22 March 2018


"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!


Trisagion said...

If the understanding of incardination underlying the anonymous priest's comment were accurate then it might be reasonable to assume that the very notion of incardination might be problematic. However, it is not so. The problem - to which the Nichollsian example bears witness - is antinominianism. In a Church which has lived as if its canons do not bind either the weak or the strong, everything comes down to the personal exercise of power. Legal systems develop for many reasons but one significant driver is the ensure that the relationship between the weak and the strong is regulated by more than that inequality of power, so as to avoid egregious abuses of power and the various consequences that flow from that. O'Brien was able to prey as he did because nobody operated as if Canon Law mattered: it had nothing to do with incardination per se but it had everything to do with the abuse of power in a canonical vacuum.

mark wauck said...

The term "infantilizing culture" I think hits the nail on the head, strikes a psychologically true chord. It's a whole culture, and what does it tell us about at least some of the men who seek to become part of such a culture? Yes, I know we have--or used to have--this notion of "vocation" having to do with the Spirit whispering in one's ear, just as He is said to speak to the Head Boy in Rome these days. But where did all this come from? Perhaps from some sort of typology of the priest being in person Christi, and the higher the rank the more deference required? Think of it: all the kissing of rings and so forth, the excessive titles. Excellency? Really? Holiness? Is this what Jesus had in mind? Or is it part of an "infantilizing culture" that is attributable to "the traditions of men," and has not much if anything to do with the commands of God?

Et Expecto said...

The good news is that Cardinal Nichols reaches the age of 75 in November 2020. Let us hope that not too much damage is done in the next two and a half years.

Fr Ray Blake said...

An old priest commenting on the pre-1918 caononical situation said that a bishop was placed between the anvil of parish priests and the hammer of Rome, which seems a happy balance between the Universal and Local Church.

That culture lead to Bishop Amigo of Southwark who was determined to excommunicate Modernist clergy after the promulgation of Pascendi but was told he could do what he liked with curates but not with parish priests who were protected by law (essentially their obligation to offer Mass for their people). Deciding that would be unjust he decided not to excommunicate any of his parochial clergy.

Tyrell, being an expelled religious living in his diocese, became more or less the main object of his judgement. He excommunicated him in 1908.

Anonymous said...

This post just blew my mind. I have never thought about how incardination contributes to the Latin Church's woes.

At least on this side of the pond, setting aside the libs and mods, your average traditional or conservative Latin wholeheartedly supports clerical top-heaviness, they just think that the problems come about from having the wrong people pulling on the centralized levers. But questioning the levers themselves is verboten - well, yes, every pope should be something like PEBXVI, and every bishop should be measure up to St. John Chrysostom - but good luck with that.

At least in the States I think this flows downhill from a centralized self-identity as Romans. That, for example, local Latins are Catholic by their membership in the Latin Church of Albany in the Province of New York is not even a consideration for them. They're "Roman," and that's that. And on the ground level, as one Eastern monk once described it to me, most Latin parishes are "the local branch of Roman Catholic, Inc." And they like it that way.

(Why they do is a whole other topic.)

With this self-identity, the local bishop is nothing more than the pope's provincial governor, and the pastor is the pope's man-on-the-ground. So it's almost chicken-and-egg - do the incardination rules stifle because the centralized zeitgeist allows for nothing else, or is the culture simply enshrined in the rules?

By no means do I think that this is the only problem. Certainly having a wife around (whom I've heard priests call, "my other bishop") makes it tougher for a bishop to punish a priest's whole family, and there is also the western aristocratic view of clergy, and so on. I wanted to put more panache on that last sentence, but I just ran out of steam. :-)

I would posit that the whole top-down culture needs some exogenous fresh air. Maybe Africa will provide that - from what I've heard, their Latins are developing a unique and more personalist canonical hermeneutic - in some ways good and some ways not - but I'm no expert. In any case, until "small is beautiful" again, reform will be a difficult affair.

Unknown said...

