Sed quis custodiet ipsos episcopos?

As ever, there’s plenty going on in the world of religion that might merit a bit of coverage here. I expect the more intellectually inclined readers wouldn’t mind a reflection on B16’s lecture on Duns Scotus, but, while Duns is quite interesting, I’m not going to do that. I expect the more satirically inclined readers wouldn’t mind a skit on the promised “liturgical entertainment” for the Papal Mass at Hyde Park, which sounds absolutely ghastly, but all I have to say on that matter is that Mgr Andy Summersgill has obviously been spending far too much time watching Britain’s Got Talent – either that or he’s been on holiday in Austria. No, let’s take a different tack.

What I want to do is reflect a little on the appointment of Cardinal Marc Ouellet as the new prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, why it matters, and perhaps illustrate a thing or two along the way.

Firstly, there’s a general political issue which is nicely brought out by John Allen, in that B16 has confirmed his tendency to give big Curia jobs to theologians rather than diplomats; Ouellet, a distinguished theology professor before becoming primate of Canada, replacing the Curial lifer Giovanni Battista Re, who has been at the Vatican since 1963, draws a line under this. Perhaps more to the point is the Pontiff filling the most important jobs with people who share his view of the road forward – the strengthening of a deeper and richer Catholic identity as a counterpoint to the secular world, which is the concept that ties together both the liturgical reform and the various crackdowns on internal corruption. The big names in the Curia – Bertone at State, Levada at the CDF, Ouellet at the CfB, Kurt Koch at Christian Unity, Fisichella at the spanking new Pontifical Council for the New Evangelisation – are far from being identikit, but all are basically hermeneutic-of-continuity men.

In the current Tablet, that reliable bellwether, Rome correspondent Bobbie Mickens, explains:

…Ouellet spent most of his priesthood as a professor and rector in Sulpician seminaries in Canada and Colombia. In Rome, he earned a licentiate in philosophy at the University of St Thomas (Angelicum) and a doctorate in dogmatic theology from the Gregorian University. He is considered an expert on the writings of the late theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, with whom Fr Joseph Ratzinger founded the theological journal Communio.

Bobbie, of course, says this like it’s a bad thing. You can almost see the hot tears streaming down his wee face. This may get even worse for Bobbie – rumour has it that Ouellet is of the opinion that, in the Extraordinary Form, Communion should be received kneeling and on the tongue.

So why does this appointment matter so much, and why were so many hierarchs having conniptions at the rumour that Australian strongman George Pell would get the job? Let’s backpedal slightly, and go into one of our crash courses on how ecclesiastical politics works, in terms of bishops and their hiring and firing.

What with the sex abuse scandal, I am often asked, “Why doesn’t the Pope just sack dodgy bishops?” The short answer to that question is that he doesn’t have the power to do it. There is no provision in canon law for him to do so. He can of course ask a bishop to resign, and informally quite a lot of pressure can be exerted – I can think off the top of my head of several who have been strong-armed into early retirement by the CDF. But let’s say a bishop adamantly refuses to go – in that case the only way you could depose a bishop against his will would be by way of a canonical trial, which is always a drawn-out experience, whose outcome is not predictable, and for which you’d need cast-iron evidence of an extremely serious crime.

As someone who tends to be sceptical about bishops as a class of people – it’s probably an Ignatian thing at root – I think this is a major lacuna in canon law that should be rectified shortly. I think it would do Irish Catholicism’s standing no end of good if miscreant bishops, starting with Martin Drennan, could be terminated summarily and their bodies left in the road as a warning. Other observers say that, since episcopal autonomy is a balancing factor against ultramontanist tendencies, the canonical situation is a necessary evil. Take your pick.

So, let’s say a bishop is appointed at around fifty years of age. Within a couple of years it becomes apparent that the bishop is incompetent or – not infrequent this – completely batshit insane. We can all think of certain individuals, and I’d put Rembert Weakland high up the list, who should never have been made bishops in the first place. But bishops are monarchs in their dioceses – that’s how Willie Walsh could get away with saying that any memos he got from Rome went straight into the bin – they are very difficult to remove, and with a retirement age of 75, a bad bishop could be in situ for twenty years or more. That’s why you have to have an appointments procedure that produces bishops of a decent quality.

So, how does the appointments process work? There’s a formal process and an informal process. Actually, I noticed today Bishop Nick Baines of the good old C of E writing on his blog about that outfit’s appointments process in re Jeffrey John and the Anglican diocese of Southwark. According to Nick, all this talk about “favoured candidates” is nonsense, because the Crown Nominations Commission will have maybe half a dozen names, all of whom will be considered seriously, and a name will be put forward after serious and balanced discussion. That’s as may be, but my suspicion is that Nick Baines is talking about the formal process and Ruth Gledhill about the informal process.

