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Following a week in Rome, Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst met with Pope Francis on Monday, and today we learn the result of that meeting, which the bishop called “very encouraging”. Below is my English translation of the official press release, which contains some significant information.
The Holy Father has at all times been informed fully and objectively about the situation in the Diocese of Limburg.
In the diocese a situation has developed in which the bishop, H.E. Msgr. Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst can’t exercise his episcopal service at this time.
After the “fraternal visit” of His Eminence Giovanni Cardinal Lajolo this past September, the German Bishop’s Conference, pursuant to an agreement between the bishop and the cathedral chapter of Limburg, has established a commission to carry out a thorough investigation into the construction of the bishop’s residence. Pending the results of said investigation and the related responsibilities in this matter, the Holy See considers it advisable for H.E. Msgr. Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst to remain for some time outside the diocese.
Upon the decision of the Holy See the appointment of city dean Wolfgang Rösch as vicar general, which was planned by the bishop for 1 January 2014, becomes effective today. Vicar General Rösch will manage the affairs of the Diocese of Limburg in absence of the bishop with the authority associated with his office.
First of all, we learnt hat the Holy Father “has at all times been informed fully and objectively”. We may therefore assume that the decision was made on the basis of facts instead of media assumptions. The fact that the Pope not only heard Bishop Tebartz-van Elst on the matter, but also Archbishop Zollitsch and Cardinal Meisner is evidence enough that he got the real story.
Furthermore, we find that the bishop will spend the course of the German Bishop’s Conference investigation into the matter outside the Diocese of Limburg. Other sources inform us that he will be in a monastery somewhere. Some have seen this is evidence that Pope Francis is paving the way for a quick succession when the investigation is over, but in my opinion it would simply be a precaution against stirring up the situation even more. If Bishop Tebartz-van Elst would be to return to Limburg immediately, many would use that against him, seriously impeding both his own work as bishop and the work of the bishops’ commission into the finances. In essence, it keep things quiet enough for everyone to do their work. And it allows the bishop the time to reflect on any thing he did wrong, to pray and eventually to return home strengthened and refreshed.
Msgr. Wolfgang Rösch (pictured above), in the meantime, sees his upcoming appointment as the new vicar general of the diocese moved forward. Current vicar general, Msgr. Franz Kaspar was to continue in his office until the star of the new year, but has to make way for his successor now.
A short history of Msgr. Rösch:
54-year-old Msgr. Rösch was until now the area dean of Wiesbaden. An engineer by trade, he studied philosophy and theology in Frankfurt and Rome. He was ordained in Rome by Bishop Karl Lehmann (now a cardinal) of Mainz in 1990. After various appointments as parish priest, Fr. Rösch was appointed by Bishop Tebartz-van Elst’s predecessor, Bishop Franz Kamphaus, to lead the diocesan seminary in 1997. He held that position until 2003, before returning to the parishes in Königstein and Wiesbaden.
The press release above states that Msgr. Rösch (the monsignor title comes with the office, and will be relinquished should the vicar general take on another appointment) will perform his duties “with the authority associated with his office”. What is that authority?
Canons 475 to 481 of the Code of Canon Law describe the function and authority of the vicar general. He assists the bishop in the exercise of his duties and has the same executive power as the bishop, except for those rights and duties which the bishop has reserved for himself or which are solely his by law. This means that the authority of vicar general Rösch is somewhat more limited than that of Bishop Tebartz-van Elst. In essence, he will be able to manage the daily affairs of the diocese, but is limited in making changes and introducing new policies.
It is perhaps striking that Limburg’s auxiliary bishop (yes, there is one, who has remained outside the media frenzy quite effectively), Msgr. Thomas Löhr (pictured at right), has not been tasked with managing the diocese in the ordinary’s absence. Then again, while it is usual for an auxiliary bishop to be vicar general, it is not mandatory.
