That strange AP story about a fired Slovak bishop

So what’s up with the Associated Press, all of a sudden? It used to be rare to read an AP report that totally needed an “analysis” label, but now it seems that these stories pop up all of the time.

This time around, we’re talking about a report on Pope Benedict XVI’s unusual decision to dismiss one of his European bishops outright — just like that. No ifs, ands or buts. The bishop was simply shown the door.

Now, this is the kind of inside-baseball stuff that canon lawyers and church activists simply live to talk about. So what’s up with the top of this AP opinion essay? Note how quickly the piece moves from facts into straight out, connect-the-dots speculation — with no attribution clauses whatsoever.

As you read, keep asking yourself this simple, journalistic question: Who is talking?

VATICAN CITY – The pope fired a 52-year-old Slovak bishop on Monday for apparently mismanaging his diocese in a rare show of papal power over his bishops.

Usually when bishops run into trouble — either for alleged moral lapses or management problems — they are persuaded by the Vatican to resign. But Pope Benedict XVI has become increasingly willing to forcibly remove bishops who refuse to step down, sacking three others in the last year alone.

His willingness to do so raises questions about whether he would take the same measures against bishops who covered up for sexually abusive priests. So far he has not.

“Apparently.” “Usually.” “Raises questions.”

In this case, the subject of the story isn’t really what the pope has or has not done with this bishop’s job. In fact, in the world of who, what, when, where, why and how, this AP report doesn’t even serve up the name of the fired bishop until the fifth paragraph.

Oh, and the first clear attribution in this story is a reference to “Italian news reports” that “suggested” Bishop Robert Bezak of Slovakia was sent backing because he was a bad administrator. There is a dash of secondhand Slovak news information in there, too.

So who is the key voice in the story, the person who seems to have helped establish the template that shaped its content? It’s remarkable how far readers have to go to hear that voice, to find the first actual human source for the key information in this AP news report. Ready to wade through some additional unattributed material?

The exercise of the pope’s ability to fire a bishop has important implications, particularly concerning bishops who mishandle pedophile priests.

In the face of U.S. lawsuits seeking to hold the pope ultimately responsible for abusive priests, the Holy See has argued that bishops are largely masters of their dioceses and that the pope doesn’t really control them. The Vatican has thus sought to limit its own liability, arguing that the pope doesn’t exercise sufficient control over the bishops to be held responsible for their bungled response to priests who rape children.

The ability of the pope to actively fire bishops, and not just passively accept their resignations, would seem to undercut the Vatican’s argument of a hands-off pope.

Jeffrey Anderson, who is seeking to hold the Holy See liable for a case of an abusive priest in Oregon, said the Vatican was trying to have it both ways.

So what does the pope’s decision to fire the Slovak bishop have to do with the clergy sex scandals in Europe and North America (let alone Oregon)? Why is this lawyer the first authoritative voice on a story in Eastern Europe?

In fact, what happened to the story about the firing of Bishop Bezak? Where are the canon lawyers and church insiders who could help readers understand why the pope took this particular course of action in this particular case? Also, note that the dateline is Vatican City, which means the story was reported and written at the bureau assigned to cover the Vatican.

Are we to assume that there are no canon lawyers who are available to talk to the press — IN ROME?

Most strange. Most, most strange.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • tmatt

    A reminder: This is a journalism site, not a place to bash the pope and his actions.

    Please discuss the journalism issues — there are MANY — in this AP “story.”

  • K.L.B.

    On it’s face, the story meanders toward the objective, rather than directly pointing to it.

    Leading with the “who” and “what” (“where” is in the dateline & headline), the “when” is mentioned, but the “why” is curiously missing – as you infer.

    Perhaps, if the author Nicole Winfield, would have written an explanation for the second paragraph, it would have been more clarifying.

    I agree – it is a very poorly written story.

  • Brendan

    I’ve heard many sermons that are guilty of the same kind of handling…but that’s really off topic!

