"You have to understand the relationship between a bishop and a priest. At your ordination, you take a vow to be obedient to him. He's more than your boss. He has immense power over you. He can move you, freeze you out, bring you into the fold ... He controls every aspect of your life."
So the Times obituary of Cardinal O'Brian quotes an anonymous priest as saying.
I don't quite understand this, since Canon Law seems to me adequately to provide for excardination. But, of course, systems don't always work the way they are described on paper. So perhaps, in the context of sexual scandals such as that of Cardinal O'Brian, the question does need to be asked: Does the Incardination system give bishops excessive power? The Church of England does very well without anything remotely like it. And, indeed, the infantilising culture of Incardination is wholly inimical to every instinct of our Anglican Patrimony. The great Catholic Revival in the Church of England could never have happened without the freedom of the 'inferior clergy' from overbearing (and often heterodox) episcopal authority; a freedom happily buttressed by "Parsons' freehold". The only real sanction a bishop had was a rather petulant threat to put your parish "under a ban", which simply meant that you had to get "colonial prelates from far-off mission stations" to do your Confirmations.
Every other structure in the modern Latin Church is scrutinised and comes under suspicion of being the root of today's problems ... Celibacy, for example, is repeatedly under fire ... but the dangers apparently inherent in Incardination seem rarely to be flagged up.
The implication in the obituary is that Incardination enabled O'Brian, a sexual predator, to get away with abusing his clergy. Furthermore, we have previously heard it said that the bishops used to be unwilling to 'shop' their own sexually dodgy clergy to the plods because of this close relationship ... it would feel like sending a 'son' to prison. Looking at Incardination from each of these two opposing angles, I, as an outsider to this particular piece of Catholic clerical culture (I am retired, my wife and I live in our own house, off our own pensions), do find myself, well, puzzled.
Sometimes, it seems to be suggested that every malady in the life of the Latin Church would be healed by shovelling more power into the laps of those who have been grabbing more and more of it since the 1960s and who, arguably, already have far too much of it. I do rather worry that, after the death of the Pope emeritus, presbyters might start to find that increasing episcopal interventions become a massive problem in the field of Liturgy, depending on the personal whimsies of their bishop or the ability of a strong personality to sway an episcopal conference. Cardinal Nichols' document apparently in reaction to the plea by Cardinal Sarah for worship ad Orientem struck me as potentially very worrying, not least because I heard a rumour that it had circulated outside his own diocese and, indeed, yet more remarkably, even outside his own metropolitan province!!! We need Cardinal Mueller's wise reminders that the Chairpersons of Episcopal Conferences are "not vice-popes". "Nothing more than technical moderators" and "Coordinators, nothing more", as his Eminence has said a number of times.
Subsidiarity seems nowadays to be a much-honoured principle which falters or fails or runs away and hides in a mouse-hole before it gets down quite as low as the level of the presbyter or the parish.
Nothing in this piece should be glossed as anything but a question!