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Pope: Bishops who mishandled abuse will be held accountable

Today Pope Francis met at the Vatican with six survivors of clerical sexual abuse and expressed his grief at what had been done to them. In his homily at Mass, which he celebrated in his residence, he went beyond deploring the actions of the abusers, as he has done in the past, and pledged to also hold accountable those who mishandled accusations of abuse.

Luke Coppen's report in the Catholic Herald includes the text of Francis's homily, in which he said:

I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of Church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse made by family members, as well as by abuse victims themselves. This led to even greater suffering on the part of those who were abused and it endangered other minors who were at risk.

On the other hand, the courage that you and others have shown by speaking up, by telling the truth, was a service of love, since for us it shed light on a terrible darkness in the life of the Church. There is no place in the Church’s ministry for those who commit these abuses, and I commit myself not to tolerate harm done to a minor by any individual, whether a cleric or not. All bishops must carry out their pastoral ministry with the utmost care in order to help foster the protection of minors, and they will be held accountable.

The homily is worth reading in full; it's not that long, but in it Francis touches on a lot of the dimensions of the sex-abuse scandal and its fallout that have so far been underacknowledged. His improved messaging is probably thanks to the influence of his Commission for the Protection of Minors -- which he refers to in the homily.

I am counting on the members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.... I ask this support so as to help me ensure that we develop better policies and procedures in the universal Church for the protection of minors and for the training of church personnel in implementing those policies and procedures. We need to do everything in our power to ensure that these sins have no place in the Church.

Gone is the defensiveness and complaining about the church being unfairly targeted. Here he speaks with a sense of how the scandal has damaged the church's credibility. He also touches on the theme of mercy that Cardinal O'Malley said was key to Francis's approach to this matter:

[P]lease pray for me, so that the eyes of my heart will always clearly see the path of merciful love, and that God will grant me the courage to persevere on this path for the good of all children and young people.

Will do.

About the Author

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.



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That sounds better, but what matters is how the words are translated into action.

Francis mentions "omissions".  One big "omission" to date in the USA is the continued presence of Robert W. Finn in the Kansas City - St Joseph diocese.  Francis can rectify this matter by removing Finn from office.  This action is long overdue.

I'm from Missourah:  show me.

I thought you were from Wisconsin. Maybe that can be the "Show Me, too!" state?

I agree that we haven't arrived yet.  But the words are still welcome.  It sounds like a commitment.  Don't think we've quite heard that before.  It's a step in the right direction.

I was impressed that he spent a private half-hour with each of the six victims.

I remember the first day of Francis' papacy - he went to visit the basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore and some newspaprers mistakenly reported that he had gone there to dismiss Bernard Law for his covering up of sex abuse ...

I was thrilled.  But then it turned out that he had actually had a friendly conversation with him instead ...

I won't be able to take what he says about bishops being accountable seriously as long as guys like Law and Mahony and Finn go unpunished.

I see that one of the abuse victims the pope met with asked him to have Cardinal Brady removed.  She really  made the point that bishops who have covered up in the past should be punished.  The pope's response ... Pope Francis responded that “it was difficult to make these changes"     :(

Natally, I'm from Wisconsin.  Politically and religiously, ah'm frum Missourah!

Yes, it can be difficult to make changes, particularly if you don't try.

Francis, like all senior RCC clerics, is way too much are product of the system.  So was John XXIII, but he had the strength of vision to start the changes, drastic though they were.

Francis:  the ball is in your court.  No more excuses, OK?

"All bishops must carry out their pastoral ministry with the utmost care in order to help foster the protection of minors, and they will be held accountable."

So far so good. But now what?

I am tempted to withhold skepticism once again, but what if I am disappointed again? What if those are just words with no commitment? Isn't it better to continue distrusting anything coming from church authorities regarding sex abuse, rather than take a gamble and risk being proved wrong again? Why should I trust pope Francis on this? I like him very much, and it seems awfully risky to hope that he will follow through - the risk being that he would let us down as well and that I'd lose my affection for him.

Rationally, it also makes no sense to trust this statement, given prior history.  We know bishops are not and have never been held accountable for mishandling sex abuse. What does make sense is to not pay much attention to this statement until we begin to see who is being held accountable where, when and how. For now, let's not let our hopes up. 

I've made my peace with the idea that clerical sex abuse is handled by secular justice and prevented by individual vigilance, keeping bishops out of the loop because of their ineffectiveness and unaccountability.

It makes me a bit sad to think that pope Francis can say that they "will be held accountable" and believe he has accomplished something by those words when, almost in the same breath, he also says that it is "difficult" to hold Cardinal Brady accountable.

I'm disappointed that some on this blog are now so self righteous. Francis has come further than any pope has on this matter.  This is a major step.  We should give him time because he has delivered so far. The pressure must be kept on. Yet credit should be given when it is due. 

I very much want to believe that Pope Francis will hold bishops , past and present , accountable.  My hunch is he may do that for current bishop offenders, but not for past ones.  The comments section on the NYT this afternoon about Francis' meeting with survivors, his apology and his promises was quite depressing.  Overall, few are buying the promises. 