Lastly: despite what too many media outlets have claimed, Bishop Tebartz-van Elst has not been suspended. He remains the bishop of Limburg with all the rights and duties attached to that office. The current ‘time out’ merely means he can’t exercise those duties until the Holy Father, or those speaking for him, decide otherwise. The bishop may at any time be allowed to resume in his episcopal ministry. There are no sanctions undertaken against him.
Photo credit: Bistum Limburg
A glance at GCatholic.com‘s list of episcopal appointments revealed something of an anomaly on 31 July last. In one day, both of Slovenia’s metropolitan archbishops, Anton Stres (pictured below at left) of Ljubljana and Marjan Turnšek (below at right) of Maribor, resigned from their sees. Neither had reached the mandatory retirement age of 75 yet (Stres is 70 and Turnšek only 58).
The official statement via the Vatican Information Service merely states the facts and cites canon 401 paragraph 2 of the Code of Canon Law. This paragraph states:
“A diocesan bishop who has become less able to fulfill his office because of ill health or some other grave cause is earnestly requested to present his resignation from office.”
So all we know now is that both archbishops have apparently become “less able” to perform their duties because of some “grave cause”.
Statements on the diocesan websites in question, however, shed more light on the matter (Archbishop Stres’s statement, Archbishop Turnšek’s statement). The Archdiocese of Maribor has been in financial dire straits and both the current ordinary (Turnšek) as its former auxiliary bishop and coadjutor archbishop (Stres) have been taken to task about it, although neither is responsible for causing the situation, as both emphasise in their statements. In late April, both archbishops say, Pope Francis had communicated to them the invitation to resign. Difficult as this is for the Church in Slovenia, this double forced resignation can be seen in the same light as the Holy Father’s efforts to clean up the Roman Curia and the financial household of the Vatican bank, for instance.
Bishops have their obligations and responsibilities and with this step Pope Francis shows that he is just as ready as Pope Benedict XVI was in asking them to take these responsibilities.
Archbishop Stres was auxiliary bishop of Maribor from 2000 to 2006, and Coadjutor Archbishop in 2009, before being appointed to Ljubljana. Archbishop Turnšek was Coadjutor Archbishop from 2009 to 2011 and ordinary of Maribor since February of 2011. Slovenia has six dioceses, of which Ljubljana and Maribor are Metropolitan Archdioceses. With the retirements, Pope Francis has appointed apostolic administrators until new archbishops are appointed. For Ljubljana this is Bishop Andrej Glavan of Novo Mesto, and for Maribor Bishop Stanislav Lipovšek of Celje. Both bishops will oversee current affairs in the archdioceses in addition to their duties in their own dioceses.
Photo credit:  Vid Gajšek
Although his resignation was generally expected to take place some time in the coming months, it was still a surprise that the Holy See today accepted the resignation of Keith Cardinal O’Brien, the archbishop of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh. It did so in accordance with canon 401 § 1 of the Code of Canon Law, which covers the obligation of a diocesan bishop to offer his resignation as he reaches the age of 75. Cardinal O’Brien will reach that age next month and, according to his official statement, his resignation had been accepted “nunc pro tunc” back in November.
But is that the whole story? Of course, we must treat carefully here, because it is all speculation, but that speculation arises from some recent developments surrounding Cardinal O’Brien. He has recently been accused of sexual misconduct by three priests and one former priest from his diocese, stretching back over the past 30 years. Cardinal O’Brien strongly denies these accusations, but they unavoidable raised questions about what, if anything, really happened. And today, his unexpected resignation as well as his decision not to attend the conclave, has raised even more questions. But any answers will most likely depend on ecclesiastic and secular legal actions, if and when they take place. For now, we have the cardinal’s word and explanation to go on.
Cardinal O’Brien has stated that he will not travel to Rome next month, although his resignation does not prevent him from attending, because “I do not wish media attention in Rome to be focussed on me – but rather on Pope Benedict XVI and on his Successor.” That means that 115 electors will participate in the conclave. As reported earlier, Ukrainian Cardinal Husar will reach the age of 80 tomorrow, before the sede vacante begins, and Indonesian Cardinal Darmaatmadja will stay at home because of health reasons. Great Britain will have no elector at the conclave, although the United Kingdom will, since the Irish primate, Cardinal Brady, resides within Northern Ireland.