There’s an analogous situation in Catholicism. The formal procedure is described adequately on Wikipedia, so let’s look at the informal procedure, which differs in subtle ways, and is a bit like the way Tory party leaders “emerged” prior to Ted Heath.

If a bishop should fall under a bus, or if an episcopal retirement is coming up, the task of headhunting a replacement falls in the first instance to the papal nuncio, who not only does the diplomatic business of any ambassador but also has various ecclesiastical functions. The most important thing to remember here is that, nine times out of ten, nuncios go native in a very serious way. There has been, for instance, a lot of lazy reporting to the effect that Gaetano Alibrandi, in his 20-year tenure as nuncio to Ireland, ruled the Irish bishops with a rod of iron; it would be much more accurate to say that Alibrandi was Maynooth’s ambassador to the Holy See.

So, the nuncio – in the case of Britain, that would be Faustino Sainz Muñoz – is obliged to undertake a discreet consultation amongst bishops, clergy and prominent laity so as to identify a candidate for the vacancy. It would be more accurate in most cases, however, to say that the nuncio will allow himself to be guided by the Magic Circle. If he speaks to two or three bishops and they all say “we think Fr X is the man for the job”, he will probably not delve much more deeply into the matter. So there are always priests who, by virtue of who they know rather than what they know, seem to be marked for the episcopate. One thinks, for instance, of a well-connected monsignor in a wealthy London parish who is often spoken of as a future bishop and, from the way he sashays up and down the nave like a game show host during his homilies, evidently shares that opinion.

So the nuncio will then send his shortlist, or terna to be technical about it, off to Rome, where the Congregation for Bishops will discuss it, and can either select a name out of the three legally required, or tell the nuncio to produce another terna. It helps at this stage to have a man on the inside, and as luck would have it, none other than our old friend Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor can be found sitting on the CfB. Now, the members of the CfB are drawn from all corners of the world, and it is not to be expected that a cardinal from Italy or Africa or South America will be conversant with personnel issues in English dioceses. So, when the vacancy for Bishop of Tintagel comes up, all eyes will turn to CMOC, who will then say, “Oh yes, I’ve known Fr X for years. Thoroughly good chap, thoroughly good chap. Absolutely the right man for the job.” It is therefore likely that the other members of the Congregation will take +Cormac’s word for it, unless someone present has good reason not to. And that’s how you get from three names on a shortlist to one name being put to the Pope for his approval.

At this final stage, the HF himself can refuse to follow the Congregation’s advice, and can turn down their nomination and ask them to give him another name. The whole process is shrouded in secrecy, so we don’t know how often that happens, but it’s not entirely unheard of. On the other hand, a pope is probably not going to go against the advice of the Congregation without good reason, so unless he has an alternative source telling him that Fr X is a complete menace who on no account should be made a bishop, the odds are that a name from the Congregation will get the nod. Actually, the papal hand is to be seen much more clearly in the awarding of appointments to men who are already within the episcopate, such as Léonard replacing Danneels in Mechelen-Brussels or Gómez being lined up to succeed Mahony in LA.

But, in terms of getting people into the episcopate in the first place, a determined old boys’ club – and most countries have their own Magic Circles – can find it quite easy to game the system. To counteract that, you need two things. One is to get a grip on the Holy See diplomatic service so there are good, tough-minded nuncios who aren’t just ciphers for national Catholic establishments, which is easier said than done. The other is to have a team at the CfB, the prefect first of all, with a clear idea of what needs to be done, and the ability to ask the right questions. That task now falls to Marc Ouellet, who certainly has a good grasp of the programme; what he’ll be charged with doing is giving direction to an institution that often in the past has given the impression that it wouldn’t know what direction was.

And there are lots of episcopal vacancies coming up in the next year or two. As a general rule of thumb, the less gruntled national Bishops’ Conferences are, the better he’ll be doing.


  1. Dave Semple said,

    July 9, 2010 at 7:58 am

    Episcopos is the Greek spelling of Bishop, Splinty. You want Episcopus – or more likely, pontifex, which has a certain continuity from the Roman era and if you walk about Rome you’ll see virtually every Pope styling himself Pontifex Maximus.

    • July 9, 2010 at 12:54 pm

      “episcopos” is the correct spelling of the accusative plural of episcopus (which is what is required in this context).

      Also, the Greek spelling of the nominative singular is episkopos (-k- not -c-).

