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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.


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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.

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.

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.

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?

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.