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Austen IvereighMay 05, 2011

After a bishop pleaded guilty today in an Ottowa court of possessing child pornography -- 588 images, 60 videos -- the Vatican said it will be following canonical procedures against him, resulting in "the appropriate disciplinary or penal measures".

Given that Raymond Lahey stood down as head of the Antigonish Diocese in Nova Scotia a day after after being stopped at Ottowa airport in 2009, and cannot therefore be anymore suspended from ministry, there is only one recourse left in canon law -- the ultimate sanction of laicization. Indeed, the reforms to canon law made last summer, when the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith added acquisition, possession or distribution of child pornography to the list of graviora delicta, were made partly to allow for a swift ex officio laicisation for Lahey.

And no one can possibly object. After all, as the Holy See said in its statement today, "The Catholic Church condemns sexual exploitation in all its forms, especially when perpetrated against minors."

But consider the fact that there will be a canonical process. In the case of two bishops removed by Pope Benedict in the past month for matters concerning lax management and doctrinal disobedience, there has been no process at all.

On 31 March the Pope "relieved" Jean-Claude Makaya Loemba, erstwhile bishop of the diocese of Pointe-Noire in Congo-Brazzaville, of the "pastoral care" of his diocese; and 2 May, he "removed Bishop William M. Morris from the pastoral care of the diocese of Toowoomba, Australia". In neither case was a canonical process followed -- because there isn't one. 

"Eventually the Pope said to me: canon law does not make provision for a process regarding bishops whom the successor of St Peter nominates and removes from office", complained Bishop Morris to the Toowoomba Chronicle in the video just posted.

That makes it sound as if the Pope acts as a sort of CEO, removing branch managers who fail to make the grade. But that's not the way canon law works. Only the Pope can deprive a bishop of office, and only in response to an ecclesiastical crime—a clear offence against a defined provision of canon law. As the canonist Edward Peters explains -- if I have understood him -- bishops cannot be removed for, say, incompetence alone.

But because there is no canonical process involved, and no need, therefore, to give reasons, it is hard to know exactly why the bishops in each case have been removed. There are plenty of reported reasons -- in Bishop Morris's case, a 2006 letter to his diocese calling for married and women priests, which he says he has not advocated since; in Bishop Loemba's case, according to African media reports, it was because of chronic mismanagement -- which is precisely what Peters says shouldn't happen. 

If, in both cases, a specific ecclesiastical crime was involved, it hasn't been made public. In the Morris case, not even his fellow bishops quite know why. "There must be a lot of reason in the decision the Pope has made," Brisbane's Catholic Archbishop told the Sydney Morning Herald.

No doubt there is. Such actions are never made lightly. And reading some of Bishop Morris's statements, it's not hard to see how he would have been in the Pope's sights. Yet it seems odd that a bishop convicted and admitting guilty to possession of child pornography should be subjected to a careful canonical process, whereas bishops guilty of mismanagement and doctrinal laxity should be summarily dismissed. As Phil Lawler (who would like to see more "lax" bishops sacked) asks: if bishop X, then why not Y?

Obviously laicization is far more serious than removal from active ministry -- even from episcopal office; and canon law rightly places safeguards. But still, in the case of the Australian and the Congolese bishops, isn't at least an official explanation due?



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Cody Serra
11 years ago
 Briefly: Vatican legal processes involving Bishops lack transparency. What is new, you may say?
The fact that administrative (apparently) issues are enough for the Pope to remove Bishops “ipso facto” makes more difficult to understand the Vatican decision-making process.
How could it be that the "cover-ups" of the priests' sexual abuse perpetrated by so many Bishops around the world, need a long canonical process before being dismissed? Meanwhile, administrative incompetence and/or theological and ecclesial differences –more likely-, permits to do it just with one signature from the Pope? Something is wrong here. Or is it that the freedom to have ideas, thoughts, and words different from those in Rome is the greates sin, even for the Bishops?  Evidently, blind obedience is the requirement.
The moral authority of the Church is at stake. It is already weak. Hierarchical Collegiality is absent.
Let's pray that what we are seeing in these cases does not become the normal way of governing the Body of Christ…The present style and the prognosis are not very encouraging.
Jim McCrea
11 years ago
What exactly was Morris' "doctrinal disobedience?"  Asking for a respectful dialog has become disobedience in this church these days?  May we have more disobedient bishops throughout the world, please?
11 years ago
A major problem in the governance difficulties of the church is the sacralization of canon law -law that as seen here, possess many process problems.
Unfortunately, many of the hierachy are canon lawyers who come out of the chancery scene with little pastoral experience or sense.
Even worse is the encapsulated curial world that informs the papacy.
But people  on one side wil keep saying my Pope right or wrong in his governance....
Tom Maher
11 years ago
The author states:  That makes it sound as if the Pope acts as a sort of CEO, removing branch managers who fail to make the grade.

