and that does nothing to actually address the real issues.


    Your comment appears to lack in all charity, and it seems to be a bit mentally unbalanced. You make accusations for which you have no evidence, and for which there is no logical support. You make judgment on the state of the soul of another. You should retract this statement.

    Constructive criticism of the Pope is allowed, he is after all a sinner like all of us. He is owed some deference due to his post, and his official acts all the more so. However, he is also owed the same basic charity and just treatment as anyone else.

  7. Amos says:

    smurf –

    Listen up!

    Should you take the time to get the stars out of your eyes, and cease with the pieties, you might discover that the cover up of sexual abuse has been a church-wide phenomenon that could hardly result from an ad hoc conflation by the bishops alone of an MO without either approval of, or direction from a common source.

    Ratzinger wrote one of two top secret documents which was given to all bishops. The first was from Cardinal Ottaviani in 1962 called “Crimen Sollicitationis”. The second is from Cardinal Ratzinger in 2001 and is called “De Delictis Gravioribus.” Both secret papers emphasize the exclusive competence of the Vatican in handling cases of child abuse. At the same time, all the bishops were invited under pain of excommunication to report all abuse cases exclusively and only to the Vatican. This led to total obstruction of justice in the state courts for the victims.

    Sorry, smurf, no apologies! Ratzingers’s paws are all over this massive cover-up by the bishops. The recent “dog and pony show” at the Vatican, he orchestrated with the 25 Irish bishops did nothing to improve his image nor relieve him of total responsibility for the damage inflicted on children and the cover-up by the bishops. If anything, Ratzinger dug himself in even deeper.

  8. Jimmy Mac says:

    “He is owed some deference due to his post, and his official acts all the more so.”

    I think Karl Rahner has a better take on what is and is not owed to the papacy:

    “The true lights of the Church, those who are most important for the eternal salvation of mankind as well as of individuals are not the Pope, the bishops or the cardinals in their red cassocks, but those who possess and radiate most faith, hope and love, most humility and unselfishness, most fortitude in carrying the cross, most happiness and confidence.

    If a Pope does all this as well or perhaps even better than, for example, John XXIII, well, then he is not only a Pope but a wonderful Christian, then it happens that, if I may say so, the president of the chess club is for once also himself a great chess player. But this would be a happy coincidence which God is not bound to bring about and which he has not guaranteed.

    If we are looking at the Church in this way, we shall not find it difficult to accept that the cashier is responsible for the finances and the president of this holy society directs its activities. But we ought to remain conscious of what is both our pride and our burden, namely that the Church depends ultimately on ourselves.”

    (Karl Rahner, Grace in Freedom –
    http://www.religion )

  9. smf says:

    Thanks for the Rahner, I have read it several times before. He does make some good points, but nothing there actually detracts from my point. I am not suggesting Popes are the best of all Christians, nor that they are perfect in all they do. Far from it in fact. When it comes to learning how to live a good Christian life we should look to the lives of the Saints, particularly those who had roles similar to our own in life.

    The Pope is Christ’s earthly vicar over our Church. His office requires respect of a certain sort. This is much like the way that most citizens grant a certain respect to the leaders of their countries, even when they don’t agree with them.

    However, may objection is not so much grounded in that, as it is in a lack of basic Christian charity, which in fact we owe to everyone. It is certainly a charitibale act to call a sinner to repentance, and so if you are aware of a sin by the pope, you have a moral obligation to show it to him and help him to repent. I suspect Amos has probably not done this, though perhaps he may have, I do not know. In any case, it seems unlikely that responding to a post in a blog with serious accusations against someone is going to lead to repentence. So, this brings up a second thing required by charity, and that is to not do damage to their name and reputation without real need. Then there is the third, perhaps most important point, that for the sake of our own judgement, it is not our place to pass judgement on the state of a soul.

    “Joseph Ratzinger continues, adamantly, to remain in a state of serious sin.”

    This is a clear and unequivacable judgement on the state of the soul of another.

    “His contrition is without merit in that he clings tenaciously to the knowledge that he is the source of the spiritual, emotional, psychological, and physical damage inflicted on countless people, but refuses to admit his personal liability and that he continues as a source of scandal not only to the Church, but to the whole world. Ratzinger is not a dumb man. He knows full well his complicity in the evil he has condoned, perpetrated and continues to foster.”