Bishop Accountability praised it as an important step. They did ask that he meet with survivors from his former diocese which he had not done. Choosing the advisors was a herculean step in the right direction. Looks like this whole thing will be driven by that group. 

I don't know what is meant by the idea that Francis has done so much on the issue of clergy sex abuse.  He's met with survivors, but so did Benedict.  He has appointed a commission, but I don't know of any concrete actions they have taken.  The one bishop who has been disciplined for actual abuse, Wesolowski, was wanted by civil authorities in Poland and the Vatican refused to extradite him to their criminal investigation, and it's possible the only reason he was even investigated by the Vatican at all was because two UN committies urged it be done.

I was struck by the same thing Mollie was, "Gone is the defensiveness and complaining about the church being unfairly targeted." It's awfully easy for a pope to surround himself with like-minded people, and if it's really true that he's allowed his thinking to evolve then it's a very hopeful sign, on this and on other issues.

I wonder if Francis' problem with taking action is a combinationn of theology and canon law.  The Wesolowski case shows he can dismiss a bishop, but he did so only after an extended investigation, and surely the bishop had some right under canon law to defend himself.  

I also wonder about the theology of depriving a bishop of his diocese.  What's the history of such actions in the Church?  I would be very surprised if canon law doesn't protect bishops mightiliy.  On the one hand Francis is pushing collegiality -- the right of bishops to participate in the governing of the Church.  On the other he is being asked to move unilaterally.

As I see it, the overwhelming necessity at this point is to remove those bishops who have notoriously enabled abusers -- Finn, Brady, et al.  It shouldn't be necessary to prove they're guilty in Court before they're arrested, so to speak. (Wesolowski was not arrested before his trial -- he was allowed to walk around Vatican City and Rome.  Give the most clearly guilty ones their trial after their arrest as happens in civil law.  Remove them, then try them.

Are there any cannon lawyers on the list who could tell us what that lawrequires and disallows?  I bet it needs some changing.





Mark Preece --

Yes, the defensiveness seems gone.  I think that as much as we love Francis, we have to remember he's operating out of a hugely conservative culure.  His early actions in Argentina show that.  He never met with victims in Argentina.  I think this statement, which is undoubtedly late, shows that he's listening to the victims, and his empathy is powerful.  Let's pray that he trusts it.

Concerning removal of bishops, see

A hypothetical for Crystal, Ann and anyone else who takes it to be a good idea to remove accused bishops and then try them. Suppose the El Salvadoran military had decided to attack Archbishop Oscar Romero by having someone alledge either that he himself had  perpetrated some sexual abuse or that he had covered up some sexual abuse by some priest. Would you support his removal by Rome or some ecclesiastical commission on the basis of such an accusation? Whatever Pope Francis decides to do about this difficult mess, he cannot responsibly presume that all allegations that any government treats as credible are to enjoy the presumption that they are well founded.

I don't know what the pope should do. But I hope that he doesn't listen to simplistic solutions. If your solutions are not simplistic, please say why.

How long do you think it would take for any bishop to be removed from office who publicly called for a review in the church's position on artificial birth control? or stole money?

The bling bishop in Germany was gone in fairly short order but numerous bishops who enabled sexual abuse are still in office, retired in style, or in the case of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, globe trotting on behalf of the pontiff; this despite the existence of these multiple settlement documents with more descriptions than this one:

·         McCarrick, wearing just underwear, got into bed with one of the priests: “Bishop McCarrick was sitting on the crotch of Fr. RC As I was watching TV with Fr BL [full names appear in the documents], bishop McCarrick was smiling and laughing and moving his hands all over Fr. RC’s body. Bishop McCarrick was touching Fr. C’s body, rubbing his hands from head to toe and having a good time, occasionally placing his hands underneath Fr. C’s underwear. [I was] feeling very uncomfortable while trying to focus on television, and Fr. B.L., started smiling. As I looked at the bed next to me, Bishop McCarrick was excitedly caressing the full body of Fr. R.C. At that moment, I made eye contact [with] Bishop McCarrick. He smiled at me saying, “Don’t worry, you’re next.” At that moment, I felt the hand of Fr. B.L. rubbing my back and shoulders. I felt sick to my stomach and went under the covers and pretended to sleep." 

Difficult? For whom? The pope is an absolute monarch, whose rulings are beyond appeal. Action is not difficult if one has the will to clean house. There is no lack of evidence on  


Theoretically, the pope is like Congress, the President and and Supreme Court, all in one.  He has authority over canon law.  He could enact a one-time exception to canon law in order to expedite a bishop's removal, if he wishes to.

I suspect that he wants to give the processes he's put in motion a chance to work.  Probably he thinks it's better in the long run if whatever reforms come about are recommended by his commission.  He needs to bring the church along with him as he institutes reform (and not only in the area of sexual abuse).  If he pursues a reform agenda at the expense of alienating the electors, they'll elect a restorationist in the next conclave.  I suspect that is one of the risks he's looking at.

The link above to Wikipedia for Bill Morris was broken. This should be better:

But apparently not ... sorry.


The bishops I'm thinking of ... Brady, Mahony, Finn, Law .... are *known* to have covered up abuse.  They have either admitted it or it has come out in depositions, etc.  (I can find some links if you want) so this isn't about removing someone on the basis pf what might be questionable allegations.

