Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Who's really in charge, the Pope or the local bishop?

A lawsuit currently underway in federal court in Kentucky provides us with two somewhat competing views of the relationship between the Pope and the other bishops in the Catholic Church.

It seems that three men who claim they were sexually abused by Louisville priests decades ago when they were minors are also asserting that the Vatican is ultimately responsible for that abuse.  Their claim is that the Louisville bishops who failed to properly control their abusive priests were so firmly under Rome's control that the Vatican must answer for the actions of both the bishops and the priests.

To bolster their position the plaintiffs have brought in a canon lawyer who says,

... it is "absolute lunacy" to say bishops are not responsible to the pope.

He does not pay their checks, but they are totally controlled by the Vatican ... He alone can create them as bishops, he appoints them, assigns them to a diocese, fires them, accepts their resignation or transfers them.

The employee-employer analogy is incomplete when it comes to the pope and his bishops; control by the pope is much more complete. A bishop can't take a sabbatical to go study science for three months without the pope's permission.

Au contraire, says a research fellow in religion and law at Ave Maria University.

In peoples' minds, they imagine the pope is the general manager of every bishop in the world. The bishop is the head of a diocese; he is its chief priest and administrator. Theologically, each diocese is the local church and he's its head. The pope appoints bishops but after that, there's minimal contact.

And so the court is faced with two competing theories of the extent of papal control over local bishops.  How is it to decide which one actually reflects the reality on the ground?

Might I suggest that the court take a close look at a diocese such as Rochester.  Here it will find a local bishop who effectively thumbs his nose at anything coming out of Rome that is contrary to his vision of what a modern, progressive Catholic diocese should look like. Whether it be liturgical dancing, non-ordained homilists, prominent dissidents speaking in our parishes or to gatherings of our ministerium, other dissidents in control of parishes, heresies being taught to aspiring deacons at St. Bernard's or the criteria for the acceptance of candidates to the priesthood, Bishop Clark has made it abundantly clear that he is in charge, not Rome.

If the court would just spend a little time reviewing our bishop's record vis-a-vis the teachings and directives of Rome, I'm certain that the verdict would be a quick, "Case Dismissed!"

Source here.


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Nerina said...

My kids will often ask, "why doesn't the pope step in and correct Bishop Clark?" My husband explained it well. He explained that the bishop is like a father in a family. To have the pope come in and correct the bishop would be like having my husband's father (the kids' grandfather) come in and make changes in our family. While my husband's father loves us and wants the best for us, he would not usurp my husband's role. The church believes in the local authority of the bishop.

Now, I certainly would argue that Bishop Clark might be in need of correction the way a father who is neglecting his duties in taking care of his family might need a "kick in the pants" from a father. I believe that argument can be made.