20 April 2016, The Tablet

Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith must end medieval practices, Pope urged by accused

Investigation of accusations should be reformed and anonymous denunciations ended, high-profile signatories insist

An international group of bishops, nuns, priests and lay people, who have all been investigated by Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, have written to Pope Francis calling for a reform of the investigation process and specifically an end to anonymous denunciations.

The 15 who signed the letter include Bishops Patrick Power and William Morris of Australia, the well-known American moral theologian, Fr Charles Curran, BBC radio presenter, Fr Brian Darcy as well as Fr Roy Bourgeois, the Maryknoll priest excommunicated for his involvement in the ordination of a woman in 2008. 

In their letter to the Pope, which was also sent to the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the group warn that as the CDF acts as "investigator, accuser, judge and jury" the process cannot offer justice. The process is outdated and follows the "absolutism of sixteenth and seventeenth century Europe" as a model, the signatories said. 

They suggest a new set of procedures that would require greater transparency and accountability while imposing a strict time limit on any investigation and direct personal face-to-face communication between the accused and the Vatican congregation. One of the signatories, Australian historian and author Paul Collins, said that the current process makes no presumption of innocence and those accused are never told who has accused them nor who is judging them. "They don't even know who their defence counsel is. They are usually never given a chance to defend themselves verbally and in person. Letters go unanswered for months or are 'lost'," he criticised.

The signatories highlight that those investigated by the CDF find the process completely draining, isolating and exhausting and this is often linked to CDF imposed exclusion from ministry. "It seems designed to wear you down psychologically. It is completely alien to the values of Christ and the gospels," Paul Collins said.

The letter to the CDF’s Cardinal Müller was sent in late February 2016 but so far no acknowledgement or response has been received by the group. In addition to reforms within the CDF, the group propose an open process conducted by a committee of experts entirely separate from the CDF. This committee would be set up by the Secretariat of the World Synod of Bishops in full consultation with the person being investigated. The committee would make a final recommendation to the next meeting of the Synod and to the Pope.

The aim of these proposed reforms is to avoid some of “the worst aspects” of the present investigation procedures as experienced by those who have dealt with the CDF over the last decades. Anonymous denunciations would be done away with and instead those accusing would be named. Secret CDF-appointed consulters would no longer remain anonymous but would also be named and their qualifications could then be scrutinised for biases.

Under these proposals, the CDF would be required to deal directly and personally with the person being investigated and there would also be an end to the enforced secrecy which often contributes to the “crippling isolation” of the accused, who are often dealt with at third and fourth hand via a network of bishops and superiors – who might even have been the primary accuser of the person being investigated in the first place.

The new process would involve the person under investigation and their counsel from the beginning of the process in order to circumvent their work being inaccurately or unfairly interpreted by CDF consulters, or sentences or opinions are taken out of context.

Direct personal face-to-face communication could also help to deal with the “sheer rudeness” and lack of basic politeness and Christian charity on the part of CDF personnel. Strict time limits would prevent processes being dragged out “in an attempt to wear down the resistance of those being investigated”.

The group claim that under the current process “extremely sick or dying people have been investigated and forced to respond to often silly accusations”. The process, the group warns, must prevent the same people acting as investigators, prosecutors and judges by referring ongoing cases to the Synod of Bishops, thus removing the decision-making from the CDF. Instead the wider community of theologians and the faithful people of God would be involved so that the CDF and its Rome-based advisers wouldn’t be the “sole arbiters of correct doctrine and belief”.

The fifteen who signed the letter include Bishops Patrick Power and William Morris of Australia, the well-known American moral theologian, Fr Charles Curran, BBC radio presenter, Fr Brian Darcy as well as Fr Roy Bourgeois. William Morris was bishop of Toowoomba in Australia but was removed from the role in 2011 by the Vatican over his 2006 pastoral letter to his diocese in which he called for a discussion of the ordination of married men and women given the decline in the number of priests in his rural diocese.

Bishop Patrick Power was appointed in 1986 to the diocese of Canberra and Goulburn. At the age of 70 he retired as bishop over his challenging of the Vatican’s poor handling of the sex abuse scandals and inability to listen on the crisis in priestly vocations. Roy Bourgeois was dismissed by the Vatican from his Maryknoll order in 2012 for taking part in an illicit women's ordination ceremony.

Fr Charles Curran was forced out his position at the Catholic University of America in 1986 after the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith found him unfit to teach Catholic theology over his views on sexual issues. The five Irish priests: Fr Tony Flannery, Fr Brian Darcy, Fr Owen O’Sullivan, Fr Iggy O’Donovan and Fr Gerard Moloney have all been investigated by the Vatican. Fr Flannery was censured by the CDF in 2012 and forced to stand down from public ministry over his views on priesthood and women’s ordination.


Dr Paul Collins, writer and broadcaster, Australia
Rev Charles Curran, Scurlock University Professor of Human Values at Southern Methodist University, Dallas, USA
Rev Roy Bourgeois, priest and activist, USA
Rev Brian D’Arcy CP, writer and broadcaster, Ireland
Rev Tony Flannery CSsR, writer and broadcaster, Ireland
Sister Teresa Forcades, OSB, Benedictine nun and physician, Spain
Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, Loretto Sister, Co-Founder, New Ways Ministry, USA
Sister Elizabeth A. Johnson, CSJ, Distinguished Professor of Theology, Fordham University, New York, USA
Professor Paul Knitter, Emeritus Paul Tillich Professor of Theology, World Religions and Culture, Union Theological Seminary, New York
Rev Gerard Moloney, CSsR, Editor, Ireland
Bishop William Morris, Bishop Emeritus of Toowoomba, Australia
Rev Ignatius O’Donovan, OSA, Church Historian, Ireland
Rev Owen O’Sullivan, OFM Cap, Chaplain and Writer, Ireland
Bishop Patrick Power, retired Auxiliary Bishop of Canberra- Goulburn, Australia
Rev Marciano Vidal, CSsR, Former Ordinary Professor, Pontifical University Comillas, Madrid, Spain, Extraordinary Professor, Alphonsian Academy, Rome.



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