  2. Phil said,

    July 9, 2010 at 9:04 am

    As a general rule of thumb, the less gruntled national Bishops’ Conferences are, the better he’ll be doing.

    Bah, ultramontanism!

    • Garibaldy said,

      July 9, 2010 at 12:28 pm

      Surel the whole point of being catholic is to mbe ultramontane? Anything else is clearly heresy.

  3. Chris Williams said,

    July 9, 2010 at 11:24 am

    I can’t help noting that the various reformed ways of dealing with this problem by electing the hierarchy solve a lot of these problems. Have you considered Presbyterianism?

    • Garibaldy said,

      July 9, 2010 at 12:27 pm

      The problem with that being, there are plenty of presbyterians who’ll tell you that democracy there has degenerated into an oligarchy of influential families and their cronies.

  4. neilcaff said,

    July 9, 2010 at 12:16 pm

    “crackdowns on internal corruption.”

    I’ve noticed you mention this fairly regularly when you discuss B16’s corporate strategy, if you will. Can you be a bit more specific by what you exactly is meant by “corruption”?

    Are we talking about, ‘the money was just resting in my account’ corruption or is this a cipher for persuing doctrinal deviationism?

    • Mark P said,

      July 9, 2010 at 4:13 pm

      It varies, but I suppose the preeminent example of the moment are the Legionaries of Christ.

      The LOC are a large organisation, until recently rapidly growing, impeccably “orthodox” in theology, heavily linked to and financed by Latin American and Spanish big/old money, politically very much on the right of the Catholic Church. They seemed to self-consciously present themselves as being semi-modelled on an earlier incarnation of the Jesuits, before the SJ got into all the leftie stuff. Also without the SJ’s brains, but you can’t have everything.

      Anyway, it turns out that they have a wierd and creepy fixation on their founder and Supreme Leader Marcial Maciel, who they regarded as a living Saint but who was in fact a sexual predator of the most unpleasant sort. He abused under age kids, sexually assaulted seminarians, fathered a bunch of kids etc. You name it, Maciel tried to put his dick in it. He was also the greatest fundraiser the Catholic Church had ever seen, turning his new movement into a multi-billion dollar business.

      Maciel’s underlings, as a matter of course, used to present senior prelates with large sums of money, “for their charitable dispersal”. Which cynics might suggest bought them a lot of good will and protection from the higher reaches of the Church. As Splinty has pointed out, Pope Benny was notable as a rarity amongst senior Cardinals in that by all accounts he reacted as if someone was trying to hand him a bag full of botulism when they pulled that stunt with him.

      Anyway, these “crackdowns on internal corruption” vary from the shoeing the Legionaries of Christ are getting to uppitty lefty American Nuns being hassled for being, well, uppitty and lefty.

  5. GOR said,

    July 9, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    Excellent explanation of the status questionis, SS! While Ouellet, though Prefect, will be but one voice in the CfB, he will also have Ray Burke on hand as a counterweight to CMOC – in outlook at least, if not in centimetrical stature. Though I was sort of hoping that The Big Fella would have gotten the nod – imposing presence, and all that.

  6. July 9, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    […] me that this film has caused quite a rumpus. A Blog, which ahs the eye and ear of the Papal Curia (Splintered Sunshine) now trying to rehabiliate Dunce Scotus, is said to beside itself with […]

  7. Garibaldy said,

    July 9, 2010 at 4:05 pm

    “A Blog, which ahs the eye and ear of the Papal Curia (Splintered Sunshine)”


    Who’s going to be the next Pope? I’d like to get to the bookies before the odds drop.

  8. Andrew Coates said,

    July 9, 2010 at 4:08 pm

    It’s a miracle – this got linked in a couple of seconds. Before I’d time to correct the spelling and the name of Splintered Sunrise.

    What dark forces are at work here?

  9. Policraticus said,

    July 9, 2010 at 5:08 pm

    Let us hope and trust sincerely that the style of authentic epicopal governance from Marc Oullet will effect the changes we need so desparately in the appointment of bishops in the British Isles. The Irish appointments are crucial to reverse that trend over recent decades of the leadership alignments with anti-family public policy from the Dail and Seanad down. It is very possibly too late though for any hope of the Irish Church [save in its presence at the family at its domestic level where -in the eyes of Oullett -the power of the Church really lies] to save the unique constitutional protection in Ireland’s Constitution for marriage, family and parents as the primary educators and protectors of their children. Nothing short of a miracle at grass roots and the march of parent power against the ineffectual leadership of Ireland’s bishops will stop the toxic effects of the referendum on the rights of the child in Ireland in December. What a missed opportunity it was not to have included N Ireland [in so far as it’s currently part of the UK] on the itinerary of the papal visit to Gt. Britain as the pope could have killed two birds with one stone – reminded the Irish of their great sense of worth for the power of the family in society and in saying it in N Ireland with some force [rather than in ‘delicate’ tones in England in sept according to a curuial official on Zenit] the message of the inalienable rights of parents would have hit home in the rest of the UK too but on soil where the politically correct English and Welsh bishops couldn’t have stopped it happening [as they did to John Paul in 1982]

