From the editor's desk

Justice for Bishops

26 October 2013

Recent cases make it imperative that the Vatican reviews its treatment of bishops who are regarded as out of line, whether over moral, financial or doctrinal matters. Present procedures are seriously defective. 

The Pope has authorised a leave of absence for the controversial Bishop of Limburg in Germany, following allegations that he misused church funds in the building and furnishing of his new luxury residence. Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst was called to Rome for an interview, and a commission of German Catholic bishops is examining the complaints against him. He could face dismissal – not unlike the treatment of Bishop Róbert Bezák of Trnava, Slovakia, who was removed from office by Pope Benedict last year and whose transfer next month to a Redemptorist monastery near Verona has just been announced. Where the cases differ is that lay Catholics were solidly on the side of Bishop Bezák, the allegations against whom were not made public, while public opinion has turned against Bishop Tebartz and the accusation against him is all too obvious. But until their cases have been submitted to due process, it cannot be assumed that either of them is guilty of anything. That, unfortunately, is not how things work. Bishops may be successors of the apostles and Vicars of Christ in their own diocese, but they have fewer rights under Canon Law than parish priests. 

When Bishop Bill Morris of Toowoomba in the Australian outback was dismissed in 2011, he was firmly told that, as bishops were appointed by the Pope, they could be dismissed by the Pope; there was no appeal, and the Pope did not have to give reasons. The case caused grave scandal for the Catholic Church in Australia although his fellow bishops, after some uncertainty, eventually backed the Vatican’s actions – afraid perhaps of being tarred with the same brush. Bishop Morris, who is still in good standing in the Church, says he has not been given an explanation or details of any allegations, though it is plain that his troubles began when he appeared to question the teaching that women could not be ordained as Catholic priests. A retired Queensland Supreme Court judge, William Carter QC, looked into the case and concluded that Bishop Morris had been “denied the right to be heard; he has been treated unfairly. He had not been provided with any evidence to support the case against him nor was he given any opportunity to respond to or correct known errors of fact and generalised assertion … One could not imagine a more striking case of a denial of natural justice.”

It is no coincidence that Bishop Bezák also says he does not know what he is accused of, nor has he been given an opportunity to defend himself. The Church must treat bishops according to natural justice: arbitrary dismissal is a mark not of the Gospel but of tyranny. It also undermines collegiality. A bishop cannot freely express his opinion on matters large or small if he faces the sack if the Vatican does not like what he says. In such circumstances collegial consultation, which Pope Francis says he is keen on, becomes meaningless. 

No bishop should face punishment for expressing his honest opinion; and if accused of something, whatever it is, he must have every opportunity to defend himself.

Post a Comment

You can post as either a regular user, or by registering as a new user...

User Comments (14)

Report abuse
Comment by: Molly
Posted: 26/04/2015 09:46:00

I can only agree with Margaret. As someone who had a joint committed friendship with a Priest and who knows we both gave our love to Our Lord for our Church; it does not sit well that a married member of Ordinariate is now the Pastor of same parish while my beloved's soul rests in the churchyard. Personal viewpoint, but....

Report abuse
Comment by: Martin
Posted: 22/04/2015 14:04:42

"My NIMBYism comment refers to the ordinariate only appearing when such ordinations, of bishops in particular, came to the Anglican backyard in England"

The Ordinariate was created by Benedict XVI. Something of the sort was apparently proposed in the 1990s but met opposition from the English bishops. It's not the fault of the Ordinariate that the structure was not created earlier. In fact, it wasn't created because of England this time - it appears primarily to have come about as a result of a request from an Australian body called the TAC.

Look, all Catholic ex-Anglicans have made a journey into the Church. Some resisted progressivism within Anglicanism for longer than others, and they cannot be blamed for doing so, given that it's their tradition and that the former Anglican leader in York, Habgood, promised "two integrities" at the time of the "ordination" of women and that those who could not accept this heretical development would not have their consciences violated.

Report abuse
Comment by: Margaret
Posted: 22/04/2015 04:58:47

2. Re Leo's comment: “It is worth reminding that only the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church maintains the ancient rule of celibacy among priests. Most Eastern Catholic Churches (in full communion with Rome) have married clergy, though not married bishops.”__
I'm not sure if this was directed at me or more generally. I'm certainly aware of what Leo says. So why didn't all those disaffected Anglicans join a section of the church that accepts married priests? Why did they seek exemption from Roman Catholic practice? __
If Pope Benedict saw something special in what married Anglican priests had to offer, I don't understand why he (and those before and since) didn't see something special in Catholic priests who are also called to matrimony. (Personally, I think it was more to do with politics than Benedict seeing any special grace, but we'll never really know.)__
Until the hypocrisy of married Anglican priests taking over parishes from Catholic priests who are forced to leave to get married is addressed, I will never be able to accept such priests and the ordinariate as other than disaffected Anglicans, not 'real' Catholics. Sorry, but that's the poisoning effect of the double standards that the hierarchy practises.

