A Laundry List for U. S. Bishops

Well, I haven’t posted a blog in some time, so I might as well stir up some controversy. Since my last posting, the Catholic Church has been turned upside down by allegations of sexual misconduct involving high-ranking clergy and even implicating Pope Francis in covering up some of those who have engaged in sexual improprieties with minors and adults.

A few things to keep in mind. In the Catholic Church, one bishop and even a group of bishops do not have any authority over another bishop. Only the pope has authority over a bishop. As a result of this structure of authority, the U. S. Conference of Bishops cannot legislate, cannot pass rules or decisions, that are binding on any bishop. This obviously can make the accountability of bishops problematical, in the sense that the pope may not have the resources or the will power to correct a bishop or group of bishops. It also contributes to the reluctance of bishops to publicly correct another bishop.

In addition to all this, there is no recognized process for the correction or discipline of a pope. This is why, for example, if the U. S. bishops seek access to documents under the control of the Vatican in their attempt to determine the details of the Cardinal McCarrick situation, the Vatican could decline to produce relevant documents and the U. S. bishops would have no recourse.

The lack of adequate procedures for accountability in all levels of the clergy has led many to recommend an expansion of the role of the laity in the Church. However, the laity will never have authority over priests, bishops or the pope. At most, the laity could be empowered to receive reports and allegations and to investigate, report findings and make recommendations in response to allegations, but their role could go no farther.

Okay. I could go on with more preliminary comments, but let’s get to the laundry list I have put together.

  1. The U. S. bishops need to oversee an aggressive investigation of the sexual misdeeds of Cardinal McCarrick. They have said they are going to empower a panel of lay experts to conduct the investigation. They need to name the panel and get them started. Those who were complicit in McCarrick’s sexual improprieties (Cardinal Wuerl and others) should be pressured to resign or abdicate their positions, if their resignations are awaiting papal acceptance.

  2. New procedures for establishing the accountability of bishops, cardinals and popes should be adopted and included in Canon Law. The accountability should not only apply to sexual violations but also to behaviors and decisions which violate the established traditions of the Catholic Church.

  3. The existing procedures for the protection of minors should be revised to include sexual advances by clergy toward adults. They should be further modified to provide that allegations of violations by clergy would be reported to a lay individual and/or lay panel, and the investigation of such allegations would be made by qualified lay persons.

  4. Each diocese in the United States should conduct a competent investigation and make an objective determination of the extent of active homosexuals in the clergy within the diocese. Active homosexuals should be barred from engaging in any clerical functions in the diocese.

  5. Those in the clergy who are promoting or tolerating the promotion of active homosexuality should be required to cease such activity.

  6. Catholics who actively and publicly promote or support abortion rights, especially politicians who vote in favor of abortion rights, should be given warning and, if they do not publicly repent and desist, should be promptly excommunicated. Penalties should be set forth In Canon Law for bishops who do not enforce this requirement.

  7. The Church needs to end the scandal of permitting cohabiting couples to be married in the Catholic Church (and in many cases receiving Holy Communion at their wedding Mass). If Canon Law inhibits priests from withholding marriage in such situations, Canon Law should be updated to adequately address this situation.

  8. The Church needs to end the scandal of the frequency and ease of obtaining annulments of marriage. The provisions of Canon Law which address the grounds of annulment on the basis of defects of consent should be reexamined and revised. The Catholic doctrine of consent in marriage is based on Roman custom and has no substantial Scriptural or theological basis. The Orthodox Church, for example, does not hold that consent “makes” the marriage, as the Catholic Church does.

  9. There should be public corrections of Pope Francis by individual bishops as often as necessary. I realize that it would be difficult for a bishop to tell the Catholics in his diocese that some of what the Pope does and says is not reliable. As the spiritual shepherd, however, the bishop has a duty to tell the people entrusted to him when the Pope has strayed from established doctrine and practices. I’ve read many of the documents issued or approved by Pope Francis. I’ve never seen anything like them in the history of the Church.

I welcome comments and corrections regarding these proposals.