Pope Francis: The Church Needs Better Bishops by JAD

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Pope Francis stressed on Thursday (February 27, 2014) in his address to the Congregation for Bishops that the church needs better bishops. "Genuine pastors," the pope said. Amen.

The National Catholic Reporter stressed on Thursday (February 27, 2014) in its editorial that Pope Francis must act faster on the clerical sexual abuse issue: "When it comes to sex abuse, church officials continue to cloak themselves in secrecy, deceive the faithful, and act with impunity." Amen.

Indeed, we continue being confronted with the age-old Catholic irony: an appeal for pastoral bishops and selective Vatican barrel vision.

I am still amazed, for instance, how the Vatican can so quickly dump priests and bishops who are open to new forms of ministry and not discipline those bishops who knowingly condone and allow the sexual abuse of children.

By way of example, I have very good recollections of what the Vatican did to a wonderfully pastoral bishop, Bill Morris, from the Diocese of Toowoomba in Australia.

In November 2006, Bishop Morris issued an Advent pastoral letter addressed to priests and pastoral leaders in Toowoomba. He predicted that by 2014 the diocese would have only 19 active priests left, including the bishop. He considered possible future options: ordaining married, single or widowed men; welcoming former priests, married or single, back to active ministry; ordaining women; and even the possibility of recognizing the validity of Anglican and Lutheran orders.

Three very angry Vatican cardinals began to call for his removal. Heated discussions followed. Finally in May 2011, in a face-to-face meeting with Pope Benedict XVI, he was sacked. Morris relates what happened: "Benedict says to me, 'You are very gifted, you are very practical, you've got a role to play in the life of the Church, and it's God's will that you should resign.’” Morris was removed as Bishop of Toowoomba on the grounds of "defective pastoral leadership." (A key instigator responsible for his removal was fellow Australian George Pell, the Australian cardinal recently appointed by Pope Francis to one of the Vatican's most senior roles: Prefect for the Economy of the Holy See.)

In February 2012, Fr.Tony Flannery, a Redemptorist and founder member of the Associ­ation of Catholic Priests in Ireland, bestselling author and regular columnist with Realitymagazine, was informed that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), was unhappy with some of his writings relating to priestly ministry in the church. In April 2012, he was suspended by the Vatican and was told that he would be allowed to return to ministry only if he agreed to write, sign, and publish a statement agreeing, among other things, that women should never be ordained as priests and that he would adhere to church orthodoxy on matters like contraception and homosexuality. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith pointed out that Flannery’s views could be construed as “heresy” under church law, and threatened “canonical penalties,” including excommunication, if he did not change his views.

On March 18, 2011, Fr. Roy Bourgeois was given a letter from Fr. Edward M. Dougherty, Maryknoll's Superior General, and Edward J. McGovern, its Secretary General, warning Bourgeois that he had 15 days to recant his support for women's ordination or he would face expulsion from the society. Bourgeois responded in a letter dated April 8, 2011, stating that he could not recant without betraying his conscience.

On July 22, 2011, 157 Catholic priests signed a letter, addressed to Dougherty, in support of Bourgeois's priesthood and work, and his right to conscience.

On November 19, 2012, the Maryknoll Society's Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers issued an official statement indicating that the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had ruled, on October 4, 2012, that Bourgeois had been canonically dismissed from both the Maryknolls, and the Roman Catholic priesthood.

Pope Francis, as well, has been quick to sack "pastorally defective" priests. In September 2013 Francis excommunicated the Australian priest, Greg Reynolds. According to Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart, Reynolds’s excommunication was “because of his public teaching on the ordination of women," which are grounds for automatic excommunication.

Nevertheless, encouraged by the public persona of the new Bishop of Rome, on January 14, 2014 Roy Bourgeois wrote to Pope Francis: "My pain at having been kicked out of the priesthood has allowed me to glimpse the exclusion and discrimination that people of color, women, and gay people in our Church have experienced for centuries. I will never forget how Blacks were restricted to the back pews of my childhood church in Louisiana. While the Church has made great gains in valuing and respecting Catholics of all races, we continue – with flawed theology and dogma – to make God our unwilling partner in discriminating against women and gays."

