The blogosphere, Catholic and otherwise, pile on with opinions on Bishops Eamonn Walsh and Raymond Field. John Allen has a commentary which tries to pierce the muddle, giving four possible reasons why the Dublin auxiliaries were spared the ignominy of early retirement.
1. Santa Maria Maggiore already has an archpriest and he doesn’t want to retire yet.
2. Takes the pressure off bishops gone wild in Germany.
3. To generate a more favorable response in Britain next month.
4. Small church, getting smaller … quick.
Seriously, this sums up what John Allen came up with:
1. It would be bad if public opinion started booting bishops for unpopular, but good stances for the sake of the Gospel.
2. Instability if a country’s episcopate is decimated by scandal and tainted by proximity.
3. Let ’em clean up their own messes before retirement.
4. The bishop “fathers” his diocese, so it’s just poor theology for “dad” to bail on the family.
Each of these in turn, if they were true, would be good reasons. And while John Allen is a thoughtful and insightful commentator, I’m getting the idea even he’s stretching on this one. Let’s take them number by number:
1. Many bishops have already taken principled stands unpopular in some quarters. On my own continent I can think of Hunthausen (who was awarded a coadjutor for protesting nuclear buildup and drawing the wrath of Seattle fisheaters) and Romero (who after being shot and killed has had his sainthood cause held up while more popular Latinos slide through). So while the principle is a good one, let’s be truthful about it. If a bishop’s cause is unpopular in Rome, that guy’s not going anywhere. And if there were any substance to any serious allegation, he’d likely be gone before the alphabet switch on the next liturgical cycle.
2. This is good reasoning, I guess. Better the devils you know than the devils you don’t. Say your bank has twenty-six branches and twenty-six presidents. Let’s say that all of them conspired to cheat the living bejeezus out of account holders, creditors, and the government. Are we better off not appointing twenty-six vice presidents to take over while the crooks are carted off to jail. Oh wait. We’ve sort of done that in the banking crisis anyway. Well, let’s assume we have vicars general in all these dioceses who are (1) not women and (2) never wrote a thesis on women’s ordination
3. There’s a lot of hard work on our hands in the Church. Mistakes and errors get passed on to adults all the time in the real world. Obviously, we can’t send a bishop to a penitentiary for ten or twenty years’ penance. If there are no criminal charges. But what would be wrong with shipping a bishop off to mix bread batter for the Trappists? Or drive shipments of caramels for the Trappistines?
4. With the current careerism in the episcopacy, I have to say to John Allen his reason here is sheer lunacy. Every bishop in a city of any size was an ordinary in another see. Cardinal Law preferred the symbol of husband and wife to represent a prelate and his diocese. In practice, places like LaCrosse WI and Sioux City IA are not children or spouses, but starter wives a la Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich.
Anybody want to go back and try Santa Maria Maggiore, et cetera?