Mark Shea — whom I like, just so you know — and I once again go around on an old argument about what the Pope should do about bishops who aided and abetted sexual abuse and its concealment. Mark’s latest takes me to task for saying that Pope Francis ought to sack some of the worst offenders, if only to show that the Church is not going to carry out business as usual. It’s depressing the regularity with which Mark finds reasons why the Pope shouldn’t do what he plainly can do. A decade or so ago, he insisted, against common sense and plain evidence, that John Paul II’s inaction was part of a secret Wojtylan plan to end the war solve the abuse crisis. In fact, as we now know, John Paul preferred not to see what was in front of him — most egregiously, in the case of Father Maciel, against whom Cardinal Ratzinger began to move during John Paul’s final incapacity.

Now Mark is using my having left Catholicism for Orthodoxy as a reason to defend future papal inaction against bad bishops:

But here’s the thing: when Rod covers Rome, it is abundantly clear that his theology of the Church is way out in left field for somebody who is supposed to be Orthodox. Case in point, this latest in a long line of papal power play fantasies in which Francis (as both JPII and Benedict were fantasized to do) kick ass and take names and start exercising that raw papal dictatorial power to just boot out large portions of the Church.

This utterly ultramontane vision of the papacy is about as far as you can get from what the Orthodox believe or want the bishop of Rome to be. But if anything is a fixture of Rod’s writing about the Pope, it is his dream of a Pope turning, not just to the Curia, but to a large percentage of the world’s bishops and saying “You! Out!” with the “stroke of a pen.” Nothing on earth could be a less Orthodox conception of, or hope for, the bishop of Rome. So I don’t get why Rod, in becoming Orthodox, has retained an ultramontane view of the papacy.

Several things here. First, Roman Catholic ecclesiology is not Orthodox ecclesiology. Roman Catholic ecclesiology holds that the pontiff has “supreme, full, immediate, and universal” power. It would be extremely unwise for any pope to use that power as a dictator, but the point is, this authority rests in the papacy. If the pope has this power, then he is to be held responsible for failing to use it, if circumstances warrant. The pope has far more power within his Church than any Orthodox bishop or patriarch has, precisely because of Catholic ecclesiology. It may be imprudent for the pope to sack this or that bishop over abuse, but come on, let’s not pretend he is bound by Orthodox ecclesiology; the pope is Catholic, and that means something.

Besides, recent popes have used this power to remove problematic bishops. Last year, La Repubblica wrote an article about it. Excerpt:

Today, without counting the other Christian denominations, the Catholic bishops who are the heirs of the apostles number about 5200, and so by applying to them this “evangelical” proportion, there should be more than 400 emulators of Judas Iscariot in the Church of Rome. A figure that may be too optimistic in the eyes of the Lefebvrists, or from the opposite perspective, of the progressive ecclesial galaxy, but certainly much higher than the number of prelates who in various ways have been punished in recent years by the only person who has this power, the pope.

There are no complete statistics in this regard, in part because beyond the most spectacular cases, it normally happens that a bishop who is asked to leave the leadership of a diocese for doctrinal or moral reasons, or because of ecclesiastical or administrative mismanagement, is convinced to hand in his resignation to the pope before reaching the retirement age of 75, on the basis of paragraph 2 of canon 401 of the code of canon law, which states: “A diocesan bishop who has become less able to fulfill his office because of ill health or some other grave cause is earnestly requested to present his resignation from office.” And the pope accepts his resignation very quickly.

Normally, this paragraph 2 of canon 401 concerns churchmen afflicted by physical or psychological “ill health,” but there is no lack of cases of “other grave cause.”


In fact, in the case in which a bishop, in spite of being urged to do so, does not accept to present his resignation, it is the pope himself who “relieves” him of his duties. Which happens rather rarely. But it happens.

Last May 19, for example, the Italian bishop of Trapani, Francesco Micciché, 69, was “relieved” over administrative problems.

While on May 2, 2011, for doctrinal reasons, the Australian bishop of Toowoomba, William M. Morris, was “relieved.”

In 1995, however, the French bishop of Evreux, Jacques Gaillot, 60, also for doctrinal reasons, was not “relieved” but was transferred to the titular see of Partenia.

Morris and Gaillot were removed because they were extremely progressive. But there is no lack of examples on the other front.

In 2003, for example, the resignation of the Thai bishop of Ratchaburi, John Bosco Manat Chuabsamai, 67, was accepted after he had gotten too close, perhaps, to the world of the Lefebvrists.

While in March of 2009, the pope “exempted” Monsignor Gerhard Wagner from accepting the position of auxiliary bishop of Linz, to which he had been appointed at the end of January. In Austria, Wagner had been subjected to a formidable line of fire on the part of the progressives, because of his traditionalist positions.

It is simply untenable to argue that the pope doesn’t really have the power to do what he plainly does, under Catholic canon law, and what recent popes have, in fact, done. The question is, why is it fine for Rome to remove Bishop Gaillot and the Thai bishop for doctrinal reasons — decisions that, as far as I know, were perfectly justified — but not remove even the worst bishops for their role in the sex abuse crisis? It doesn’t pass the smell test.

I do wish Mark would knock off the ad hominem attacks on me for being Orthodox, e.g.:

However, such scandals are just as present in Orthodoxy. Yet Rod spends most of his scandal coverage time on Catholic scandals, not those in his own communion. Okay. Fair enough. The Catholic Church is bigger news and most Americans have never heard of the Orthodox (sorry, but that’s just a fact…)

I don’t know that they are “just as present in Orthodoxy,” though they certainly may be. I would love it — sincerely, I would; it would be a blessing — if the media would spend time and effort on uncovering them. I’ve written here in the past on these problems within the Orthodox Church in America, and have complained loudly that the OCA Synod, including the former Metropolitan, Jonah — does not take the sexual misconduct of its clergy seriously enough. The reason I don’t write about this stuff more is, in part, that I haven’t seen anything new. I haven’t done any digging in the Catholic scandal since I left the Catholic Church, but reverberations from the Catholic scandal are in the news all the time. This is a news blog; I comment on what I see in the news, especially on religion news, because that’s what’s most important to me. Besides, there’s no “sorry, but that’s just a fact” aspect to the powerlessness of Orthodoxy in the West. Of course Orthodoxy is tiny and barely known in America. Does Mark think this is news to me? Come on.

As I’ve said here before, and I’ll say again: I am a Christian living in the West, and the future of my religion within my civilization depends more than anything else on the state of the Roman Catholic Church. I don’t believe any serious Christian — Orthodox, Protestant, or Catholic — can afford to be indifferent to the fate of the Roman church. It’s why I prayed for the cardinals as they chose the new pope, and why my family and I prayed for the success of Pope Francis on the day he was chosen.

Mark’s insinuation that I write about the Catholic Church’s struggle with sex abuse because I’m a pissed-off schismatic is not only untrue, it’s cheap and unworthy of him. I devoutly wish he would stick to the topic, not what’s in his craw. The fact is, the pope is Catholic, not Orthodox, and governs the Catholic Church under Catholic rules. Those rules give him the power to sack bad bishops, a power that recent popes have used. Those rules empower him to remove bishops for “grave reasons.” The question is why routinely assigning molester priests into parish life, recycling them through the system, helping these priests escape justice, lying to Catholic families and trying to destroy them in court, and so forth — why all of that is not a “grave reason” to remove even one bishop. Even one.