A signal on removal of bishops?

A signal on removal of bishops?

A single sentence in a papal document issued today may signal that Pope Francis is willing take a stronger hand in removing some bishops from office.

The one-page document deals primarily with the age of a bishop’s retirement. But it also states: “In some particular circumstances, the competent Authority (the pope) may consider it necessary to ask a bishop to present the resignation of his pastoral office, after letting him know the motives for such a request and after listening attentively to his justifications, in fraternal dialogue.”

The power of a pope to sack a bishop has always been presumed, but here it is spelled out. It comes after Pope Francis has already removed a Paraguayan bishop from office over pastoral controversies, and accepted the resignation of a German bishop in the wake of a spending scandal. The Vatican is actively investigating the pastoral leadership of at least two other prelates, including Bishop Robert W. Finn of Kansas City, Mo., who was convicted two years ago by a civil court on misdemeanor charges of failing to report suspected child abuse by a diocesan priest.

A Vatican spokesman quickly underlined that today’s document contained “nothing truly new,” but was a forceful restatement of existing norms. But surely there was a reason it was issued.

In recent months, several Vatican officials have emphasized that church law envisions the possibility of a bishop losing his office for abuse or negligence in ministry. Specifically, some officials have said bishops need to be held accountable for their mistakes in the handling of sex abuse cases.

A note: Over at his canon law blog, Dr. Edward Peters says that “Roman requests (demands?) for episcopal resignations are occurring much more often these days,” although they did not begin with Pope Francis. Peters said the fact that this is occurring without any recognizable canonical process raises serious questions.

14 comments (Add your own)

1. Ed Peters wrote:
Interesting post. I would tweak one word, nay, part of one word. For “The power of a pope to sack a bishop has always been presumed …” I would say instead, at most, “…has always been assumed”. Presumption is a legal term, roughly meaning demonstrable objectively and/or capable of being rebutted, etc. An assumption, on the other hand, allows one to predict behavior, but not to explain it. That seems much closer to what we see in regard to the pope removing some bishops from office. We see him do it, but we cannot actually explain how. I would indeed question how widely even the assumption that such power was enjoyed by popes was shared. But in any case, I’d be wary of talking in terms of “presumptions”, and perhaps even of “assumptions”, in this matter. Best, edp.

Wed, November 5, 2014 @ 4:32 PM

2. juanyrolando@yahoo.com wrote:
Thank you both for explanation and clarification.

Thu, November 6, 2014 @ 10:45 AM

3. Publius wrote:
Dear Mr. Thavis:

Thank you for this. This is yet another dangerous example of Francis' disregard for the concept of law and process. He brings to his office a truly Peronist disregard for the law. This is particularly unfortunate as the Church was just returning to Her senses since in the aftermath of Vatican II, the so called Spirit was invoked in derogation of the law. Disregard for law will lead to absolute tyranny.



Thu, November 6, 2014 @ 10:54 AM

4. Suzanne Beck wrote:
I don't understand why this is not a good thing. There are SO many bad bishops out there, they should be held accountable and 'fired' if they are not doing their job, which is shepherding the faithful.

Thu, November 6, 2014 @ 12:16 PM

5. Vianney1100 wrote:
Suzanne, I believe the problem with this is that a pope, not just this pope, could remove a bishop for no reason at all. He would not have to follow canon law. The author of this blog indicates this with his use of the term "pastoral controversies". Lack of being "patoral" has been used by progressives as a club to beat up anyone who preaches authentic Catholic doctrine. This would be the same club a pope could now use to get rid of those bishops who he deems not "pastoral" enough. Espcially concering the "pelvic" issues of homosexuality and abortion.

Thu, November 6, 2014 @ 12:53 PM

6. James P. Vaughn, OFS wrote:
Yes, there are Bishop's sitting today that may have not been called by the Holy Spirit; but heard a "false calling" of ego and vanity. We see that with political appointments. Not called to serve the elect but to be served by the people.

Special interest groups exist in all political bodies and the Vatican is not excluded.

It would take a remarkable man to say no to his having his own See although it belong's to God because of the office trappings, that is why our Holy Father has the authority of removal. Not a perfect system, but it does avoid the political spectacle of hearing by one's brother bishops,

Thu, November 6, 2014 @ 1:06 PM

7. Michael O'Keefe wrote:
Suzanne, I think Publius is concerned that the Pope may use his authority to remove bishops with whom he does not agree. I heard some saying that Burke's new assignment was because of this. I do not adhere to this pov myself, but I have heard it bandied about.

Thu, November 6, 2014 @ 1:20 PM

8. teo wrote:
Not sure why this is 'news'. I can think of a couple of bishops removed (from Milwaukee, and another from an African diocese) and I don't remember any real controversy re the Pope's actions. So I'm a little perplexed on this "new" development.

Thu, November 6, 2014 @ 1:26 PM

9. Shamrock wrote:
If Bishop Finn's failure to report to civil authorities suspected child abuse
( note not convicted child abuser) is legitimate cause for the Pope to ask for
his resignation, it would seem half (at least) the USCCB should go the same route.

I am so tired of this good and holy man being scapegoated for the many real offenders. Hopefully, Pope Francis will be strong enough in this case to resist
the political pressure being brought to bear.

Thu, November 6, 2014 @ 4:35 PM

10. TeaPot562 wrote:
Consider in the Twentieth Century, Archbishop LeFebvre led a schismatic revolt against Papal authority, taking perhaps thousands to tens of thousands with him. Reconciliation of that group with Rome seemed possible until Lefebvre consecrated several bishops in his sect. So the assumption that a pope can remove a bishop depends on the bishop in question complying with the request from the Vatican.

Thu, November 6, 2014 @ 7:05 PM

11. Louis LaPierre wrote:
I do love Francis but do not consider him the brightest bulb in our chandelier. Neither does he. Being the nice guy he is I suppose he thinks we will all act with true Christian charity in all matters. But even if we do we still need rules. Bishops have to know where the lines are. So does the Faithful. I am reminded of the problems caused by the constitutional standard "High Crimes and Misdemeanors". Would blunders in handling the sex abuse scandal cause dismissal? Financial irregularities? Issues that are more style than substance? Strong dissent? (Francis seems to want that) Should the sensus fidelium play a role? We just might need a synod on that one sentence. Pax vobiscum.

Fri, November 7, 2014 @ 6:16 PM

12. Rosemary wrote:
Just wondering if the Orthodox would see this move as ecumenical.

Fri, November 7, 2014 @ 6:47 PM

13. Thomas Gallagher wrote:
Why would a formal hearing by one's brother bishops, before the Pope took final juridical action against a bishop, be a bad thing? There are bad bishops. There have always been bad bishops. What we are seeing now is simply more openness about the matter. Why is openness a bad thing? Scandal to the Faithful? Wrongdoing by bishops, including the shell game of shuffling paedophile priests from one assignment to another, is far more scandalous that the removal of a rotten bishop.

Two reminders: we are all sinners, and bishops are not infallible.

Sat, November 8, 2014 @ 7:35 AM

14. Jay wrote:
Some people want to say that the Pope is supreme, of course except when he isn't. They need to make up their minds or risk incoherence.

Mon, November 17, 2014 @ 10:54 PM

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