There was a time...before the Revolution on the Continent in any case, where the clergy enjoyed a considerable amount of freedom. What with parish priests having quite free reign and control, and Reverend Canons galore bumbling about and writing erudite histories on obscure subjects. Not that they went unguided or unregulated, but every one knew the extent of their freedoms and the limits of their powers. Old Bonaparte's regulations curtailed many freedoms and reduced the higher and lower clergy to the status of functionaries...where the bishops' powers increased incrementally, as chief administrator. When the diocesan finances were centralised in the hands of the bishops it was a lot easier to convince the clergy to play the bishop's tune.

mark wauck said...

Reflecting on this "culture of infantilism" a bit further, it occurs to me that if we transform it into a "hermeneutic of infantilism" we have the potential for great explanatory power (plus, using Greek words gives me a sorta Teutonic thrill). For example, if, utilizing our new hermeutic we locate canonization and hyperueberultramontanism within the overal "culture" of infantilism," we can see how they work in multiple directions. For example, while serving on the one hand to keep the laity and lower ranks of the clergy in line, they can also--for those with eyes to see and to understand--serve as an avenue for advancement. We see its effects, of course, in the paralysis suffered by erstwhile heroes of orthodoxy and Familiaris Consortio in the face of the Bergoglian onslaught, led by the likes of "Tucho" Fernandez and James Martin.

Belfry Bat said...

A question, relating to your questions: how might [non]incardination harmonize with, as you have so eloquently cited and quoted and of your own words explained, the conception of a Particular Church as integrating The Bishop of a Place (usually) together with his Curia together with the Faithful ordinarily dwelling there?

Billy Bloggs said...

Monty Python's Flying Circus

Nicolas Bellord said...

The only obituary I have read of Cardinal O'Brien is in The Telegraph and is very harsh. Father you refer to him as a 'sexual predator abusing his clergy'.

In fact we know very little of what he actually did other than his own admission that his behaviour fell below expected standards in sexual matters and that this was in the 1980s; that is about 30 years ago.

Was this more than something happening when there was a bit too much drink around? Maybe he realised the errors of his ways and got absolution for his sins in the late 1980s and sinned no more in that respect?

Latterly, obviously to the distaste of the Telegraph's obituarist, he came out very strongly against abortion and Trident (two causes which are perfectly acceptable in my view). In November 2012 when he criticised gay marriage Stonewall made him 'Bigot of the Year'.

At that point he was denounced presumably by some of his priests. Perhaps they remembered the 1980s and could not stomach what they saw as hypocrisy. Or were there gay priests who did not like his stand on gay marriage? Anyway did his accusers stop to think that may be he was a reformed man and to bring up his past would do no good and be simply detraction?

I may be entirely wrong but I have always thought there was something fishy in this story.
Personally I think he was a brave man in standing up for his beliefs. Not many Bishops have done that. He admitted his faults and took his punishment with grace.

William Tighe said...

How far back does "incardination" go? In other words, is it a post-Reformation "development" within the Catholic Church which the Church of England, due to "1559 and All That," escaped, or was it an aspect, or feature, of the pre-Reformation Church which was later attenuated in the Church of England? I ask, because I read, years ago, that in the Church of Sweden after the Reformation its clergy were basically confined to the dioceses in which they were ordained (and the translation of Swedish bishops from one see to another difficult and rare), and could only be "excardinated" by a special permission from the Swedish Crown, at least before midway through the last century..

1569 Rising said...

Some of your more erudite bloggers will be able to answer the following question, and it is all to do with the position of parish clergy vis a vis their bishop.

Pre-Reformation England always gave the title "Sir" to priests. Was this for parish priests/rectors only or for all clergy?

(See Eamon Duffy's "Voices of Morebath")

Jonathan said...

Does the Church of England do very well without it? I think the CofE has failed. Inability to control faithless priests has been a factor in the collapse. They have been free to spread false ideas and the chaos has undermined the witness of the faithful.
I suspect that incarnation is the only thing holding back gay marriages blessed in Catholic churches, concelebrations with women priests, readings from the Koran and every silliness you can imagine.