Cardinal O’Brien has been archbishop of Scotland’s primatial see since 1985, and he was created a cardinal in 2003 with the title church of Santi Gioacchino ed Anna al Tuscolano.
Photo credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Congratulations, prayers, best wishes, but above all gratitude to Brother Hugo, who yesterday made his perpetual vows as a hermit to our bishop, Msgr. Gerard de Korte.
A very well-attended Mass at the cathedral of St. Joseph in Groningen was the setting for this very unique occasion. Unique, since Brother Hugo is the sole contemplative religious within the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden. Invited guests – priests, religious and laity – from both the north and the south of the country, both areas being places where major parts of Brother Hugo’s recent history took place, filled the pews, while the diocesan curia (Bishop de Korte, vicar general Msgr. Peter Wellen, diocesan vicar Fr. Arjen Bultsma and cathedral administrator F. Rolf Wagenaar concelebrated, with many priests attending in choir.
Brother Hugo resides as a hermit in the tiny countryside hamlet of Warfhuizen, where he lives in and maintains the shrine of Our Lady of the Garden Enclosed, housed in the village church. He has done so for the past 11 years.
In Canon 603 of the Code of Canon Law we read the following about hermits:
§1 Besides institutes of consecrated life, the Church recognises the life of hermits or anchorites, in which Christ’s faithful withdraw further from the world and devote their lives to the praise of God and the salvation of the world through the silence of solitude and through constant prayer and penance.
§2 Hermits are recognised by law as dedicated to God in consecrated life if, in the hands of the diocesan Bishop, they publicly profess, by a vow or some other sacred bond, the three evangelical counsels, and then lead their particular form of life under the guidance of the diocesan Bishop .
What’s described in Paragraph 2 is what the Church, through the diocesan bishop, has now done. In essence, Brother Hugo is now fully a part of the assets of the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, not only because he lives his life of prayer and penance under the direction of the diocesan bishop, but also because his prayer and life as a hermit is specifically geared towards the benefit of the diocese and the Church in the entire Netherlands.
And as such, we can be nothing but grateful. Grateful that Brother Hugo has been willing and able to answer God’s call so radically, and for us as members of the Church in the north of the Netherlands.
Photo credit:  O.L.V. van de Besloten Tuin,  Jan Willem van Vliet/DVHN
It’s a week ago now, but I figured it would be nice to give an impression of how the Year of Faith was opened in the Netherlands. All dioceses marked the occasion with special Masses in either the cathedral or another major church in the diocese.
The Archdiocese of Utrecht played host to a national symposium on the four great Constitutions of the Second Vatican Council. Some 250 people attended, a number that could perhaps have been higher if the symposium wasn’t open to clergy and pastoral workers only.
The Mass which started off the symposium was offered by Wim Cardinal Eijk, the archbishop of Utrecht. In his homily he looked back at the fruits of the Council, but also the responses to it. The cardinal noted that, “On the one hand there are people who are disappointed, because the Council did not bring the fruits they had hoped for. And on the other hand there are people who make the reproach that the current crisis in the Church was caused by the Council.” He went on to say that both responses are unjust. The roots of secularisation were already laid well before the Council – as, for example, Blessed Titus Brandsma already noticed – and the discussion about celibacy and liturgy was already being held in the 1950s.
In Breda Bishop Jan Liesen, pictured at right during the symposium mentioned above, offered a Mass in the cathedral of St. Anthony. About the Year of Faith he said:
“The Year of Faith is a year in which to listen to God, to the spirit which has been poured out in our hearts. Put differently: our Church does not revolve around an organisation, but around a living person, Christ. The Gospels speak of how Jesus continuously presented people with the question, “Who do you say I am?” Other religions may have a book, a great way of life or something. We Christians do not have that, at least not as the heart of our faith: we have the person of Jesus Christ.”