    Now we not only presume to judge the soul, but also to know the mind of another. Further, we go from accusing of a cover up, to laying full responsibility for the original abuses themselves on the man.

    “Please pray for Joseph Ratzinger that he finally acknowledges himself as the root cause of the evil of sexual abuse and collusion in its cover up among the clergy, bishops and cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church; that he makes a death-bed confession of his guilt. He has much to answer for before the throne of Almighty God!”

    Again judgement of the soul of another is presumed, and once again the man is blamed for the entire problem of abuse. Whatever the case may be about cover-ups, it is simply not rational to say that Joseph Ratzinger is “the root cause of the evil of sexual abuse”

    I will agree that I think we need to pray for the Pope, and I hope there are many prayers offered for me, and for thee as well. None of us would fair well before the Judgement Seat on our own merits, so let us indeed pray that the Lord will grant us his grace and mercy.

  10. Amos says:

    Pieties! Pieties! Pieties! Other than this, no truly formative ideas as to the true nature of the evil transpiring under the aegis of the Pope, his Curia and his Hierarchy. Smurf continues his/her own tirade against my judgmentalism, yet himself, wallows in it with impunity.

    Let’s take a look at the clerical sex scandal and the Church’s upper echelon’s participation in, and effort to control it.

    The “structural forces school” within the Curia, headed by the Pope, has identified itself with a fixation on its own credibility. The collapse of credibility in the clerical sex scandal, albeit, a limited sphere of conflict, could severely cast doubt on the Pope’s and the Curia’s credibility in other sphere’s of competition. This would include the Papacy’s effort at consolidation of efforts in the area of international secular and religious politics.

    In the zero-sum game for sustained international recognition, a reversal of confidence in the Vatican, in any matter, could undermine the reliability of papal power.

    Consequently, to minimize the current clerical sex scandal, the Pope and his Curia have had to resort to a policy of containment. Organize the regional hierarchies to project an image of unity and harmony. Contain the internal squabbling and begin “singing from the same page.”

    Next, the Pope has to distance himself from the damage, This is accomplished by avoiding any admission of personal guilt. To do so, might well constitute a threat to the entire political, doctrinal/mythological and moral structure of his Church.

    So, offer a plethora of apologies, but never, ever, acknowledge personal guilt. Has not admission of guilt always been an integral part of contrition? Yet, we see no contrition coming from this Pope. Instead, what we see is the Pope playing politics with the lives of the victims. If this is not serious sin, then what is?

    What historians will see in the Papacy is
    • an ideological world-view of its own importance that must be protected at all costs;
    • a fixation that the infallibility of the Pope, and a fortiori, the creeping infallibility of the bishops, must be preserved, regardless of the price that must be paid by the victims of clerical sex abuse;
    • an implacable commitment to a strategy that will defuse liability from the supra presbyterate clerical structure;
    • a premium placed on the credibility of Papal and Curial containment doctrine in order to obviate continuing debilitating attacks;
    • and finally, an amelioration of laity unrest by a use of diverse devotional techniques, (sic) “the year of the priests.”

    Consequently, the Pontiff will continue to accept a personally shadowed moral status as an imperative for maintaining his own public image and the image of his Church. To do less, he sees as a betrayal of his office.

    As a result, no admission of guilt; no contrition; lots of apologies! The scandal continues! The cancer metastases on the entire papal panoply of hierarchs.

  11. smf says:

    So, since your original accusations were manifestly unjust and unsupportable, you are now moving to a new set of charges?


  12. Amos says:

    They’re the same. The explanation appears to be above your ability of comprehension. There’s no remedy for that. It’s a defect of birth. Just accept it and go on with your life as best you can.

  13. Jimmy Mac says:

    Selections taken from the book “Tim Unsworth”, a collection of his articles in NCR between 1982 and 2007, published by Acta Publications in 2008:

    “Why is it that a church founded by a man who walked on water is now often administered by mean, mindless men who walk on the manure of guilt and betrayal and who prefer to flay consciences rather than to read the book of John? It’s awfully hard to subordinate one’s love of God to the rules of earthly ministers.

    Good shepherds don’t need fences; poor ones erect them.”

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