Crystal, The important thing is to have a fair regime of "due process." So much will depend on the condition of the criminal justice system in the territory of the accused. I have no problem with removing bishops who have admitted covering up abuse. They should either rresign or be forced out. In the U. S. allegations are subject to proof in civil criminal law. Obviously, allegations of sexual abuse of children ought to be handled by the civil authorities. In not a few other nations, there is reason to suspect that their criminal justice systems are anything bujt fair. The pope has to deal with that fact. In my view, he should set up procedures that, as best they can, provide anyone accused with a fair chance to establish his innocence. Until someone is found guilty, he or she deserves the benefit of the doubt.

What I've found problematic about some of your comments on this issue is your apparent willingness to have allegations against clerics immediately publicized, propr to any process to determine the validity of the allegation. There are cases in which priests have suffered unwarranted disgrace.

I realize that the press does report allegations of criminal activity of all sorts. That's unavoidable. But why should bisops, or anyone, not do what they can to protect an accused person until the accusation is proved to be justified? Wouldn't you or I trust that we would be accorded a fair hearing by our family members and friends if we find ourselves accused of some serious wrongdoing?

If folks copy the URL (including the non-hyperlinked text in parentheses) that Ann Schwartz and Greg Stephens provided, and paste it into a browser, the link works.

The case of Bishop Morris illustrates that the Holy See can oust a bishop.  But it may be that Morris's case isn't exactly parallel to the cases in question, as Morris seems to have been the subject of a doctrinal investigation.  The bishops of whom Francis has now spoken have a different type of issue: presumably they would be charged with the sort of malfeasance that we might think of as criminal activity or criminal negligence.  Morris's case seemed to follow a particular process in Rome (which we might agree could have been more transparent, but that's a separate issue).  If Francis follows through with the commitment he's now made, a different process might be brought to bear.  

I don't know what that process would involve.  I don't know if such a process already exists, or if the Holy See would need to create one.  One thing we've learned from observing the American bishops grapple with a process for clergy accused of sexual abuse is that the process they've implemented has some significant issues - it needs to be improved/fixed.  Hopefully, the Pope's commission will take this into account as it figures out a process for holding bishops accountable.

@ Bernard Dauenhauer:  You're still missing the point.  This is not about the hierarchs, guilty or not, ajudicated or not.  It is not about how feudal oligarchy comes to grip with its endemic corruption.  

The problematic elephant in the room hidding under the carpet is still the safety of children, and restoration and justice for the survivors.

I have said it before:  How can man rise to the rank of cardinal-archbishop of Buenos Aires, then get elected pope without the support of the most reactionary traditionalists in the hierarchy?  Many, if not most, of whom are seriously implicated and complicit in the greatest scandal to rock the church since the crusades and Inquisition!?!

How could we now expect Bergoglio to so easily turn his back on the very men who just over a year ago elected him pope?  It is not logical to entertain such lavish expectations.

If anything Catholics have learned from these decades, even centuries, of scandal and abuse is that the priesthood - the very way we Catholics do priesthood - must be completely reformed and renewed from parish to pope.  Nothing less will do.

Papa Francesco is first and foremost the premier politician in the world's oldest all-male feudal oligarchy.  I have the hope that he is desperately trying to turn the ancient "barque" around before it falls irrevocably over the cliff into the abyss of history into evolutionary oblivion.

The only segment of the Catholic Church that even has the capacity to reform the priesthood is the People.  Hence, LET THE PEOPLE DECIDE!

I don't envy Papa Francesco.  I pray for him every day.  The odds are stacked against him.  My best advice to him:  You must be as bold and fearless as Jesus - as did James, Paul and Peter, etc.

Easy for me to say ...

The change of tone is appreciated. It isn't sufficient, but dropping the defensiveness is a necessary condition for things to improve.

What I've found problematic about some of your comments on this issue is your apparent willingness to have allegations against clerics immediately publicized, propr to any process to determine the validity of the allegation. There are cases in which priests have suffered unwarranted disgrace.

Not sure if you're mixing me up with someone elde, but on this thread I've just advocated the removial of bishops who are known, through much evidence and sometimes their own admission, to have covered up sex abuse.  Btady, who was the bishop the sex abuse victim meeting with the pope asked to have removed, has admitted being part of a cover up ... ...  I'm asking why the pope won't remove guys like him, when he has removed other bishops like the one who bought an expensive home.

Bernard --


A case such as you propose is not germane.  I said that those bishops who are notoriously guilty of either abuse or cover-up should be removed before they can do further damage.  Archbishop Romero was not a notorious sinner in that respect.  So no, Rome should not remove him merely on the basis of allegations, especially not from enemies.  The notorious bishops are analogous to felons who beat others in public view, where the evidence (the beaten bodies and witnesses) are not matters of dispute. They should be arrested immediately and tried later. 


Consider the case of the bling bishop -- in that case there was public evendence (the bishops' palatial house) that he was guilty of excessive spending on himself.  


It's a matter of public evidence against them, such as their obviously lying depositions and the public fact of priests known to their bishops to be predators having been reassigned to different churches.