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    tmatt, when I first read in the Vatican Information Service’s daily e-mail that this had taken place, my mind did actually leap to the Oregon lawsuit for precisely the reason that Jeff Anderson (as much as I hate to admit it) pointed out. But that’s because I’m an American steeped in Catholic inside baseball. Most other people aren’t going to know about that.

    And that’s why it was so important to talk to people in Rome and find out what is going on in Trnava, Slovakia (which, by the way, is an archdiocese and Bezak is an archbishop — details, details) so that readers have the basics. What was the alleged mismanagement? Financial? Personnel? Were there theological or liturgical issues involved? He was ordained as bishop only two years ago. Who vetted him? Who’s the nuncio to Slovakia, the one who is supposed to do the vetting? In what sort of state is the Church in the rest of Slovakia? Besides the missing canon lawyers and Church insiders, Bezak is a Redemptorist priest and they have their headquarters in Rome. Were there no Redemptorists available? What’s he going to do now? How are the people reacting? What do his priests think, or the other Slovak bishops?

    But I guess none of that is important because the child sexual abuse scandal is all that matters about the Catholic Church’s hierarchy anymore (except when they’re playing politics for the conservatives). As you said, tmatt, “Most strange. Most, most strange.”

  • dalea

    I would like to see some more information on Trnava, Slovakia: where is it, is it a city or rural area, what is the area known for, what is the history of the diocese. And where is the commentary from the bishop’s parishoners and fellow clergy? Simply giving the city and country does nothing to establish context for the story. The story needs to explain where the diocese is, what sort of area it covers,what are the social and religious issues in the diocese, and how the bishop fits into the situation. A vague reference to management issues tells me nothing.

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    dalea’s comment sent me to Wikipedia where I found this fascinating information: “It was the seat of a Roman Catholic archbishopric (1541–1820 and then again since 1977). The city has a historic center. Because of the many churches within its city walls, Trnava has often been called ‘parva Roma’, i.e. ‘Little Rome’, or more recently, the ‘Slovak Rome’.” Given that, it seems this See would hold some importance to the Holy See and this kerfuffle will have some impact throughout Central and Eastern Europe.

  • carl jacobs

    Whether the story is well-written or not, it addresses THE question the average reader is going to ask himself when he reads it. I’m not sure how this fits with good journalism, but I do know that it addresses what the reader wants to know. The firing of a Slovak bishop isn’t extremely interesting or important outside of Slovakia. But the whole issue of “Who gets fired and why” is important. You can debate whether the story was well-executed, but you can’t debate the focus of the story. It was right where it needed to be. “If the Pope can fire bishops, then why didn’t he fire bishops in the US over shuffling abusive priests from parish to parish?” That’s a question everyone wants answered.


  • AuthenticBioethics

    Ugh. Another “whatever the Pope does it has implications for someone’s lawsuit pertaining to sexual misbehavior of priests” article. It only took the AP three sentences. Why is Bezak not mentioned until paragraph 5? Because what happened to him is not the point. Any recently fired bishop would do as a foil to talk about the Pope’s power to fire bishops and the fact that the power was not used on certain bishops who seemed to need it.

    If that’s the opinion to be advanced, then the article was fairly successful. The lack of attributions and more concrete citations, etc., is pretty typical for an opinion piece, too.

    On the other hand, the meme is getting pretty old. And the fact is, the firing of Abp. Bezak is quite the mystery, as a good reason for it has yet to be made public. Even the Catholic press and inside-scoop types don’t seem to have much.

  • Jerry

    carl jacobs made the point I was going to mention. Who gets fired and who does not is a classic political and business question. That question’s been asked of Eric Holder and President Obama. It been asked for various businesses such as for banks when issues have been uncovered over the past few years. And that, of course, is because a President’s and an organization’s values and priorities is manifested in the the choice of what is a firing offense and what is not. So it is a most suitable question for a news story.