    The urgency to appoint real Catholic priests as bishops -who actually believe in the sacred duties of parents- to dioceses in England and Wales cannot be over stated. Britain IS the geo-political epicentre of the ‘cuture of death’ and the ‘policy’ of no open confrontation with the Government of the day from Eccleston square by default and at times even by design furthers the aims of this ‘culture’ with its particularly vicious threat to parents rights and their offspring.
    The stats for Marc Oullett are clear. Between now and 2015 the following dioceses will be sede vacante – Portsmouth, Brentwood, Wrexham, Plymouth,Hallam,Salford, Liverpool, and at present Cardiff. With Shrewsbury due to have its co-adjutor Mark Davies [who is sound] take over next Spring as Ordinary – NOW is the time for Oullett to start getting those names on the various terna or at least in the minds of Archbishop Burke, Cardinal Canazares and Cardinal Law at the CfB so to start the revolutionary SEE changes the poor beleaguered Catholic parents in E and W are crying to Heaven for over the sins of omission against their children by the current Magic Circle. It would be tragic is +Mark Davies were left to do all the fighting by himself Your Eminence [lest the demonic spirit of the collective overpower his efforts] – get the men he will need to flank him on the bench now one diocese at a time so that by 2020 we can begin to see the beginning of a new decade of new evangelisation but no thanks to Archbishop Fisichella who is responsible for creating a new dubium over abortion and therefore utterly unreliable [despite the papal support] in promoting the John Paul II version of the Gospel of life – yes the Recife Affair is another sad saga of this pontificate.

    • Mark P said,

      July 9, 2010 at 5:16 pm

      Can someone translate Policraticus for me? The “inalienable rights of the family” stuff is obviously code for some issue or other, but I can’t work out what precisely. Is it Father’s Rights tomfoolery or is it something else?

      • De Northside Socialist said,

        July 11, 2010 at 11:08 am

        “Can someone translate Policraticus for me? The “inalienable rights of the family” stuff is obviously code for some issue or other”

        At a guess it may be a reference to the Civil Partnership Bill currently going through the Oireachtas, see for example the article below, admittedly it could be a range of issues…

      • shane said,

        July 11, 2010 at 4:32 pm

        No he’s referring to the ongoing saga at the English CES and its collaboration with Ed Balls.

      • shane said,

        July 11, 2010 at 7:26 pm

        Actually Balls is gone now but I mean the controversial SRE guidelines that the CES supported and helped draft.

  10. Policraticus said,

    July 9, 2010 at 6:51 pm

    Perhaps this might help you Mark P…

    Pope Pius XI – Mit Brennender Sorge 1935
    39. We address Our special greetings to the Catholic parents. Their rights and duties as educators, conferred on them by God, are at present the stake of a campaign pregnant with consequences. The Church cannot wait to deplore the devastation of its altars, the destruction of its temples, if an education, hostile to Christ, is to profane the temple of the child’s soul consecrated by baptism, and extinguish the eternal light of the faith in Christ for the sake of counterfeit light alien to the Cross. Then the violation of temples is nigh, and it will be every one’s duty to sever his responsibility from the opposite camp, and free his conscience from guilty cooperation with such corruption. The more the enemies attempt to disguise their designs, the more a distrustful vigilance will be needed, in the light of bitter experience. Religious lessons maintained for the sake of appearances, controlled by unauthorized men, within the frame of an educational system which systematically works against religion, do not justify a vote in favor of non-confessional schools. We know, dear Catholic parents, that your vote was not free, for a free and secret vote would have meant the triumph of the Catholic schools. Therefore, we shall never cease frankly to represent to the responsible authorities the iniquity of the pressure brought to bear on you and the duty of respecting the freedom of education. Yet do not forget this: none can free you from the responsibility God has placed on you over your children. None of your oppressors, who pretend to relieve you of your duties can answer for you to the eternal Judge, when he will ask: “Where are those I confided to you?” May every one of you be able to answer: “Of them whom thou hast given me, I have not lost any one” (John xviii. 9).