Bishop Liesen also spoke about our spiritual life, which we need to nurture in order to be evangelisers ourselves.
“To make work of your spiritual life – how do you do that? It is a matter of choosing, really choosing. In our time we have somewhat forgotten what choosing is, maybe or probably because we have such material wealth. We can walk past shop windows in long shopping streets and pick what we like. We then think that we have made a choice, but we haven’t. We were looking for something and left much where it was and brought that one thing home, but that is not choosing. There comes a time when we don’t like what we have brought home anymore and then we’ll get something else. That is not choosing: it is merely the satisfaction of a desire, whether it is real or imaginary. Because of such a materialistic way of life, which is being promoted in all manners imaginable and which we should not underestimate or make illusions about when it concerns ourselves – because of that way of life we sometimes deal with people in the same way, and we drop them when they no longer suit us. But really choosing when it concerns a person means: choosing that one as he or she is and not dripping them to choose another. That is the basis of true friendship, that is the basis of marriage and family, and that is also the basis of spiritual life, of the conversation with God.”
The final topic that Bishop Liesen touched upon was the Eucharist. He re-emphasised the central place that that sacrament has in our faith, and his desire (and presumably intention as well) to cut down the number of Communion service in his diocese. These services have, in many places, become more of a habit and a celebration of the community instead of a necessity when there is no priest available, and water down the valuable role of the Eucharist in our lives.
In the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam, the Year of Faith was opened at the shrine of Our Lady of Need in Heiloo. In his homily, auxiliary Bishop Jan Hendriks spoke about faith, saying:
“Faith is a mercy and we can be grateful that we have received that mercy.
Faith requires surrender, giving up control, confidence that you are safe in the loving care of a heavenly Father, that everything will turn out alright, no matter how many setbacks and suffering you may find on your way.
No matter how much evil and how many problems there are: because of faith our life is an ascent to God. Without faith it would be nothing but decomposition, descent, a pointless event with a sad ending.
Faith also requires humility, because it entails us bowing down for a higher power, for someone who can dictate the law to you.
Our Catholic faith lets us know Jesus, our Saviour and Lord. It lets us understand the Holy Spirit, who resides in our hearts and gently leads us to the heavenly Father, who is source and purpose of all of creation.
Through our Catholic faith we also got to know and venerate Mary, who is our Mother through Jesus, as an example of faith, as intercessor and mediator.”
And about evangelisation, he added:
“Whatever we do in the Church, we must first be Christians.
Every priest, every believer must first be a Christian.
The work that we do in the Church can’t be an exterior job, but an expression of our love for Christ, expression of our faith.”
Bishop Antoon Hurkmans, who opened the Year of Faith in the cathedral basilica of St. John in Den Bosch, spoke about having faith in our time:
“Today every faithful is individually faced with a great challenge. The Second Vatican Council already foresaw this. This Council was intended to bring the Church up to date, a way of returning to the source. It again placed Holy Scripture at the heart. It looked for the vital sources of the Church of the future in the young Church of the Church Fathers. You and I, we are confronted with an increasingly secularised world. We shouldn’t want to walk away from that. We should be strong by resisting the difficulties of this time and witness of our faith in the world of today, with the sources of the Council. There are numerous difficulties. The Church in our part of the world grows smaller, we must dispose of church buildings. It’ll be increasingly difficult to pass on the faith to future generations. Acting according to the faith in marriage, in celibacy, in politics is increasingly at odds with what’s going on in society. What matters now is to believe or not: to entrust yourself to God. To travel the way with Him. When you have faith, confess this faith in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit openly. God will take care of you. He will give you life. Confess your faith in the Church. Do not stay alone. Participate, as the Council asks, in the life of the Church. The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Church’s life. Be there, every Sunday. Immerse yourself in the liturgy, in Holy Scripture and never forget to serve the poor. Faith must be expressed in action.”