And, yes, Jim P. is right -- if Pope Francis acts too fast the next conclave will put in someone who reverses the good that Francis has done.  But some principles should not be compromised no matter what --  millstones, etc.


Yes, I'd expect a fair hearing from my family, but I certainly would not expect my family to ignore blatant evidence against me, and I would expect them to accuse me of wrong-doing, and I'd expect them to feel greatly ashamed of my conduct.  


Sure, there are rare cases where what seems to be conclusive evidence doesn't really prove guilt.  But those cases are rare, and society has to protect itself from apparent criminals.  Given a trial which proves them innocent, they'll be released.

"The bishops of whom Francis has now spoken have a different type of issue: presumably they would be charged with the sort of malfeasance that we might think of as criminal activity or criminal negligence."

Jim P. --

What on earth can you possibly *mean* --  "we MIGHT think of as criminal activity or criminal negligence"?  That's EXACTLY what we mean -- some of the bishops are CRIMINALS and belong in JAIL.  Sure they're entitled to their day in court, but the possibility that the most notorious of them are innocent is infinitesimally small.

It seems you STILL don't get why the laity is still enraged about certain bishops :-(






Ann, do you accept the notion of "due process?" We all have "know without doubt that x ought to be punished. And still we have not infrequently been proven wrong. Due process is slow and cautious, buy design. We ae all prone to "jumping the gun."

Bernard, there is no jumping the gun taking place when the facts are inevidence and the person in question has agreed to those facts.  Bishop Finn *did* have due process.  The others I mentioned -  Brady, Mahony, Law - have not been charged with crimes because what they did was either not at that time considered civily criminal or because it happened so long ago.  But for these guys I mentioned, there is no question of what occirred ... it's documented.

It is so naive to believe that the pope has absolute power.  Ever heard of the Roman Curia. If the pope had absolute power Ratzinger would have reformed the bank and not let those aroung him sabatoge him the way they did. The Curia stresses the absolute power of the pope when they want their things done. One thing that is non-negotiable is the privilege that cardinals and bishops enjoy. Many of them are working on sabatoging Francis now since he is pushing reform  They are just waiting for an opening. Already there is plenty of ranting in right wing circles. 

I do believe Francis will do the right thing. But things are not as simple as many of the arm chair quarterbacks here opine. 

Sean Brady failed in due attention to the seriousness of the threat posed by a pedophile priest 39 years ago, when he was the priest-secretary at a meeting. He is now a beloved pastor, and should not be dogged by this forever. We in Ireland have already lost some excellent, warm-hearted, intelligent and charismatic bishops such as Brendan Comiskey and Donal Murray, over sensational and insubstantial allegations of negligence, and they are not being replaced by anything better.

Why is the pope impotent over against the curia? Bishops sometimes call the curia “the bureaucracy of nothing”: it is possible to reform a mafia, a KGB, a CIA or any well-organized phalanx of bureaucrats, but how does one reform a mess? how does one give shape to jelly?

What on earth can you possibly *mean*

Ann, please unclutch the pearls :-).  I just meant that the church may not use that terminology of "criminal activity" or "criminal negligence".  


Joseph O, 



I think the title is wrong. It's not "Bishops who mishandled abuse will be held accountable" but "Bishops who mishandle abuse will be held accountable". It's not about righting injustice and removing the bishops whose continuing presence in positions of authority is causing scandal but about, at best, planning for the future. It's like fighting the mafia by saying that future mafiosi will be held accountable, but leaving current members of the mafia in place. How that's going to work is anybody's guess. 

I can't imagine a secular company keeping on employees who were publically known to have covered up the sex abuse of children and whose firing had been widely called for, as Brady's has.

Reform of the curia

Step 1: Appoint women as heads of specific congregations and diacastries.

Benedict has already said that this is possible. Governance of the organization is not necessarily and aspect of the sacrament of ordination although historically they have been.

Any executive, in any organization has the power of hiring and firing those in executive positions. Bishops are another matter and might be a little more tricky due to ecclesiology and canon law as Ann mentioned. But the curia is literally just the "court"

@ Bernard Dauenhauer:  How about some "due process" for the hierarchs that is roughly equivalent to the specious due process that they have afforded to survivors of sexual abuse and exploitation at the hands of their brother bishops and priests???

As Mitt Romney once famously said, "What's sauce for goose is sauce for the gander."  Would that be fair to your mind?

Let me just state that I strongly agree with Bernard in his call for due process and transparency, not only in any hypothetical investigations and trials of bishops, but for all church processes.  If the cases against some of the bishops named in these comments are "slam dunks", then a well-designed, well-functioning, transparent due process will bring about a just result.  And in cases where the facts and circumstances are murkier, these hallmarkes become essential.

 Finn had due process and was convicted.  Has the pope removed  him? 