    Pope John Paul II – Familiaris Consortio para 36
    “As the Second Vatican Council recalled, “since parents have conferred life on their children, they have a most solemn obligation to educate their offspring. Hence, parents must be acknowledged as the first and foremost educators of their children. Their role as educators is so decisive that scarcely anything can compensate for their failure in it. For it devolves on parents to create a family atmosphere so animated with love and reverence for God and others that a well-rounded personal and social development will be fostered among the children. Hence, the family is the first school of those social virtues which every society needs.” The right and duty of parents to give education is essential, since it is connected with the transmission of human life; it is original and primary with regard to the educational role of others, on account of the uniqueness of the loving relationship between parents and children; and it is irreplaceable and inalienable, and therefore incapable of being entirely delegated to others or usurped by others.

  11. neilcaff said,

    July 9, 2010 at 10:10 pm

    10# Clear as mud that. Thanks.

  12. Darius Jedburgh said,

    July 10, 2010 at 8:17 am

    Have you seen Damian Thompson’s Telegraph blog this morning Splinty? You should be charging him for reposting your stuff.

  13. sr sandals said,

    July 10, 2010 at 9:16 am

    Don’t disparage or be uncharitable to Policraticus since the point they have chosen to make is clearly to do with home education, which for the ill-informed sounds all a bit ‘weird’ and frightening, but is actually likely to be the only seed-bed for all future vocations in the Church in the West at least, compulsory ‘schooling’ (as unlike education as it is possible to be in intent and outcome) being a part and parcel of a culture of death and unbelief.

    The point being indirectly made I think is that this is the sort of thing Bishops should be supporting instinctively, amongst other issues pertaining to the family, and yet which the Bishops seem to be wholly ignorant of, preferring to support the State in every way – its as though the State is the manifestation of all right action, and a little bit of magic ‘Catholic Ethos’ added to their agencies (schools, hospitals etc) makes everything bit better, a bit more beautiful in God’s eyes.

    The whole system is never properly critiqued in the eyes of Catholic teaching – look at the two quotes given by Policraticus from two recent Popes – they are a call for courageous and wise voices and action. Weak collaboration has been tried and its a scandalous failure – its up to the next generation of priests and especially their bishops to re-examine all this and act to stop the failure to transmit the Faith.

    Revolutions, wars, diseases, huge social changes, persecution, heresies have all failed to crush the Faith up until the 1960s – what was it about the calibre of bishops at and since that time that have transmitted only collaboration with the State and its errors, and unbelief in its own Doctrines to their flock? Its the bishops who Christ said should take the rap, since they are the first and final defence. When will they have the guts and the humility to own up to a collective sin (yes, even worse than paedophilia, which is just one of its manifestations) of contemptuous pride and hubris?

    • Mark P said,

      July 10, 2010 at 5:53 pm

      Well, from his first posting he could easily have been posting his gibberish as a cryptic defence of “Father’s Rights” (quite a few Catholic ultras are involved in that issue) or in opposition to social services taking kids from seriously fucked up families (again, you may recall some Catholic ultras involving themselves in a famous case recently in a truly disgraceful manner).

      But yes, you are right home schooling mania seems likely to be his/her mental defect.

      • Garibaldy said,

        July 10, 2010 at 7:54 pm

        Do people really think he’s talking about home-schooling? I can’t see it myself. I think he’s talking about what the Catholic Church sees as the duty of religious parents to bring their children up in the faith. This involves not just sending them to church controlled schools (in Ireland anyway), but also teaching them about the faith at home, through family prayers and the like. Rather than handling their entire education themselves. This what I what have thought it was.

    • shane said,

      July 10, 2010 at 8:41 pm

      “Revolutions, wars, diseases, huge social changes, persecution, heresies have all failed to crush the Faith up until the 1960s – what was it about the calibre of bishops at and since that time that have transmitted only collaboration with the State and its errors, and unbelief in its own Doctrines to their flock?”

      Because most of them are heretics.

  14. creepy monsignor said,

    July 10, 2010 at 11:31 am

    Are you able to throwe any light on matters in Scotland, Splinty? There is a coterie-in-waiting here, archmodernist to man, who hate the new liturgical reforms coming from Rome, who are manoevring themselves into power for when Conti, O’Brien et al retire, ie – very soon. One Glasgow priest says that they are on the verge of a reign of terror when they take over. For example, Conti is very upset that he has become known round the world as an opponent of the Summorum Pontificum of 2007. He sent a letter round his priests threatening them not to have anything to do with the EF, Latin etc. The letter was strange, as it seemed obsessed with irrelevant canon law trivia , and engaged hardly at all with matters liturgical. It was clear to many who knew the Archbishop’s detailed love of liturgy, that he had not written it. It has now emerged that one of his bullying, philistine creeps wrote it and forced Mario to sign. He shouldn’t have done that of course, but we are expecting things to get very, very bad up north in the future. watch us closely and keep us in your prayers.

