5 November 2018

Due Process and Natural Justice and Facing People

It is not easy to know what to make of the precipitous removal by PF of an American bishop called Holley.

For nearly two millennia, Roman pontiffs have intervened to remove dysfunctional bishops. This was happening even before the Catholic Church had such a thing as Canon Law. And one can understand why, given the present atmosphere, it might be necessary for a Universal Primacy to act quickly in an emergency. And readers will remember the many depositions by Pope Hildebrand of simoniacal bishops. So, on balance, I think I feel that the presumption must tilt in favour of the Holy See. But ...

But the situation is profoundly unsatisfactory. In CATHOLIC ECCLESIOLOGY, the main ministerial realities are, firstly, the Petrine See, the universal source and instrument of Unity, which presides over the agape of the Universal Church. And, secondly, the local Bishop, Successor of the Apostles, is the minister who presides over the unity and orthodoxy of his local Church which is, let us never forget, the Catholic Church in that place. As Leo XIII taught, and Vatican II repeated, diocesan bishops are not mere Vicars of the Pope, like the regional managers of a supermarket chain. The deposition of bishops ought to be a matter of enormous rarity, as being a very unusual (if occasionally unavoidable) disruption of the natural order and sacramental structure of Christ's Church Militant.

We do now have Canon Law; and it is difficult to understand why such removals should not be done with a due process, rather than by means of 'phone calls to and from Nuncios. It is reported that Bishop Holley was asked to resign so that, in accordance with Canon 185, he could be granted the title emeritus. This suggests that he was not suspected of an ecclesiastical offence.

And our world is one in which NATURAL JUSTICE is deemed proper. I must declare an interest here. I became even more convinced of this when I was told, the day before being received into Full Communion, that two English Catholic bishops had refused to give me a positive votum and that my scheduled admission to the presbyterate of the Ordinariate had therefore been put on hold. Verbally, it was made clear to me that this related to my preference for the Vetus Ordo; but I was never given any formal explanations in writing or a meeting with those concerned so that they could tell me face to face what the problem was and hear my own account of myself.

It was a very unpleasant business and I do not wish to relive it. My point is that the Christ's Church should be a transparent place in which affairs are transacted in visibly just ways.

It should never be possible for somebody to feel, or other people to suspect, that personal prejudice, individual liturgical preferences, or the operation of old-boy networks, were operating to the disadvantage of any laic or cleric or bishop.

Otherwise, we have that 'Arbitrary Power' which we Anglo-Saxons have for centuries claimed to mistrust.

Finally: the habitual REFUSAL BY PF TO MEET PERSONALLY AND PHYSICALLY bishops whom he is deposing is arguably unChristian as well as unmanly; not to say, plain cowardly. He may be a dab hand at ladling repetitive abuse down public microphones, but he is very shy about seeing people ... even four of his Cardinals when they asked for an audience! This is not one of the least of the scandals of this pontificate. For me personally, it was his treatment of the late Bishop Livieres at the beginning of this pontificate which first made me seriously uneasy about what sort of person had obtained possession of the Roman See.

Readers will remember the adamant refusal in audientia by Archbishop Errington to resign when Pius IX asked for his resignation, couching this as a request for a personal favour. A century and a half later, we are, apparently, suffering a more tyrannical and arbitrary regime than ever has been attributed to Pio Nono.


Fr Ray Blake said...

Thank God that we in England and Wales now have Data Protection Act 2018, so at least we can demand and get access to records or correspondence about us, secrecy in theory has ended. Those who want the Church to be more transparent should feel under an obligation to use it in the interest of justice for all.
We need to 'change a cultural paradigm'.
The problem is so much in the Church is based on nods and winks and poisonous remarks in dark corners.

GOR said...

The contradictions in this pontificate are legion. It is difficult to understand how Pope Francis can be unaware of the stark contrast between what he says and what he does. How can someone be so blind to the contradictions of speech and act?

Of course, surrounding oneself with a cadre of yes-men does not help in producing clarity, consistency, or even self-knowledge. Has no one the courage to point out the discrepancies? Or is he deaf to correction and will not brook disagreement?