It seems to me that there is a distintion between bishops who are convicted of a crime of covering up abuse, and those who just don't handle it well, but the results ought not differ too much. What should have happened in the case of Bishop Finn is that he shoould have been removed the day he was convicted.  Do not [ass Go.  Do not collect $200.  Just go. Others who have been less than forthcoming but not criminal, like the Archbishop of Minneapolis and his brother bishop of Newark should be subject to the same fate though it might not be automatic. I don't know all the rules, but it seems to me that any member of the epicopacy serves at the pleasure of the Pope, and can be removed by the Pope.  One shouldn't have to have been convicted of a crime like Bishop Finn.  If Pope Francis is displeased with someone's performance in dealing with this matter, regardless of the law, he can and should remove him.  If a bishop is convicted, it seems  to me that it should be pretty much automatic.  If I were Francis, anyone in that position would be told to resign immediately.  For others, I'd give them the opportunity to explain themselves, but it would have to be a pretty compelling explanation. 

Jim Pauwels,

Frankly I don't see the need for due process for bishops who mishandled abuse.  If the pope thinks they did a poor job, he has the right to replace them.  This isn't the same as removing them from the priesthood.  What it is is firing Bishop X from a job he isn't performing up to the boss's expectation.  Not sure why you need due process for that.  he is still a priest.  I guess he is still a bishop.  he just isn't the Bishop of Bridgeport any more.  Maybe you pack him off to a job in the Vatican.  Maybe he is the new pastor of St John's Church in Fairfield.  Maybe he is appointed auxilliary bishop of Portland Maine.  In any case, I think the important thing is that a bishop who did a bad job on this is no longer in his capacity as ordinary of a see.  That is very different for a bishop who has been convicted of violating the law in this matter.  In my view Bishop Finn should be removed from his see and subject to other penalties as well. 

It seems that the relationship between the pope and a diocesan bishop is inneed of some clarification. I'm not competent to provide it, but I'm inclined to think that therre is a theological issue at stake. Again, I'm not competent to state it.

I agree that Bishop Finn ought to resign. His conviction should make it clear to him why he should do so. It does not, though follow automatically from that fact that the pope ought to dismiss him. There may be theological considerations that weigh against the pope's doing so. It's not unlikely that popes, like the rest of us, just have to live with some messes.

Thanks, Jim Pauwels, for your strong words about due process. Absense of due process almost guarantees that some injustice will be perpetrated sooner or later.

Asking about the theology of removing bad bishops seems like a way to complcate things.  Imagine Jesus and the disciples .... Jesus learns that one of the disciples has covered up the sex abuse of children by another disciple and consequently more children get abused.  What do you think he would do?


Sorry for the B that got away. Bernard, what would a theological reason be for a pope being unable to dismiss a bishop? What branch of theology are you looking at here? Ecclesiology?
But there was nothing that prevented the dismissal of Bishop Morris from Australia or the dismissal of the notorious Bishop of Bling.

According to the article referenced earlier in this thread, Bishop Morris was dismissed pursuant to a process (and let me just repeat that it was a process that, as described, isn't what I would have in mind for due process and transparency).

Ecclesiologically, a bishop who is the ordinary of a diocese is the head of a particular church that is in communion with the Bishop of Rome.  Pretty clearly, the Supreme Pontiff has the necessary powers to intervene and remove the head of a particular church, just as he has the necessary powers to appoint a bishop.

I agree that Bishop Finn was convicted in a secular court in which due process prevailed.  But Pope Francis was not the judge in that instance and it is not for him to pass sentence in that court; the State of MIssouri presumably employs its own judges for that purpose.  Pope Francis' proper sphere is the church and church law.  To the best of my knowledge, Bishop Finn has not been brought up on any charges in a church court.  If he is, then isn't he entitled to the same rights to which we extend rapists and serial killers in our secular courts: a presumption of innocence, the right to confront his accusers, a speedy trial, adequate legal representation, a public trial, a verdict to be determined by his peers, the right of appeal, and all of the other rights and protections that we extend to those accused of crimes in the US?  Frankly, some of the comments here surprise me, particularly in light of the stance taken here by most of the commenters when it is a theologian or a religious sister who is the subject of a church investigation.  I assume that nobody wishes to support a double standard.


I'll try to make this my last comment to this post - I've commented too often and I'm now starting to get upset, which never helps.  But I just wonder how anyone can defend the "rights" of men like Brady, who admits to taking part in forcing sex abuse victims to swear an oath they would tell no one what had happened to them ... ... and  men like Mahony, who told priests he knew to ne pediphiles to go out of state to avoid police invesitgation and prosecution ... ... why do you take the side of men like this instead of the victims?

Jim P.,

Tthis situation is very different from somebody being accused of a crime under either civil criminal law or even church law.  In those cases, absolutly there shluld be due process.  And I would argue it is even different from a theologian accused of being out of step with Church teaching.  Here again, that ought to be subject to a right to face the accusers, defend one's position and so on.  But in the case of a Bishop who covered up for sexual abuse of children, even if it isn't doesn't rise to the level of a crime as in the Bishop Finn situation, removal ought to be an option, and probably one that gets used reasonably often.  It is a different standard and its a different level of penalty, too.  the Bishop isn't being de-frocked or losing his license to teach or any such thing.  But he has demonstrated that he lacks certain necessary judgement to function in the capacity of pastor and shepard.  That isn't a case of defending himself against a criminal accusation, but one of administrative competence, if you will.  Those are very different situations.  The Pope sees a bishop who has demonstrated that he lacks the judgement to perform his duties effectively as leader of a diocese by virtue of his failure to deal with abusive priest, so he removes that bishop for the good of the local Church.  One is a question of law and needs to be open and fair.  the other is a question of judgement on the part of the Holy See. 

