You probably heard that Pope Benedict removed Bishop William Morris of Toowoomba, Australia from office after he refused to resign. The bishop had called for discussion of ordination of married men and women in light of the severe clergy crisis. He indicated his willingness to ordain married men and women, but only if the Holy See approved it. A small group in his diocese repeatedly complained about him in Rome over the years, to receptive ears. An apostolic visitation was led by Archbishop Chaput of Denver. Bishop Morris notes that he has never seen the Vatican report from the visitation and was not given an opportunity to respond to it.

The executive of the National Council of Priests in Australia issued a media release today stating they are “appalled at the lack of transparency and due process that led to this decision.” They are “embarrassed about the shabby treatment meted out” to the bishop. They state, “Jesus rightly condemned the righteous scribes and Pharisees of his time for adhering to their interpretation of the Mosaic law at the expense of God’s ultimate commandment of love.” They appeal to the Bishop of Rome “in his acknowledged role as first among equals and the source of communio within the Church to listen and build bridges of trust, faith and love with those who have been hurt by this decision.”

This sounds depressingly familiar. The US  bishops’ condemnation of Sr. Elizabeth Johnson’s book Quest for the Living God also went forward without any opportunity for her to see the charges against her or respond to them. The apostolic visitation of the U.S. sisters, like the visitation of the U.S. seminaries a few years ago, will conclude with a final report which is not shared with those being investigated.

We have a problem in the Roman Catholic Church. Our system of authority all too often employs processes lacking in transparency and due process. People’s human rights are not always respected. People sometimes come away feeling mistreated, disrespected, and hurt.

As one who believes in the episcopate and the office of the papacy, and who prays every day for the Pope and the bishops, I maintain there is a place for condemnation of erring theologians and for removal of negligent bishops. In today’s world, however, it is very important that such drastic actions be carried out with great care for justice and due process. Anything else is highly objectionable to the moral sensitivities of people today.

I really don’t like seeing the credibility of our church authorities go down the tubes, as it presently seems to be doing. How, oh how, can we improve this situation? How can the Church become what it claims to be, a sign to the nations of the inbreaking of the Reign of God? How can all of us in the Church learn to treat each other decently, or even to love one another as Our Lord enjoined upon us?


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