Report abuse
Comment by: Margaret
Posted: 22/04/2015 04:57:15

1. Re Martin's comment: “Thirdly, there has long been a desire for corporate reunion, rather than individual conversions, and given Anglicanism's "ordination" of women that is now wholly impossible, but the Ordinariate offers one way of some kind of corporate reunion with congregations uniting with Rome together.” __
There have been ordinations of women (as both priests and bishops) in the Anglican Communion for quite a while. My NIMBYism comment refers to the ordinariate only appearing when such ordinations, of bishops in particular, came to the Anglican backyard in England, as though what happened in the rest of the Anglican world didn't really touch them.

Report abuse
Comment by: Tybourne
Posted: 19/04/2015 16:04:53

Fr.Beck, integration is a two-way street, as you know . Assimilation, on the other hand, involves the minority group capitulating completely to the norms and mores of the host culture. Like many convert clergy, it seems to me that you make a virtue of a necessity, namely the wholesale abandonment of Anglican culture in order to become fully Catholic. After his reception into full communion with the Church, Blessed John Henry Newman regretted the loss of the English and German cultures to the catholicum. Then, Benedict XVI announced the Ordinariate . Although I'm not a member, I've found great solace in rediscovering collects from the Book of Common Prayer in the ordinariate books since then. Let's celebrate with our returned brothers and sisters who were lost but now are found.

Report abuse
Comment by: Leo
Posted: 17/04/2015 18:48:14

I liked this article, and it to me strikes a nice balance.

Those being received into the Catholic Church of course desire to be fully incorporated and to take a full part into its life.

Having said this, it must be Christian to show a generous and welcoming spirit. We do not (I hope) continuously question the motives of "cradle" Catholics around us. So why should we start with those who have decided to take this huge step, often even if it meant material hardship for themselves and their families.

I am glad to see that an ungrudging, gracious welcome has been the general experience of the ordinate.

Re: Margaret "It's not Catholic for priests to have wives"

It is worth reminding that only the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church maintains the ancient rule of celibacy among priests. Most Eastern Catholic Churches (in full communion with Rome) have married clergy, though not married bishops.

Report abuse
Comment by: Petrus Radii
Posted: 17/04/2015 16:42:20

Prescinding from discussion of any scandals, it seems to me that it is Fr. Beck who is not yet "fully integrated" into the Catholic Church--as though there were degrees of union. His views are insulting to those who joined the Catholic Church through means of the Ordinariate. (I am not one of them, as I was baptised into the True Church as an infant.)

What Fr. Beck seems to imply, is that the Anglican Ordinariate need to abandon their distinct liturgical and theological views--which are much closer to Traditional Catholic liturgy and theology than the Freemasonic Novus Ordo of Paul VI. I suppose he is probably also alienated by the Immemorial Traditional Roman Rite in Latin.

It is also no secret that Novus Ordo bishops hate the Ordinariate, because those priests and bishops are not directly under their thumb and pose a threat to the N.O. collection plate.

Fr. Beck's claim that the A.O. Catholics are anything less than fully Catholic or fully part of the Catholic Church demonstrates a schismatic and arguably heretical viewpoint on his part, which denies the unicity of the One True Church. Maybe he needs a refresher course in theology--particularly ecclesiology.

Report abuse
Comment by: Martin
Posted: 16/04/2015 11:34:53

"Why do they need to create a splinter group and need their own church buildings & liturgy?"

There are several answers to this. The first lies in the sensibilities of Benedict XVI, who appreciated the Anglican "patrimony" in terms of the richness of language and the choral tradition etc, and I think he was trying to preserve some of that valuable heritage in a Catholic context.

A second lies in the perfectly understandable mistrust by Anglo-Catholics of the generally liberal English Catholic episcopate and in a disinclination to subject themselves to the banal and uninspiring Novus Ordo liturgy that predominates in most parish churches.

Thirdly, there has long been a desire for corporate reunion, rather than individual conversions, and given Anglicanism's "ordination" of women that is now wholly impossible, but the Ordinariate offers one way of some kind of corporate reunion with congregations uniting with Rome together.

Report abuse
Comment by: Thomas
Posted: 15/04/2015 18:40:13

Maybe I have a slightly different perspective on some of these things. I'm a young man and last year was received by myself into the Catholic church through the Ordinariate. Incidentally, the first women were ordained in the Church of England when I was two. Maybe I was more of an IMBY - it was the Catholic doctrine that I had to internalise.