No response yet from Pope Francis about Roy Bourgeois......nor about, pastorally defective bishops.

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, Nigeria’s president has signed a new law criminalizing homosexuality. Arrests, physical abuse, and the victimization of gay people have increased tremendously in Nigeria. Key members of the Nigerian Roman Catholic hierarchy, however, have fully supported the country’s new law. In a January 2014 letter on behalf of the Catholic hierarchy of Nigeria, Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama praised Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan for his leadership in signing the new legislation.

The anti gay witch-hunt in Uganda is also now in full-force, since Uganda President Yoweri Museveni signed a new an anti-homosexuality bill into law on February 24, 2014. Uganda's Catholic bishops have reaffirmed their opposition to homosexuality, but reserved judgment on the recently ratified bill imposing harsh punishment for homosexual acts in the East African nation.A spokesperson for the Uganda Episcopal Conference, Msgr John Baptist Kauta, said Uganda's bishops were on retreat and would not be available for comments about the new law until March. "We normally don't want to overreact," he said.

Support for women's ordination get a quick response from Rome. Why is there mo quick response -- a reprimand or disciplinary sanction -- for the African bishops whose support for anti-gay legislation has launched a reign of terror and cruelty against gay and lesbian people? Why no quick response from the man who so famously said, in July 3013 when asked about gay people: “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?”

Closer to home in the United States, there are ongoing concerns about bishops who should have been sanctioned by the Vatican for their complicity in the sexual abuse of children. So far these men are still comfortably in place on their episcopal thrones. NCR, of course and other major papers have covered their cases in great detail.

In Los Angeles, thousands of pages of documents have been made public that clearly show that retired Archbishop of Los Angeles, Cardinal Roger Mahony, and his diocesan collaborators clearly shielded abusive priests from public scrutiny and law enforcement. Where is the Vatican outrage about Mahoney's defective pastoral ministry?

Minnesota Public Radio reported earlier, in February 2014, that despite official archdiocesan reports that the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese's list of "credibly accused priests" numbered 33, the existing list is closer to 70. Minnesota Public Radio further reported: "There were handwritten lists and emailed lists and memos about lists stored on computers and in filing cabinets at the chancery in St. Paul. Some men appeared on every list, others on one or two. All of the lists obtained by MPR News contain information that police have never seen. Chancery officials later stopped writing lists for fear they could be obtained in lawsuits, former chancellor for canonical affairs Jennifer Haselberger told MPR News."

And of course.......the Oscar for delinquent diocesan bishops has to go to -- envelope please -- Bishop Robert Finn from Kansas City, Mo.

Robert Finn, Bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City - St. joseph, was convicted in 2012 of a criminal misdemeanor for failing to report suspected clerical child abuse. Nevertheless, Finn remains a bishop in good standing, while serving two years' probation in Jackson County, Mo.

Finn is also a strong defender of Catholic orthodoxy and has warned the National Catholic Reporter (editorial office in Kansas City) that it is on Catholic thin ice.

In a January 25, 2014 column in the diocesan paper, The Catholic Key, Bishop Finn wrote: “In the last months I have been deluged with emails and other correspondence from Catholics concerned about the editorial stances of the Reporter: officially condemning Church teaching on the ordination of women, insistent undermining of Church teaching on artificial contraception and sexual morality in general, lionizing dissident theologies while rejecting established Magisterial teaching, and a litany of other issues.”

Meanwhile, a group of Roman Catholics in Kansas City has taken the responsible step of petitioning Pope Francis to discipline Bishop Finn. The formal request was sent to the Vatican along with an online petition signed by more than 113,000 people worldwide asking for Bishop Robert Finn's removal.

So what does it really mean to be "pastorally defective"?

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A very short post script: Due to his very positive PR image, a few of my friends have begun to really chide me for any critical remarks about Pope Francis. All I can say is that, as I have been for most of my life, I am a believer and a Catholic convinced that critical thinking and questioning is a virtue and not a vice. It also alarms me when I read people, like New York's Cardinal Tim Dolan, asserting that people who question church authority are basically secularists with an anti-Catholic agenda.

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