In Roermond Bishop Frans Wiertz referred to the collection of ten local Saints and Blesseds, from 4th-century St. Servatius to St. Teresia Benedicta of the Cross, who was killed in Auschwitz in 1942, who were gathered in the cathedral of St. Christopher as examples of the faith. The bishop said about this:
“We are gathered here as faithful from all directions of our local Church. And we are not alone, but in the presence of a number of prominent blesseds and saints from our area, men and women who represent the faith of many centuries, who represent all those people who preceded us in the faith.”
In the Diocese of Rotterdam, Bishop Hans van den Hende opened the Year of Faith in the Basilica of St. Liduina and Our Lady of the Rosary in Schiedam. In his homily he discussed Pope Benedict’s Apostolic letter Porta Fidei, in which the Holy Father announced the Year of Faith, and on the Second Vatican Council, but also on the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Code of Canon Law. Summarising the Year of Faith, the bishops said:
“The Year of Faith, brothers and sisters, regards all aspects of our life in faith. To confess that God exists, that His Son became men, that the Holy Spirit always wants to inspire us. To celebrate our faith in the Eucharist and the other sacraments and to be careful with the Words of Scripture. We do so as true listeners to the message of God and also by truly living as Christians and to be recognisable in our words and actions as friends of the Lords, and fourth, to keep up the conversation with the Lord.”
In Groningen, Bishop Gerard de Korte also opened the Year of Faith, with a Mass at the cathedral of St. Joseph, but the text of his homily is sadly not available online.
Photo credit: ,  Ramon Mangold,  Peter van Mulken
On Ascension Day, Willem Cardinal Eijk will officially take possession of his title church in Rome. This rather official wording essentially means that the cardinal will be taking his place among the cardinals of the Church. Like a bishop, a cardinal is always a cardinal somewhere, and while Cardinal Eijk is the archbishop of Utrecht, his title also has a location to go with it. At last February’s consistory, Cardinal Eijk was given the title church of San Callisto, a small church in Trastevere in Rome.
The Code of Canon Law has this to say about cardinals and their title churches:
Can. 357 §1: When a Cardinal has taken possession of a suburbicarian Church or of a titular Church in Rome, he is to further the good of the diocese or church by counsel and patronage. However, he has no power of governance over it, and he should not for any reason interfere in matters concerning the administration of its goods, or its discipline, or the service of the church.
There is, then, a small practical consequence to having a title church: while a cardinal does not have anything to say about how his title church is run, he is obliged to offer his counsel and patronage to those responsible for the church. In the case of San Callisto, it seems that the parochial vicar of Santa Maria in Trastevere is in charge, although the church is normally closed for daily use. It is still consecrated, so there is at least one Mass per year.
I’ll keep an eye out for any speeches or homilies that will appear on the day.
Dropping to 123, still 3 above the loose maximum, the cardinal electors today loose Cardinal Egan as one of their members. The former archbishop of New York turns 80 today, and so loses his vote in the conclave.
Born in 1932 as the third of four children in a family of Irish descent in Illinois, Edward Michael Egan received his education and formation for the priesthood at seminaries in the Archdiocese of Chicago, and later at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. In 1957, he received his ordination to the priesthood from his former rector at the North American College, Archbishop Martin O’Connor, then the first President of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. Father Egan earned a Licentiate in Sacred Theology from the Gregorian and returned to Chicago to serve as curate of the cathedral, assistant chancellor of the archdiocese and secretary of the archbishop, Cardinal Meyer.
From 1960 to 1964, Fr. Egan again studied and taught and the North American College, after which he once more returned to serve as secretary, this time to Cardinal Cody. Taking on various important position in the archdiocese, he returned once more to Rome to teach and be a consultor for the Roman Rota and various Congregations. He was once of six canonists who reviewed the new Code of Canon Law before its publication in 1983.
Fr. Egan was appointed as auxiliary bishop of New York, with the titular see of Allegheny, in 1985, and in 1988 he moved to the Diocese of Bridgeport, to be its ordinary. In the early summer of 2000, Bishop Egan was appointed as archbishop of New York. As archbishop, Msgr. Egan concerned himself much with the education of future priests in the Archdiocese of New York. In February of 2001, Archbishop Egan was created a cardinal and given the title church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo. Soon afterwards, he was faced with the tragedy of 9/11, which saw the cardinal minister to the dead and dying amid the rubble of the World Trade Center.