    I also agree that the story can and should have been much better told.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    Inserting the Catholic sex scandals into a story not actually about the scandals should be declared a corollary to Godwin’s Law, with points added for use of the generally inaccurate phrase “pedophile priest”. But no problem, this story is about the Catholic sex scandals, not about a bishop in Slovakia.

    People who actually do work to make kids safer in the community know that “covering up” sexual abuse is a societal problem, not a special problem of the Catholic Church, any church, or any particular institution in American society (even the public schools, where it’s a huge problem). Most of the cover-up occurs in families because most abuse occurs in families (your child is statistically safer at church than at a family reunion).

    I will give the AP article credit for acknowledging progress in the Catholic problems. Now, when will they start looking at the whole problem?

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    Whether the story is well-written or not, it addresses THE question the average reader is going to ask himself when he reads it.

    Sorry, carl jacobs, I just can’t imagine most readers saying to themselves, “Heh. The Pope fired some Slovakian archbishop. It doesn’t say why. Why didn’t the Pope fire other bishops for covering up sex abuse?” I think most would ask themselves the straight up question of, “Why did he do that?” and we simply don’t get that answer.

    Two points: 1) We have no idea why Bezak was fired. For all we know, it could have been because of some sexual abuse issue. But since we don’t know, the job of the reporter is to report attributable facts, not her personal speculations about what this could mean for a lawsuit in Oregon.

    2) “If the Pope can fire bishops, then why didn’t he fire bishops in the US over shuffling abusive priests from parish to parish?” There’s a simple answer to that question — because he wasn’t Pope back then. He was elected in 2005. This current manifestation of the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church came about in 2002 when he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. By the time he was elected as Pope, most of those bishops with serious issues in this matter were either dead, retired from office or resigned from office.

    Jerry, I agree that it is a question worth asking. And I anticipate that you would agree with this, but the reporter’s job is to ask that question of other people and then report those answers in a coherent way to the audience. It is not to offer her own thoughts about the broader implications of the event.

  • carl jacobs

    Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    I think most would ask themselves the straight up question of, “Why did he do that?” and we simply don’t get that answer.

    Not one reader in 10,000 is going to care about why a bishop in Slovakia was fired. That’s why the story doesn’t really deal with that subject. The story’s actual purpose is to explore the intersection of Papal power to remove bishops and the sexual abuse crisis in the RCC. Hence the immediate transition in the story from the removal of a Slovakian bishop to the ramifications of that removal for lawsuits. The Slovakian bishop is a means to an end. Nothing more. He allows the actual subject to be introduced. That subject is the hook the reader will care about. But ‘mismanagement’ in Slovakia? Did a secretary get fired for chronic tardiness as well?

    There’s a simple answer to that question — because he wasn’t Pope back then.

    Except we aren’t talking about B16 specifically. We are talking about the Papal Office and the powers vested therein. It doesn’t matter who was Pope at the time. If B16 can remove people then so could JPII remove people. The reader will immediately make that connection. Why will he make that connection? Because he has been asking himself that very question for years. He just didn’t know how to get an answer.

    Suddenly he encounters a story about a bishop being removed. He will say to himself “I have always wanted to ask this question. If the current Pope can do this now, then why didn’t the Vatican clean house ten years ago?” And he will keep reading in hopes of finding an answer. I understand exactly the focus of this story. And the most interesting part of the story was the reference to the Vatican’s position in the lawsuit.

    In the face of U.S. lawsuits seeking to hold the pope ultimately responsible for abusive priests, the Holy See has argued that bishops are largely masters of their dioceses and that the pope doesn’t really control them.

    That’s a perfectly fair angle, and it doesn’t seem like opining to me. It seems like an important fact for public discussion.