    God bless.

  15. Dan said,

    July 10, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    Splinty — Why has your blog made a sharp turn towards discussing the most arcane aspects of Catholicism?

    • July 11, 2010 at 10:28 pm

      Because the parallels with the most arcane aspects of small-group Leninism are astounding, breathtaking, and educational to those with eyes to see.

  16. July 10, 2010 at 1:37 pm

    I think Policraticus might best be translated as “…and if you don’t give me a child till the age of 7, I’ll scweam and scweam till I make myself thwick…”in the manner of the Reverend Mother Violet Elizabeth Bott.

    But, hey, I’m just guessing: I’m neither Catholic, nor Irish. It may be a secret language.

    • De Northside Socialist said,

      July 11, 2010 at 11:18 am

      “I’m just guessing: I’m neither Catholic, nor Irish. It may be a secret language.”

      Well I was born and live in Ireland from a Catholic family background and I struggle to understand some of the contributions to this thread. I’m not sure how others from outside the Irish Catholic “tradition” follow these discussions with any understanding. Please note I don’t read the Catholic religious press, so that may explain a lot.

      I am interested in religious ideas from an historical and Marxist perspective and have followed for example, Eamonn McCann’s writings on religion since the fractious debates regarding divorce and abortion in the 1980’s. I not that some of the contributors appear to be influenced by some of the most reactionary ideas currently espoused in Ireland. I suspect they would be rather pleased about that too.

      • De Northside Socialist said,

        July 11, 2010 at 11:26 am

        “To say that the law of the state should take precedence over the law of the Church would be to elevate the law of man above the law of God. This would amount to outright repudiation of the Church – even of religion . Celibacy may be a factor in the incidence of child sex-abuse in the Church. But it is not a factor in the way abuse is handled. Nor are authoritarian structures, or twisted tradition or ignorance or flaws in the character of bishops or cardinals or popes. It’s Catholicism itself, religion itself, which the cruelty inflicted on children should cause us to question.”

        Read more:

      • shane said,

        July 11, 2010 at 4:05 pm

        Eamon McCann doesn’t understand Catholicism so his comments are unsurprising. Catholicism does NOT teach that one can disobey the legitimate civil authorities UNLESS the law is manifestly unjust or mandates you to commit sin. For example, if Catholic worship was outlawed, as it once was, and in many places still is (and can I assume that Eamon would prefer that state of affairs?), then obviously a Catholic is perfectly entitled to disobey such a law.

        A recent report in Der Speigel argues that the Left has to take a lot of blame on child abuse too. Western Europe only became concerned about child abuse sometime in the late 1980s, so there is a lot of blame to go around. Remember that even Freud, mystified by finding such a high incidence of abuse among his subjects, taught that a child was simply projecting his guilt about sexual issues onto adults. Kinsey also taught that sex between children and adults was probably harmless and that it was society’s attitude that caused the harm. Unsurprisingly many mental health professionals gave the all-clear to bishops to reassign abusive priests to different parishes (and can we really blame religion for this?). As Patricia Casey, Professor of Psychiatry at UCD, wrote in the Irish Independent: “Perusing the textbooks of psychiatry that were in use in the 1970s and 1980s, the brevity of sections dealing with paedophilia and the adverse effects of child sexual abuse is striking. This has changed significantly and is reflected in the prominence child abuse is accorded in current journals and textbooks.[…]It is clear from the Murphy report and from the information relating to the recent fiasco involving Cardinal Brady that mental health professionals, in this country and outside, were involved in the treatment of many abusers. As is clear from the Murphy report some priests were returned to ministry, sometimes with restrictions, on foot of reports from these professionals. Brendan Smyth attended Purdysburn Hospital in Belfast, St Patrick’s Hospital, Dublin, and a unit in Gloucestershire, all before 1975, followed by out-patient treatment in Dublin, all without any impact on his predatory behaviour. In Purdysburn he was treated with aversion therapy — the only intervention available at that time and with limited evidence of effectiveness.[…]Archbishop Martin said on Tuesday evening that the full facts must now be made public. This, in my opinion, includes examination of the role of mental health specialists in treating paedophiles during the years of sexual abuse by clerics that are now the subject of national scrutiny. […]Sexual abuse continues to be a huge problem although the focus is now less on clerical and more on familial and non-familial abuse. According to the SAVI report (Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland) commissioned by the Rape Crisis Centre and researched by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, one in five women and one in six men reported sexual abuse before the age of 17.