  • Hi, Jim D, I'm not sure what I think about your distinction between a formal criminal process and an administrative action.  But let's run with it a moment.  I take your comment to be more or less in the spirit of, "These guys are incompetent or worse.  In the corporate world, they whould and should be fired.  There is a big boss in Rome who has the authority to fire them.  Therefore, just fire them already!"

In the working world, I'm an at-will employee, which means that my employer can fire me for any reason at all, or no reason in particular.  As an employee, I don't possess the rights that I'm calling for for bishops (and for everyone else in the church, for that matter).  This observation leads to the following thoughts:

  • Ecclesiologically, I don't think a bishop is the equivalent of (nor is literally) an at-will employee of a larger organization like I am.  He's the head of his own church, which just happens to be in communion with the church of Rome.  He's sort of like the Greens at Hobby Lobby: the 'sole( proprietor' of the diocese, at the very peak of the org chart, with no bigger boss over him.  For the pope to intervene and remove him wouldn't be like an employer firing an at-will employee; it would be more like the US government intervening in the affairs of a private American company and forcing out a company president.  It would be an extraordinary act.   Naturally, the parallel isn't perfect, but I'm offering it for consideration. (And btw, this isn't to say that extraordinary acts are never called for.   "Extraordinary" doesn't mean "impossible".  In the midst of the financial crisis in the last decade, the US government did consider - and in a few cases took - extraordinary interventions into the affairs of private companies.)
  • Even if the pope does possess "fire the at-will employee" -type authority over bishops, we may ask, "Just because the pope has the authority to yell, 'Off with his head!', is that really how we want the church to work?"  I'd rather see members of the church, not excluding bishops, have some basic rights and protections.
  • If it was you or I who were in the bishops' shoes and being brought up on charges, wouldn't we want the protections of due process, transparency and all the rest, even if it was a mere administrative action?  I know I would.  I may be an at-will employee, but that doesn't mean it's my dream preference.  I'd rather have as many protections as I can get.


Jim, there's a balance, obviously. How about if Bp Finn, Brady etc. are asked to step asie while the committee works things out? Later, once they have figured out their norms, if it is determined that Bp Finn can safely be given responsibilities and decision-making power, he can always be given a diocese again.

I don't think that so far bishops have been treated overly harshly, so severely in the absence of a legal process that we should be nervous about mistreating them further. Ignoring bishops' right to due process has not exactly caused them much damage this past decade or century or history of christianity, has it? It's a hypothetical possibility, and, I think, a mere excuse to avoid accountability.

We have waited, waited, waited. We have heard words, excuses, statements of good intentions. Enough words.

It was not long ago that Irish bishops, on the aftermath of the scandal, reluctantly offered their resignation, and that Rome refused it quietly - that, after pope Benedict had written his letter to the Irish and used the word "accountability"! That's the Roman standards. It would be stupid to trust words about intended accountability without any kind of accountability itself. That is not credible. 

Does pope Francis really want to spend his fragile credit of trust on claiming that bishops will be held accountable and on asking people to believe him, while he is not actually holding any of them accountable? 

From pope Benedict's letter:

I recently invited the Irish bishops to a meeting here in Rome to give an account of their handling of these matters in the past [...] Only decisive action carried out with complete honesty and transparency will restore the respect and good will of the Irish people towards the Church to which we have consecrated our lives. [...]. I therefore exhort you to renew your sense of accountability before God, to grow in solidarity with your people and to deepen your pastoral concern for all the members of your flock.

What fools we would be to trust statements not backed by action. Been there, done that. Done with that.

Rome argues that bishops are apostolic successors in their own sees and support collegiality when it is convenient (e.g. Arguing before the UN that they only have jurisdiction in the Vatican City state).

On the other hand when it comes to mass translations, episcopal policy on zero tolerance, and even ordination of married men, they need their stay.

We have heard the term legal fictions, how about ecclesial fictions. I, for one have rejected Roman propaganda in this regard. I go to mass but at the creed I do not interpret my belief in holy Catholic church, I think of the fellowship of all Christians and obviously this includes inter-communion.  Will financially support my parish community but would not want my money to support a criminal, unaccountable, criminal enterprise housed in the Vatican. Just hope the UN can bring this to light.