For myself, moving from the Anglican communion to the Catholic church involved something broader and deeper than a rejection of 'Canterbury'. If it was a rejection of anything it was a rejection of the cultural union between the Church of England and the liberal, secular west. Without a cultural identity of its own faith is a 'personal choice' in a consumerist world; a virtual reality world without referents in which a face is as easy to change as a facebook profile. So the Church of England changes, slowly, but broadly, and that presents a challenge not just to isolated Anglicans, but entire congregations.

So why are married Anglican priests allowed to become priests? I think they asked a Pope and that Pope agreed. It was a gift, nothing more and nothing less, a gift from the Church to communities that wanted to come home.

Having unmarried priests is a great and a powerful discipline, but I still see married Ordinariate priests as recipients of a great mercy. We do not want to undermine the Church, or to create a separate 'brand', we want to be Catholics. I for one hope the Church of mercy allows this generous seed to flourish.

Report abuse
Comment by: Molly
Posted: 15/04/2015 08:13:06

I also have many concerns and questions re the Ordinariate. Fr. Beck has a valid point, why didn't the Ordinariate, former Anglicans, simply just join the Catholic Church? Why do they need to create a splinter group and need their own church buildings & liturgy? Did they want to embrace Catholicism or build their own brand? As a former Anglican I joined the Catholic Church, as did many others, because it was my personal decision. I did not need my vicar to say to the congregation 'I'm going, I would like you all to follow.' A married Catholic man may become a deacon, but not a priest. Why then are married Anglican clergy allowed to be Catholic priests instead of deacons. Please don't give me the 'no previous vow or promise of celibacy story', married lay people have not made these vows/promises either, but may only be considered for the diaconate. Unless our Church is going to make the same concession for married Catholic men to become priests, we are creating an uncomfortable nightmare.

Report abuse
Comment by: Alan Fouche
Posted: 14/04/2015 04:41:55

Unlike Pope Benedict, Fr Beck is clearly uncomfortable with the concept of unity in diversity. His desire seems to be that the Ordinariate will simply be absorbed into local parishes, lose its liturgical identity and disappear. In stating that the Ordinariate must "be integrated into the life of the Church", Fr Beck implies that its members are in some respects deficient in commitment or in loyalty to the Catholic Church. Such a claim is both insulting and untrue. The Anglican formularies permitted for use in the Ordinariate have all been authoritatively judged to be consonant with Catholic doctrine. The fact that Fr Beck personally finds them distasteful is of no significance.

Report abuse
Comment by: Martin
Posted: 13/04/2015 12:09:35

"The vast majority of Anglican priests moving to Rome seem to be those who are disenchanted with the ordination of women. It's not Catholic."

Speaking as a former Anglican (although who came into the Church 20 years ago rather than via the ordinariate), I can tell you that this is wholly wrong. Anglicans of Catholic belief vary - but they do hold Catholic beliefs on orders and sacraments and so on. Some left earlier as they saw that the Catholic element of Anglicanism could not now survive - as I did - and others stayed in the hope that they could somehow remain within their tradition which had, until then, been somewhere people of Catholic theological beliefs could be (there is even a tradition of Anglo-Papalism which stayed Anglican to bring Anglicanism back to the Pope).

As for Rome reconsidering the ordination of women - it will not. It can not. If it does, it will be heresy and apostasy, and many millions will reject it. The SSPX will seem like a minor splinter group in comparison.

Report abuse
Comment by: Elizabeth
Posted: 13/04/2015 10:56:04

I have to agree with Margaret. A young Catholic man who has been devoted to the church for all his life will be told that if he wishes to pursue a vocation to the priesthood he has to be celbate. A man coming into the church via the ordinariate can be a priest and married even though he is a new Catholic. Where will they go if Rome does decide to reconsider the ordination of women?

Report abuse
Comment by: Margaret
Posted: 12/04/2015 04:30:43

I'm pleased that Fr Beck and those like him felt a warm welcome. But …. The vast majority of Anglican priests moving to Rome seem to be those who are disenchanted with the ordination of women. It's not Catholic. It's not Catholic for priests to have wives either but these Anglicans are quite happy to overlook that! The ordinariate is merely this attitude writ large: not so much believing that Rome is right but that Canterbury is wrong. Why didn't they jump ship years ago? All was fine until it came to people you had to meet with face to face. NIMBYism rules. Until the hypocrisy of married Anglicans as Catholic priests is done away with, many of us will always have our reservations even though we're not supposed to.

Latest Issue
Digital/PDF Version

PDF version (iPad-friendly)

Previous Issues
Latest Tweet
Share Us
Tablet Subscription

Manage my subcription here


Sign up for our newsletter

Sign Up