Cardinal Egan was accused of concealing names of priests who had molested children, but was found not guilty. Much doubt about the cardinal’s role in dealing with abuse cases was cast last February, when he retracted an earlier apology about abuse cases in the Diocese of Bridgeport and repeatedly stated that nothing happened when he was bishop there.
Upon his resignation, in 2009, Cardinal Egan remained a member of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.
In a letter dated to the fifth of March, Cardinal Wim Eijk has informed the priests, deacon, pastoral workers and others with a mission from the archbishop of Utrecht that he will be focussing more closely on how the liturgy, especially that of the Eucharist, is celebrated in the Archdiocese of Utrecht. It is a letter with a rather harsh tone, as the passage quoted below illustrates. One can debate if such a tone is justified, but the cardinal does address a serious concern: a worthy celebration of the Eucharist in union with the world Church is not a given in many Dutch parishes. When he was bishop of Groningen-Leeuwarden, Cardinal Eijk saw himself faced with the same problem, and it seems clear that he intends to use the same tried and tested method that worked in the past.
“Out of my office and responsibility as archbishop of Utrecht I [..] urge all priests, deacons, pastoral workers and spiritual caregivers who are working with a pastoral mission in the Archdiocese of Utrecht to know and carefully follow the liturgical regulations which are in force for the Holy Eucharist as well as for other liturgical celebrations (as established in the Code of Canon Law, the General Instruction for the Roman Missal and the Instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum).
Should it happen that in the future I will have to conclude that the liturgical regulations which are in force for the Holy Eucharist and/or other liturgical celebrations have once again been violated, I will not hesitate to impose, or have imposed, canonical sanctions on those responsible, not excluding retraction of their pastoral mission.
I very much hope that it will not have to come to this and that you, from your various offices and duties, will all continue to contribute loyally to a dignified and correct celebration of the liturgy, especially the Holy Eucharist, in our archdiocese.”
Will hackles be raised? Will people feel attacked and will there be protests? No doubt. But the fact remains that there is a major problem in how too many people treat the liturgy of the Church: as outdated rules that are out of touch with modern faithful, a burden on the people’s spirituality. But where the liturgy of the Church is given a chance, spirituality becomes a mature faith.
Photo credit: Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi
Now that the next consistory to create 22 new cardinals has been announced for 18 February, followed by news that the ceremony will be quite a bit simplified (in order to make it look less as if being created cardinal is a sacrament), maybe it’s good to look at what a cardinal is.
The actual creation of a new cardinal, which occurs when he is given the red biretta, the ring and his title church, is preceded by prayer and a reading from the Gospel of Mark:
“They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem; Jesus was walking on ahead of them; they were in a daze, and those who followed were apprehensive. Once more taking the Twelve aside he began to tell them what was going to happen to him, ‘Now we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of man is about to be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the gentiles, who will mock him and spit at him and scourge him and put him to death; and after three days he will rise again.’
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached him. ‘Master,’ they said to him, ‘We want you to do us a favour.’ He said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ They said to him, ‘Allow us to sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I shall drink, or be baptised with the baptism with which I shall be baptised?’ They replied, ‘We can.’ Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I shall drink you shall drink, and with the baptism with which I shall be baptised you shall be baptised, but as for seats at my right hand or my left, these are not mine to grant; they belong to those to whom they have been allotted.’
When the other ten heard this they began to feel indignant with James and John, so Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that among the gentiles those they call their rulers lord it over them, and their great men make their authority felt. Among you this is not to happen. No; anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all. For the Son of man himself came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.'”
This is the very heart of being a cardinal, or any person with authority in the Church. If you want to be great, or accept a great position, you must be a servant a slave. Service, even at the cost of your own life, is what it is all about, because that is what Jesus was all about. All the exterior pomp and circumstance, while symbolical and therefore valuable in its own right, is secondary to this.
