Friday, June 20, 2003

The Word from Rome

First, on the views of some in the Vatican on how the US bishops are dealing with the sexual abuse crisis:

First, the belief that power flows from Christ to the apostles and their successors in the apostolic college, meaning the bishops, is a core Roman Catholic theological concept. As early as end of the first century, Ignatius of Antioch urged the local church to be subject to the bishop. In the third century, Cyprian of Carthage wrote, “The bishop is in the church, and the church is in the bishop.” For 2,000 years, the bishop’s office has been a guarantor of Catholic identity, often in hostile situations; it has, in effect, stood the test of time. Those who believe the episcopacy is a matter of divine intention become nervous when they believe it is threatened.

Second, many in the Vatican believe that the heart of the American crisis lies in bishops failing to do their jobs. It is conventional wisdom in Rome that the American bishops did not need a new charter and norms to combat sexual abuse, that the Code of Canon Law gave them every tool they needed if they had been serious about confronting this behavior. The problem was not law, but will. Some bishops preferred to take the advice of therapists and formation teams and personnel boards rather than taking the situation into their own hands. Yet supervision of priests is a core episcopal responsibility; a bishop, according to the traditional theology, is supposed to be both a brother and a father to his priests.

Hence seen through Vatican eyes, the solution is not for America’s bishops to “pass the buck,” whether to independent advocates or national boards, but to step up and do the job that bishops have been ordained to do for 2,000 years. Ceding authority looks from this perspective not like a healthy dose of democracy, but malfeasance.

Plus, interesting stuff on Methodists and Catholics, liturgy and the EU.