  • carl jacobs

    I suppose I should add one qualification. If the Slovakian bishop had been fired for something like bringing prostitutes into the cathedral, or skimming money ala Paul & Jan Crouch at TBN, then the general reader would care. He always cares about sexual scandals and large-scale financial malfeasance that can be used to impeach the moral authority of the RCC. That isn’t the case here, and we know it because that story wasn’t told. If there had been a good muck-raking scandal, the removal of the Slovakian bishop would have stood on its own as a story.


  • Sam Schmitt

    The story’s actual purpose is to explore the intersection of Papal power to remove bishops and the sexual abuse crisis in the RCC.

    Then it’s not a “story” but an editorial.

  • Passing By

     we know it because that story wasn’t told.

    We don’t know diddly. The Vatican said it was for administrative reasons, which is a step above “health reasons”. The pope may have enough evidence to sack the guy but not enough to avoid a slander charge if he told what he knows. The archbishop may be showing signs of dementia and refusing to resign. He could have ticked off the wrong politician. We.don’t.know.

    Now, a bit of legwork could have turned up the truth, but that would be expensive and probably not sell papers. In the meantime, we know what the Vatican said. The rest is supposition.

  • carl jacobs

    Sam Schmitt

    Then it’s not a “story” but an editorial.

    Any article about the connection between papal power to remove bishops and the sexual abuse crisis is not by definition an editorial. I didn’t say the story was well done. I said it was properly focused. It addressed the correct question. I realize that there are scads of RCs who want that question to go away. It’s not going to go away. Eventually, it will have to be answered.


  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    Then, carl jacobs, if that was the purpose of the story, it should have been reported as a story, not an opinion piece. There is no attributable quote until the 10th paragraph. That’s not reportage. That’s opinionating, and that’s the problem tmatt and I have with this piece.

    If the fired Slovak archbishop was just a stepping stone and no American really cared about his firing, then it would not have hurt the piece if AP had waited until Ms. Winfield had talked with canon lawyers and others about the Pope’s authority over bishops — and not just Thomas Doyle, either. She’s in Rome, for heaven’s sake, and at least three pontifical universities have canon law programs. There’s got to be someone at one of those places who’s expert on this aspect of the Church’s law.

    But even with that, I’m sure that more than a few people would be at least curious as to what was going on in Trnava to cause this guy to be ousted so suddenly.

  • AnneG

    Very few facts and lots of conspiracy theory jumping to conclusions in this article. I spent a few minutes googling Winfield. No bio, no pictures, just lots of hit pieces on the Vatican, the Church in general, focus exclusively on child sex abuse and how the Church disapproves of sexual deviance and, pasta. I wonder if there is even such a person, or if Nicole Winfield is a pseudonym for somebody picking up an extra paycheck while writing opinion and gossip for AP.

  • carl jacobs

    Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    I am not arguing that you are wrong in your criticism. I am saying that the journalist was correct to make an immediate connection to the sexual abuse crisis. He may have badly mangled the execution, but he made the right decision about what was important. Absent some salacious scandal in Slovakia, there isn’t much of a story in the Slovakian bishop’s removal. But there is a HUGE story out there about the Vatican’s ability to influence events in the US and other countries during the sex abuse scandal. It’s the difference between “White House fires Chef for Soggy Potatoes” and “White House fires Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox.”


  • http://!)! Passing By

    carl jacobs brings up an interesting, and valid question that, unfortunately doesn’t have an easy answer.

    Journalism works on the principles that “private” equals “secret” and that truth is revealed in “Kodak moments”. A bit of a broad brush, perhaps, not by much.

    The Vatican works, however, in a world where influence may not be so obvious (“a Kodak moment”) as the press needs it to be. Hence, the repeated complaints that the Vatican does PR poorly; in my mind, that’s a feature, not a bug.

    Protestants and secularists are still foaming at the mouth over Cardinal Law. In fact, he was kicked upstairs to a retirement berth and was not prosecutable in Massachusetts. Would it have been a better PR move for him to retire to a monastery and live as an ascetic? Sure.

    there are scads of RCs who want that question to go away

    and scads who are quite happy at the housecleaning our Church has gotten. There are also a few who know that child abuse is a large social problem and actually care about addressing that problem.