Jim P., I'm an at-will employee myself and have faced some of the consequences thereof--being downsized and having to scramble to find myself another full-time position. But I think that in making such a case in support of the bishops, you may be missing the point entirely. When will there really be accountability for the bishops who covered up the sexual assault of children by priests? We have been stuck on this groove for years and nothing has happened. The bishop who was just defrocked was found guilty of sexual assault, not of covering it up. I get it that the bishops are the successors of the apostles---but if that gets them off the hook, it gives the apostles a very bad reputation to me. I can see that many people were groomed by the perpetrators, not simply their child victims. And the bishops are part of a group of men who want to be nice to other people and want to see the best, as it were. Consequently, many of the bishops were manipulated by these sexual offenders and maybe if they had truly recognized what was going on, would have acted differently? It's too late for this kind of logic since so many victims have paid and are currently paying the price of the assault on them. One of the things the Holy Father said in his sermon is that some of the victims had "weakened faith" as a consequence of what happened. I would clarify this and say that many of the victims had their capacity for faith blown up by what happened to them. Who is responsible for this? Certainly the perpetrators. But there are bishops, named above, who reassigned the perps and thus gave them a new batch of children to victimize. Bishops who were aware of what was happening. I cannot be concerned with such matters as the securitity of their position as Ordinary's. If a man is throwing children under his spiritual care to the wolves, should he continue to bear the responsibility of spiritual care for others. No.

Jim, there's a balance, obviously. How about if Bp Finn, Brady etc. are asked to step asie while the committee works things out? Later, once they have figured out their norms, if it is determined that Bp Finn can safely be given responsibilities and decision-making power, he can always be given a diocese again.

Claire - sure - that sounds like a process to me (and somewhat similar to the Dallas norms for priests and deacons in the US).  

I do understand the impatience and the mistrust.  I hope I haven't written anything here (or elsewhere) that would imply that I'm opposed to accountability for bishops*.  All I'm calling for here is that the accountability be via a fair, formal, defined process that extends the same protections to bishops that we'd want extended to anyone and everyone.

* Perhaps the one exception is re-opening closed statutes-of-limitations windows; I do oppose that as I believe it's an unjust practice.  Let's not talk about it now, though :-)


Hi, Molly, all your points are well-made, and I wouldn't want to dispute any of them.  As I noted in my previous comment, I'm all for bishop accountability.  I think all we're talking about here is how that accountability is brought about.  

US prisons are bursting at the seams with convicted criminals who were accorded all the protections that I'm calling for here, so clearly prosecutors are able to secure convictions in proceedings in which these rights are enforced.  Those protections are not a justice-avoidance scheme, and I'm not proposing them in that spirit. 

The church's track record for openness and transparency is not pristine.  I wouldn't want to see anyone get railroaded, not even a bishop.  That's all.

The pope has a significant say in who is made a bishop and where and when he is assigned to his see(s).  They aren’t implanted in their dioceses by a voice from behind a curtain in Oz.  They don’t move from see to see by virtue of democratic election for a specified period of time by a House of the Laity, a House of the Clergy and the House of Bishops.

The idea that bishops, as successors to the apostles, are somehow immune from discipline or removal except in the most egregious of circumstances is, at best, specious.  Just let an active bishop come out publicly in support of the ordination of married men or women, granting church-sanctioned divorces, ordination of openly gay men, etc. and see how fast he will become a man without a job.  He’ll be a bishop forever, but at best, an unemployable free agent.  That is why bishops don’t develop spines with regard to certain sensitive matters until AFTER they are retired.

I fully support what Jim Pauwels has been saying about due process.

One point about the criticism some of you have leveled at Pope Franci and at Pope Benedict. Some of the criticism has strayed from criticizing what one of them has done or what one of them has not, or not yet, done. That's fair. But some have gone on tocall into the credibility of these men. To question someone's credibility is to question their truthfulness, their worthiness to be taken at their word. In my view, this is very bad business, whether in Church matters or in political ones. Vigorous criticism need not get into casting aspersions on an opponent's character. The abominable state of political discourse in the U. S. leads to casting elected officials as contemptible. Far from being constructive, such criticism makes it very hard, if not practically impossible, for opponents or critics to talk with one another in any construtive manner.

I know that some of you have lists of bishops that you think deserve to be removed from their office. I do agree with you in some of these cases. It doesn't follow that because the pope has not done so, even though he has deplored child sex abuse and its coverup, that I am justified in besmirching his character.

Bernard - thanks, and I fully agree with your points about civil discourse.

 To question someone's credibility is to question their truthfulness, their worthiness to be taken at their word.

Their truthfulness, not necessarily. Their worthiness to be taken at their word, not exactly. It's not that they're "worthy" or "not worthy", it's whether I believe them or not, when words is all that they have to offer. It's as much about it as it is about them. With respect to words coming from the church hierarchy on the subject of episcopal cover-up of the sex abuse scandal, indeed, I am no longer ready to believe mere words, and it does not matter who they come from. It's not about individual worthiness, truthfulness, etc. Neither is it about "casting aspersions on one's opponent's character" ("opponent"!)

It's more that since the institution cannnot be trusted to do it, we are the ones who are in charge of protecting the youth from sexual abuse. Bishops won't do it: it's our common responsibility, then, and merely swallowing well-meant words about their being held accountable, with no evidence to back it up, would mean relaxing our vigilence by trusting without reason, and we, who are now the ones primarily responsible for the protection of the youth, would be remiss if we did that.



Claire, litmus tests in human relationships are generally unwise. Jane badly wants Jack to do x (something good) right now. Jack acknowledges that doing x would be good, but instead decides to do y (also something good) right now. If doing x amounts to a litmus test of jack's good will, then he fails. If Jane can accept that Jack may well have good reasons for doing y now, then therre is not litmus test, even though Jane may continue to disagree with Jack's decision to do y now instead of doing x now.