        As the Murphy Report makes clear, the 1917 Code of Canon Law, which was valid up until the 1983 Code of Canon Law was promulgated (which did not change this) “decreed deprivation of office and/or benefice, or expulsion from the clerical state for such offences.” A bishop who hears of an abuse allegation is obliged investigate it, and if verified, subject the priest to trial and expel him from the priesthood. That is to happen independently of, but parallel to, an investigation and prosecution by the civil authority.

        Canon Law fell into disuse after the Second Vatican Council, when the 1917 code was widely assumed to have fallen into abeyance, and an anti-legalistic mindset had established itself. Indeed bishops seldom knew even how to conduct a canonical trial, and diocesan tribunals rarely dealt with anything but annulments. To quote some of the Murphy Report:

        1.18 A list covering the period 153 AD to 2001 is included in an article by the Promoter of Justice in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.4 These denunciations are particularly strong on “offences against nature‟ and offences committed with or against juveniles. The 1917 code of canon law decreed deprivation of office and/or benefice, or expulsion from the clerical state for such offences. In the 20th century two separate documents on dealing with child sexual abuse were promulgated by Vatican authorities (see Chapter 4) but little observed in Dublin.

        1.25 The Church authorities failed to implement most of their own canon law rules on dealing with clerical child sexual abuse. This was in spite of the fact that a number of them were qualified canon and civil lawyers. As is shown in Chapter 4, canon law appears to have fallen into disuse and disrespect during the mid 20th century. In particular, there was little or no experience of operating the penal (that is, the criminal) provisions of that law. The collapse of respect for the canon law in Archdiocesan circles is covered in some detail in Chapter 4. For many years offenders were neither prosecuted nor made accountable within the Church. Archbishop McQuaid was well aware of the canon law requirements and even set the processes in motion but did not complete them. Archbishops Ryan and McNamara do not seem to have ever applied the canon law.

        1.26 Only two canonical trials took place over the 30-year period. Both were at the instigation of Archbishop Connell and the Commission gives him credit for initiating the two penal processes which led to the dismissal of Fr Bill Carney in 1990 . The Commission recognises that he did this in the face of strong opposition from one of the most powerful canonists in the Archdiocese, Monsignor Sheehy. Monsignor Sheehy, who had very extensive knowledge of canon and civil law and argued strongly that canon law was capable of dealing with all cases involving allegations of child sexual abuse, actually considered that the penal aspects of that law should rarely be invoked.

  17. Garibaldy said,

    July 10, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    Speaking of the Catholic education system, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the site of the bishops being more progressive than the Catholic bourgeoisie over the 11 Plus. Bishops v bourgeoisie, seconds out round 4

  18. magistra said,

    July 10, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    If you want all future vocations to come from the home-schooled, you’re setting up the Catholic church to become a church of and for the badly-educated. It’s possible to give a very good education to home-schooled children, but it’s much harder work, and it’s unlikely to happen if the main focus is on protecting children from outside influences. And what about such children going to secular universities? They’re likely to have a major culture shock when they get there.

    That isn’t to say that people without much formal education can’t be good priests, but to restrict the educational background in this way is going to create a Catholicism that has very little appeal to most of the middle classes.

    • sr sandals said,

      July 11, 2010 at 8:17 am

      Where’s your evidence for home educated people being badly educated?

      All studies have shown that even ‘unschooled’ children (children who decide what and when they learn based on the natural inherent curiosity) are years ahead of their schooled peers in literacy, numeracy and social skills. Otherwise you’re just guessing.

      Schooling, that 14 year period where you are warehoused away from the real world, like an open prison, although with some basic human rights denied, is not the same as ‘education’.

      Back to the point, it takes an education to see that the emperor has no clothes – maybe in answer to my earlier question, we are all such frightened conformists, unprepared to face the truths about our Faith and our spiritual leaders, because of the whole compulsory schooling thing. Maybe thats why the Faith has been poorly transmitted since the 1960s – we’re all still being breastfed at the unnatural, oppressive and illogical teat that is State compulsory schooling – an idea of social control originating from 19th century Prussia, which if you genuinely look at its reasons for existence and its untested outcomes, has been a disaster. For those thinking this is off-topic, think again, schooling disrupts the transmission of the Faith, in the same way that it disrupts all knowledge, in the same way that it reduces curious and happy children into extremely unhappy and disinterested (in the worst way) adolescents. It is a cruel process that fails to give children what they need to survive. At worst its actually a form of abuse in its own terms.