  • Bill P.

    I was not surprised to find that the author is Nicole Winfield. A scholar of journalism could write a doctoral dissertation on her not-so-thinly-veiled dislike for the Catholic Church and especially its hierarchy. If you read her name in the byline of a story about the Church, you’ll find the same narrative almost every time, no matter what the initial subject was supposed to be.

    As for this story, her reference to Cardinal Law should have noted that B16 was not pope until 2005. Law left Boston in disgrace in 2002.

  • John

    Trnava, Szombathely in Hungarian, is a city of mixed ethnicity: Slovak, Hungarian, Gypsy, probably German also. Archbishop Bezak is ethnic Slovak but promised to learn Hungarian when he was named to this post. From what I heard he failed to keep his promise to learn the Hungarian language and appears to have acted high handedly in other ways especially toward his Hungarian faithful. A person with such little people skills is just not suited to a location of longstanding ethnic conflicts. (He also disobeyed the Holy Sea. Not Bishop material.)

  • AuthenticBioethics

    First: John — do you have any links as to the inadequacies of Abp. Bezak and the reasons the pope dismissed him? Bezak has been accused in comboxes of many things, and nothing seems really substanstiated.

    Second: A bigger question regarding the bishops who shuffled criminal priests around their dioceses is this: Why were they even made bishops to begin with? More questions include these: Was it simply a criminal cover-up, or were the bishops acting in good faith on bad advice? Were the bishops acting independently of Rome in doing what they did, or with Rome’s knowledge and assent? What happened to these bishops after Rome found out? Should Rome fire people on a supposition or accusation, or wait until there’s a reasonable certainty of guilt?

    And, what happens in other parts of society when the same sort of thing happens? Schools, corporations, professions, clubs, and other religious groups — do they all dramatically fire alleged offenders and hand them over to the police and hold press conferences so as to bring the spotlight onto themselves over an unsavory situation? Or do they try to handle things quietly? Does either choice have a range of possible motives, some good and others not, and which are at work in these particular cases?

    Also, what is our standard of assigning blame? If a corporate VP embezzles money or helps an underling who’s been harassing coworkers, the CEO is not usually to blame, and the VP doesn’t get fired until the CEO finds out what was going on and is reasonably certain of wrongdoing. Corporations have processes and procedures to follow in these cases. The question of standards of blame is exactly what the issue is regarding Holder and Obama: Did Obama know? The answer is critical. But a bigger issue is whether there are one or several standards and which is being used with the Church.

    See? Intellectual honesty requires significant digging, largely absent in stories about the Catholic Church on the topic.

    At any rate, if the power of popes to fire bishops is a worthy topic of reporting, then patterns as to when and how the popes use that power is viable angle to discuss. No one questions that.

    What is being questioned is the intellectual honesty involved. Is it really reporting on an interesting topic, or is it just an attempt to paint the papacy in a certain color? The issue is complex, and reducing it to simplistic argument about papal power is for people who don’t really want to think any more deeply about the subject.

  • Martha

    As ever, when I want to find out more about a story, I go over to Rocco’s place. Here is the linked story from his tweet from 2nd July about “First report from Slovakia on Vatican’s removal of archbishop from post”:

    “The archbishop of Trnava, Róbert Bezák, has been dismissed from his position by the Roman Catholic Church. He read out a letter he had received from the Vatican authorities informing him of their decision during a mass held in Trnava Cathedral on Sunday, July 1. He also read out a letter in which the papal nuncio to Slovakia – i.e. the Vatican ambassador – Archbishop Mario Giordana, asked him to resign from his position. Bezák was officially removed from his post as of 12:00 today (Monday, July 2), upon publication of the announcement in L’Osservatore Romano, the official daily newspaper of the Vatican, the Sme daily reported.