Are you administering a litmus test?

litmus tests in human relationships are generally unwise.  

Litmus tests in human relationships arise when one of the parties in the relationship has done something that has created mistrust to occurr. That means we need to go back and look at what that "something" is. In this instance that "something" is the deliberate, concealment of crimes that have occurred by clerics to children in their care.

I think that it is completely appropriate to draw boundaries surrounding conduct in the domain of human relationships. If my partner cheats, and we reconcile, it will take some effort before trust is restored and so maybe I may want to have access to cell phone records, maybe I might want some things within the relationship to change until the trust can be re-established. It would be the height of arrogance and naivete for the offending partner to say, I have changed, trust me, all is normal as before.

By analogy, I am not convinced that officials in the church appreciate the impact that this has had on Catholic worlwide and the credibility of Catholics to speak out on any number of social injustices. And, while there is some postive movements from the bishops and even Rome in this respect, it is slow and late in coming.

Pope Francis encourages hope for favorable outcomes to many problems  in our Church. But his pledge about bshops being held accountable for protection of children is empty without action. FrANCIS speaks of "ommssions"  by leaders. But they were responsible for "commissions" - coverig up and secretly transfering miscreant priests to mnew asignmnts. Canon 1395 mandates punishment for abise of chilren, not transfe nr subjeect him to therapy. Canon law is clear. These bishops "committed" violations of church law, not "ommissions".Francis declares bishops must be good pastors and "will be held accountable.Note that both clauses refer to the future.


Crdinals Law and Regali, poster boys of hiding and transferring abusrs, are now  safely enschonsed in the Vatican courtesy of JPII and B16. Bishop Finn is still bishop of KC-St Joseph after his conviction of neglecting his duties to protect childlren in 2008 nd 2011. H signed a contract that he wquldfollow civil law about notifying police about abusing priess. The diocise paoid 10 million in the past and nowhjas nbeen just assessed for $1.1 million for breach of contract the past month. Finn is still bishop of his diovcese.

Msg.HarryJ. Byrne JCD

Msgr. Byrne,
Thanks you very much for the input.

Some folks here seem to think that it would be a violation of due process to remove Bishop Finn and other patently guilty bishops who are still in positions where they can do more crime.. Civil law provides for putting some people in jail before trial. Why would'nt Canon Law? Or does Canon Law provide for immediate removal in some cases?

Could you please tell us something about tha Canon Law?

Please excuse any typos - this iPhone changes spellings even after the message is sent.

Bernard, I think George D has a good analogy. The relation between the church leaders and the people has been damaged. Maybe in your case the sex abuse scandal has not affected your attitude in a lasting manner, but for myself and many others, things have changed. The damage is done and cannot be undone. What was before cannot be again. A new balance must be found. We are working our way towards a different relationship to church authority. It's a new world. One may mourn the age of innocence, when a bishop could say: "I'll make sure everything will be all right, and you don't have to worry, just trust me", and his people took him at his word. But I hope the new order will be better, less blindly trusting, more responsible, more adult, and with more mutual respect.


Claire et al,

I'm in the midst of reading Cardinal Walter Kasper's "Mercy." It is a magnificent work. I cannot rightfully say that my comments here are fully in accord with the richness of his work. Nor do I think that the remarks here of those of you who disagree with what I've said are fully in synch with Kasper's work. What Kasper makes clear is that genuine mercy is in no respect in conflict with justice. At the end of the day, it is properly understood mercy that is fundamental to all efforts properly to apply the rerquirements of justice. As a practical matter, this means that we are never to give up on anyone, bishops, popes, or otherwise, even when we find ourselves required by truthfuulness to criticize their conduct. Similarly, this means that we always recognize the need to be self-critical about the ways in which we articulate our criticisms of others.

But enough of my attempt to summarize Kasper's achievement. As strongly as I can, let me recommend "Mercy." It's accessible to everyone who has commented here.




I am distressed by your headline:


Bishops who mishandled abuse will be held accountable

What you report:

"Today Pope Francis ...pledged to ... hold accountable those who mishandled accusations of abuse."

I note the use of the past tense "mishandled"

What the Pope says about past 'mishandlers':

"I beg ... forgiveness ...for the sins of omission on the part of Church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse"

For those who "did not respond" he asks forgiveness

What the Pope says about accountability:

"All bishops must carry out their pastoral ministry with the utmost care in order to help foster the protection of minors, and they will be held accountable."

Note the phrase "will be".  Accountability is to be a future policy

I do not expect  that any real accountability will be exacted on Law, McCormack, Mahoney, George, Myers, Egan, Rigali, Flynn, Nienstadt, Walsh, Finn and many others. Their actions provided extended careers to identified clerical pedophiles over whom they had jurisdiction. This resulted in horrific damage to thousands of innocent and defenseless children. 

Failure to act on their crimes seems a total dereliction of moral duty.

Your headline will lead many to believe that real justice is about to be served. 

My reading of the Pope's words leads me expect otherwise. 

Is there any possibility you will address what I consider a substantial misrepresentation?


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