Meanwhile the faithful suffer and lack direction - “sheep without a shepherd”.

Calvin Engime said...

Though it's not always the easiest
To think of Benedict's years we missed
We'll be patient and pray
Till the day that we'll say


ezadro said...

This is exactly right.

As a lawyer, what's really striking about the present crisis, both with the way the Vatican runs the show right now but also the wider sex abuse problem, is how we ostensibly have a comprehensive canonical code but in actual fact it seems like the canon law courts barely function at all.

Power is exercised informally, and reasons are never given, and this approach is seen to be more "merciful" or "fraternal" or whatever. When as we see as a matter of fact this attitude gives cover to a situation where power is abuse, vocations are destroyed. The faithful are routinely taken advantage of but have no recourse to their legal rights.

In English law, a cornerstone of natural justice are the prerogative writs and the process of judicial review, whereby practically any exercise of power under law is subject to judicial consideration, with the necessity of public reasons. One considers that if the canonical courts had similar processes, much of the corruption we now see in the Church would be tempered.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

"My point is that the Christ's Church should be a transparent place in which affairs are transacted in visibly just ways."

Hear, hear!

Tony V said...

There's definitely something wrong when popes appoint and sack bishops (except in China, of course). How did we get to this point?

I wonder what would happen if a bishop like Holley refused to go? I'd hate to see this go to the secular courts (and the US courts have been reluctant to get too involved in church polity, as the break-away Episcopal parishes and dioceses have discovered), but who actually 'owns' the diocese property?

Utrecht comes to mind. Must have a look at JM Neale...

Peter said...

If a bishop is removed for poor conduct it would be useful for other bishops to understand so that they can avoid the same errors. It seems that this is not what the Pope thinks.

Donna Bethell said...

This is obviously an instance of "pour encourager les autres." Every bishop has been sent a message. If the thunderclap is not still ringing in his ears, he is past impenetrable.

I do not know what has been going on in Memphis. I do know that a man has a natural right to know the charges against him, to face his accusers, to present a case in his defense. As a civil lawyer, I know that these rights are protected in U.S. civil law. If they are not protected and enforced in Canon law, then we are living under a monstrous dictatorship. Unfortunately, this is only the latest example giving proof that that is exactly our situation.

Donna Bethell said...

More examples of the absence of due process and natural justice in the Church under this pontificate: the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, the formerly Sovereign Military Order of Malta, the former members of the Pontifical Academy of Life, the former John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family, Cardinal Burke, Cardinal Müller, Cardinal Sarah, Fr. Allessandro Minutella (under a double excommunication, whatever that is), the three priests at the CDF who were diligently working on disciplining abusive priests, the former members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, Prof. Josef Seifert, Fr. Thomas Weinandy, and other theologians who have been fired for speaking the truth, and every bishop and priest now cowering in silence. My sensus fidei fidelium is clanging.

Albrecht von Brandenburg said...

Er, Madam Attorney,

Did it ever strike you, as a member of the legal profession, that there is something quite "off" about commanding by law, the possession of that that can only be had by a grace of God, i.e., the charism of celibacy?? I recommend "Celibacy: Gift or Law?" by Dr Heinz-Jurgen Vogels, a treasure-chest of canonical jurisprudence. It exposes a long-standing injustice that is an element of the church's present woes.

A former colonial solicitor (in equity) and attorney at law although never a barrister.

PM said...

Benedict XVI, by contrast, did have a long meeting with Bishop Morris of Toowoomba, Australia, before his deposition. According to his note on the meeting which came out on Vatileaks, Benedict concluded that he was a dedicated and well intentioned pastor (so much for the ogre Panzerkardinal stereotype), but that, sadly, Morris's theological formation was inadequate for the office of Bishop and that a better use should be found for his talents. The contrast is telling.

Mind you, the prospect of being sacked for theological incompetence must have sent shivers down episcopal spines around the globe.

Donna Bethell said...

@A von B, I take your point, but I don't know what I said to provoke it.

Donna Bethell said...

@A von B, I take your point, but I don't know what I said to provoke it.