This illustrates a serious quandry for the bishops: do they fight legal definitions? Any by doing so, do they express an adequate theology of the Church? Win or lose, have they set a moral (forget the canonical) precedent? Or, can secular lawyers consult canon law and church documents to learn what the institution really thinks of the relationship between bishops and clergy, not to mention pope and bishops? Finally, what impact do legal fights like this have on the morale of the clergy and laity?
Jimmy Mac sent me a link to this article from the Tablet, in which the British diocese of Portsmouth was found it can be held liable for the actions of abusive clergy. Summing up:
In November last year the High Court ruled that the diocese could be held liable because the relationship between a bishop and a priest is “akin to employment”.
The diocese appealed and in a judgement released today the Court of Appeal ruled the diocese is liable.
In a statement, the trustees of the diocese said the case raises questions of wider legal importance for the Church and the voluntary sector. They stressed that the case was not an attempt to avoid paying compensation to victims – they say they regularly pay damages to victims with valid claims – but rather about establishing an important legal point.
Bishops are moved at the request of the pope. Clergy, too, at the direction of their bishops. In the news recently, we know that bishops can be fired by the pope. Most of the headlines on this one spoke of a “rare show of authority.” Rare? Is this true? We know that bishops muzzle priests, like this one.
I’m certainly aware that Rome takes sacramental matters with grave seriousness. It should. But moral matters like the sexual predation on the innocent have their own sense of gravity. Sexual predation has shown it knows no ideology. Prominent conservative priests and bishops have been caught up in the whirlwind. Nobody seriously suggests that the sexual abuse of children is a immoral domino at the end of a chain that started with Vatican II reform.
It’s time for the institution to add sex abuse and its coverup to the list of “rare show of authority.” It is demonstrable that Catholics across the ideological board are alarmed at sex abuse and particularly, its cover-up. It is a demonstrable Scriptural point that God detests the obstruction of faith by leadership, above and beyond serious liturgical offenses. It seems clear that hundreds of thousands of believers have left the Church or limited their involvement not because of the occasional abuser, but because of the institutional cover-up.
My question of the day for bishops and for the institution: Do you believe in the grace of contrition or not?