      Our bishops urgently need an education to see that their job is to ensure transmission of the Faith – that is their sole responsibility. Close the schools for a start, then watch the Faith grow, and watch children and adolescents blossom into intelligent, self-motivated, happy individuals who would know how to defend the Faith.

      • Garibaldy said,

        July 11, 2010 at 9:46 am

        There were schemes for universal state provided education in the C18th, and possibly before for all I know. The idea does not originate in C19th Prussia as a form of social control.

      • shane said,

        July 11, 2010 at 4:26 pm

        The faith has been poorly transmitted since the 1960s because catechesis was abolished in that decade, not because of compulsory schooling.

        The solution to that is not necessarily home schooling but the reintroduction of the Penny Catechism:

      • shane said,

        July 11, 2010 at 4:59 pm

        and not just the abolition of catechesis, but also the destruction of the liturgy plus heretical and ill-formed clergy (and the abolition of Thomistic formation in seminaries) since the Second Vatican Council

  19. shane said,

    July 10, 2010 at 8:11 pm

    Dr Alibrandi was an eccentric fellow and during his tenure played a role in deciding almost every single position in the Irish Church. He got the nickname “The Green Sicilian” because of his regular contacts with the IRA (…which infuriated the Irish government). He was quite critical of the Irish hierarchy’s stance on the IRA, believing that it was naive for them to think the IRA should cease activities while Britain continued to rule Northern Ireland. He had a cavalier attitude in appointing bishops, effectively abandoning the practice of consulting diocesan clergy, and many of his choices were deeply controversial. When Dr Kevin McNamara (the vice-president of Maynooth) was appointed to the diocese of Kerry, the diocesan Council of Priests went into mutiny and sent a letter of protest to the Pope. Some priests began to catch on to him; when Bishop O’Reilly was appointed to Ardagh and Clonmacnoise, local priests, ignoring the rule of secrecy, refused to report their choices back to Alibrandi until they made their choice collectively. Worringly, Alibrandi also wanted Bishop Chomiskey to succeed Archbishop Ryan. He was a bitter enemy of Bishop Philbin; the Irish Times was sued by the latter for libel when it reported (probably correctly) that Alibrandi had worked behind the scenes to get the Vatican to overturn Philbin’s refusal to confirm children who attended state schools.

  20. Ttony said,

    July 10, 2010 at 8:22 pm

    “they are very difficult to remove, and with a retirement age of 75, a bad bishop could be in situ for twenty years or more”

    They wouldn’t be if they had to submit an offer of resignation at, say, the two year point, and then every five years afterwards until they are seventy-five.

    But the problem is much deeper in that in happier days (say, before 1960) it wa spretty well inconceivable that a Bishop would be appointed who was unorthodox. Way of the scale politically, in either direction; sexually incontinent; a tartar; a weak man; a pocket liner; all sorts of things were possible, because the Bishops were, as all men, sinners. But they always preached orthodoxy. Dreary half-understood scholastic orthodoxy, but orthodoxy.

    Work out how that’s changed, and we’ll be on the way to understanding a lot more.

  21. Garibaldy said,

    July 11, 2010 at 7:51 pm


    It seems you aren’t the only seemingly unlikely character to be taken a greater interest in the church of Rome. King Billy must be spinning in his grave.

  22. Clare said,

    July 15, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    I was going to respond to Magistra but Sr Sandals has said it all for me.
    So I’d like to echo her question:

    “Where’s your evidence for home educated people being badly educated?”

    Honestly, it’s not as if homeschooling is a new phenomenon. The outcomes have been extensively studied and the findings published. Both here and elsewhere.
    I’m really tired of these confidently stated, but baseless, assertions.

    “If you WANT all future vocations to come from the home-schooled, you’re setting up the Catholic church to become a church of and for the badly-educated.”

    This reads as though Sr Sandals said that she would PREFER for this to happen. What she really said was that homeschooling “is actually LIKELY to be the only seed-bed for all future vocations in the Church in the West”
    And again, the baseless confidence that the outcome would obviously be poorly educated tells me that the writer has little knowledge of home ed.
    It’s my opinion, based on my own nteractions with many many home educating families, and the published studies that I’ve read, that the oppsite would be more likely true.

    “And what about such children going to secular universities? They’re likely to have a major culture shock when they get there.”
    Again, this is really no more than a poorly educated guess not borne out in reality. In any case, even if it were true that a home educated young person would experience a “culture shock” I would contend that life is full of quick gear changes. One could experience “culture shock” on a gap year in Papua New Guinea.
    Is that so terrible?

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