The Pope'is indeed a kind of CEO who s does have the authority to remove a Bishop just like a CEO would remove  a manage who fails to uphold and properly support an oganization's policies or goals.  All organizations must require ihat their individual leadership conform to its rules and policies.   Ledership that cannot conform should leave or be removed.  If everyone were allowed to be independent of church policy the church would quickly be in conflict that would disunite the church and prevent the church from carrying out its mission effectively

The church has a serious mission to interprete and teach the Gospel worldwide.  Only people dedicated to serve the church as required by church authorities should be allowed to be and remain Bishops of the church. 
11 years ago
Mary, Except, of course, by almighty God.
Jack Barry
11 years ago
Sex makes the difference.  When Bishop Leomba was removed on March 31, ''according to the Vatican, … there was no issue of sexual morals involved.''  
The only mention of sexual issues in connection with Bishop Morris so far has been in the praise from diverse sources in Australia for his sense and sensitivity in handling serious abuse matters.  
A year after Vangheluwe's personal history of abusing his nephew for years was publicized and the Pope accepted his resignation, the Vatican is apparently mulling over whether he deserves more serious response than a request that he leave Belgium.   
In April 2002, John Paul II announced a blatant fallacy:  ''Labeling child sexual abuse an 'appalling sin' and a crime, John Paul II told U.S. prelates there is no place in the priesthood and religious life 'for those who would harm the young'.''  In fact, we see there is plenty of room, and long processes, for those who pick their crimes wisely. 
david power
11 years ago
Canon Law again.
 If the Church does not fully respect it then it is just a sham.When it suits us etc. Like the American approach (thank God) to International Law.
Fit only for platitudes and lipservice.
The Holy Father is taking his role and the need for judgement  a lot more seriously than his predeccessor.
He knows that the quality of bishops is abysmally low and that the level of abuses is shocking.
The Church is now caught in it's own positivism and the Lord seems to be smirking at us  as we untangle ourselves from the labyrinth of rules and dogmas that we have contrived.
WWJD?The great mantra of the protestants and in recent years the catholics have parodied it with WWWD?KISS ,Warren Buffet says.Keep it simple,stupid! 
It is telling that Pope Benedict could not have a long chat with Bishop Morris and speak as  Christian to Christian and ask for his support etc. I am removing you etc but place it in a spiritual light and keep him as a brother in Christ. There seems to be more catholic faith in the situation room these days(Hope Tom Maher doesn't read this). The fear that pervades the bishops and often priests too is very effective but it is not Christian. Shifty eyes and nervous looks are the order of the day.It is equally telling that Bishop Morris would appeal to notions of Justice than Christian fraternity.Are these the fruits of a beatific Pope? 
The question as Austen Ivereigh put it is on Canon Law but really it is about the episcopacy.
Pope Benedict is a holy man ,no doubt .But his instincts are better when Mozart is in the air than when Corriere Della Sera is on the sitting room table. He has taken a few gambles in his time as Pope and I think Bishop Morris was worth another. 
Mark Crawford
11 years ago
The post by Tom Maher above is correct, however, the Popes actions are not consistent and causes the very "Conflict" he warns against.  There are many current bishops who have ignored the Dallas charter, returning priests to ministry after known credible allegations yes even convictions.  Yet those bishops who took such action are not sanctioned at all.  It is clear Rome sees such actions as "no harm no foul".  Bishops MIGHT (vast majority are not) be removed from ministry (not liacized) when they clearly ignored the church's policies or rules governing those who have abused children...but apparently children are not quite as important as church orthodoxy?  Bishop Vanghluwe was sent of to retreat at nice French monastary, (after he admitted he abused at least one child, we now know of 2)  many Irish bishops were allowed to retire, American bishops and Cardinals apparently get promoted for protecting pedophile clergy (such as Cardinal Law) who now lives in Rome and assists in appointing new bishops.  Cardinal George failed to follow the charter and put more children in harms way by reassigning a known pedophile cleric, this after the charter was enacted and he was promoted to head the American Conference of Catholic Bishops, What ever happened to Cardinals Mahoney, McCarrick, Bevilacqua and many others, when they protected child abusing clergy?  Absolutely nothing.  Does one wonder why our church fails to make any real change in these matters?

Yes we must have orthodoxy and consistancy...of what? 
Mary Wood
11 years ago
Of course Tom Maher (#8) is correct.  The Code of Canon Law is quite clear.

Canon 1404 states

 The First See is judged by no one. 
Joan Agnostini
11 years ago
America magazine has become so permeated with an attitude of distrust and disrespect toward the Holy Father, and indeed toward the Church, that the articles are becoming absurd and irrelevant.  Every argument springs violently from a defensive and accusative posture.

Take for instance this very peculiar choice of words:

"it's not hard to see how he would have been in the Pope's sights."

What does that reveal about the author of this article conscious or unconscious attitude toward the Pope?  "In his sights"?!?  Is the Holy Father now seen as a deadly Sniper instead of the Vicar of Christ?

America, it is very sad to see you disintegrate.  You think you are so smart and clever, and you are more and more out of touch.  In 10 years you will no longer exist.  It's questionable whether the Jesuits will even exist.
david power
11 years ago

I understand how you feel but those words about somebody being "in the Pope's sights" are right.
The Pope has a duty to protect the teaching of the Church and that includes disciplining those who oppose it.
The comment may have been meant in that sense.
If you read the comments section you will see very different viewpoints to those of the author and you can have very devout people and very informed catholics like Brett Joyce and in other areas Jeff Landry and David Smith.
There are older catholics like Ed Gleason who have more experience than you or I and they should be listened to.
"Distrust and disrespect", that may be true of some of the  authors but Fr Jim Martin is usually very diplomatic  and last week gave a fawning article about Pope John Paul even overlooking all of the terrible things that were permitted during that papacy.   Austen Iveriegh has given fanstastic coverage of the Papal trips that are worth re-reading.
There are many blogs for Catholics Triumphant and Militant and they will cause you a lot less grief than America but at the end of the day that is all they will give you.
The opening to human experience that St Ignatius championed is attempted here with varying results.If you stick around you might teach people a thing or two and you may even learn.

God bless you and God Bless the Pope. 
Jim McCrea
11 years ago
What Bob Nunz said in #5.  Canon Law and the CCC are NOT - repeat - NOT Sacred Scripture.

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