In the Code of Canon Law we find an overview of the duties and rights of cardinals, as well as how the College of Cardinals is organised. These are necessary and practical regulations which allow cardinals to do the work that the Lord has called them to do. But the heart of the cardinalate always remains firmly entrenched in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We find this also in the words that the pope speaks to the new cardinal as the latter receives his biretta: “(This is) red as a sign of the dignity of the office of a cardinal, signifying that you are ready to act with fortitude, even to the point of spilling your blood for the increase of the Christian faith, for peace and harmony among the people of God, for freedom and the spread of the Holy Roman Catholic Church“.
Photo credit: AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito
The Low Countries have been in the news again when it comes to legal actions against the Church and her shepherds. A group of victims of sexual abuse by priests has filed an appeal with the International Criminal Court in The Hague against Pope Benedict XVI and Cardinals William Levada, Tarcisio Bertone and Angelo Sodano. The victims hold these four men – the current and previous prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the current and previous Secretary of State – responsible for their abuse and wishes them persecuted under international criminal law. I am not that well-versed in criminal or canon law, but I have the distinct impression that the International Criminal Court has no legal jurisdiction in the Vatican, and neither can it arrest people without any form of evidence.
In the meantime in Belgium, another group of victims has filed an appeal against the Belgian bishops and superiors of religious orders. They claim that the bishops are the employers of priests and should also have acted against religious orders, although the bishops have no jurisdiction over these. Add to that the fact that the Belgian court has previously stated that priests are not employed by bishops.
At first glance it is logical to assume that the bishop is indeed the priests’ boss. He is, after all, the highest cleric in a diocese, and the priests owe him obedience, as per their vows at ordination. But on the other hand, a bishop does not get to choose his personnel, so to speak. The diocese that he is appointed to, is not his property, nor can it be run like a company. Sure, like an employer, a bishop may discipline or promote a priest, but that is done for the needs of the diocese and the faithful, not because of the personal accomplishments of the priest in question (although these do play a role in deciding what priest would be best in what position, of course).
Canon 384 of the Code of Canon Law describes the relation between a bishop and the priests of his diocese:
“He is to have a special concern for the priests, to whom he is to listen as his helpers and counsellors. He is to defend their rights and ensure that they fulfil the obligations proper to their state. He is to see that they have the means and the institutions needed for the development of their spiritual and intellectual life. He is to ensure that they are provided with adequate means of livelihood and social welfare, in accordance with the law.”
As in the original meaning of the word episcopus, the bishop is depicted here as an overseer, one who provides for his priests so that they can provide for the faithful entrusted to them. Furthermore, Canon 391 describes the powers of a bishop in his diocese:
“The diocesan Bishop governs the particular Church entrusted to him with legislative, executive and judicial power, in accordance with the law.”
Just like the state is not the employer of the citizens, but has legislative, executive and judicial power over them, the bishop is not the employer of the faithful, be they priests or laity. Canon 393 then, summarises this as follows:
“In all juridical transactions of the diocese, the diocesan Bishop acts in the person of the diocese.”
In essence, the bishop is never bishop for himself. He is, in many ways, the diocese, and certainly has to act in its – and its faithful – interests.
Claiming that the bishop and the priests of his diocese have an employer-employee relationship is a gross misrepresentation of the facts. A bishop oversees, and does so for the wellbeing of the faithful. The priests are his helpers in that respect. The bishop is the first among equals, but with certain duties and obligations to ensure the unity, formation and salvation of the faithful for which he is responsible. This is not the relationship that an employer has with his employees.
Can the bishops of Belgium or the pope and his cardinals be held accountable for the crimes committed by other priests and religious? Not automatically. They do have an obligation to act against the crimes they are aware of, in the ways that canon law permits. Being unaware is not a reason to be tried, although in some cases it may be proof of a culture of silence or simple naivety. And as for the claim that the bishops and cardinals undertook active steps to hide the evidence? Well, let that first be proven, before heads start rolling.