    Bezák, aged 52, replaced controversial former archbishop Ján Sokol three years ago. The step was widely welcomed given Sokol’s repeated praise of President Jozef Tiso, a Catholic priest who led the Nazi-allied wartime Slovak state under which tens of thousands of Slovakia’s Jews were deported to Nazi death camps. Bezák won popular respect when he announced that Tiso, should have resigned as soon as the first transport with Jews left the country.

    Bezák has said that he does not know why he is being dismissed. He added that the Vatican even told him not to talk to the media.

    “I should refrain from statements to the mass media, but you are not the mass media, you are my believers,” he told churchgoers, as quoted by Sme, during the Sunday mass.

    Bezák added that although all the letters he has received the Vatican refer to “serious accusations”, nobody has yet accused him of anything specific. He said he believes that one reason for his firing may be his criticism of his predecessor, Sokol, Sme wrote.

    A spokesperson for the Conference of Bishops of Slovakia (KBS) refused to comment on Bezák’s statements, saying that the dismissal had not been officially confirmed.”

    So nobody knows nuthin’ yet, only that some person or persons made “serious accusations” which the Vatican took seriously enough to do this. It could be anything, which is why we should all refrain from speculating until more facts come out.

  • Martha

    Okay, a bit of Googling finds that:

    “From the Bollettino of the Holy See Press Office:

    The Holy Father, Benedict XVI, has dismissed from the pastoral care of the archdiocese of Trnava (Slovakia) H. E. Róbert Bezák.

    An apostolic visitation had been conducted in the Archdiocese from Jan. 22 to Feb. 1, 2012.”

    About that apostolic visitation:

    “No explanation was given for the move, but the Trnava archdiocese had been the focus of an apostolic visitation earlier this year, amid charges that Church funds had been mismanaged. Archbishop Bezak reportedly refused a Vatican request for his resignation.”

    Catholic News Services tweet: “Vat. sources say removal of Abp Bezak CSSR of Trnava due 2 “administrative running” of arcd; linked 2 findings of apostolic visitation.”

    Okay, whatever lies behind this, an apostolic visitation is a sign that something has been going on, and it looks like they asked him to resign, he wouldn’t, so this happened.

  • Walt Mateja, Ph.D.

    Not all responsible church hierarchy was deceased or out of office when Benedict became pope. In the USA, Philadelphia is a perfect example of management covering-up abuse and shifting personell around. The beauracracy may have been slow to respond, but that’s not an acceptable response in safe-guarding the church of Jesus Christ. The scandal and damage from this will outlive most who read this blog. Think of all the innocent clergy who are now held under a cloud of suspicion.

  • Mark

    AP earned my undying suspicion years ago for unattributed “news” items (scare quotes definitely deserved and appropriate) with words obviously carefully chosen to shove the reader toward a biased set of assumptions. No, it’s not reporting. No, it’s not strange because it’s the sort of dishonest journalism AP does best. Whoever Nicole is, she fits right in with the bulk of AP’s style. My distress over AP was one big reason I breathed a huge sigh of relief when this website caught my attention several years ago. At the same time, the question of how the RCC works vis-a-vis appointments and dis-appointments of bishops is a valid one. There was no attempt to help the reader answer it.

  • Stan


    I am from Slovakia, and I have personally met the Bishop Bezak.
    The man full of Christ and love for people. He hasn’t have any scandals or even rumors around him during his 28 years priesthood. In 2009 he was appointed as a Bishop in Trnava Diocese with around 1.300.000 believers. (There is 8 dioceses in SLOVAKIA.)

    Trnava diocese

    This is very strange situation which is going here. All the newspaper,
    TV channels in Slovakia are filled by this dismissing our Bishop.

    Even some of our christian (but also non christian) celebrities have appealed against this decision from the Holy See. The decision gave no explaining why are they firing him. They just forbided him to talk with any reporters or news. They even excluded him from his Diocese and he had to left from the area. Yesterday 3 of 13 of his deans announced their will to give demission and leave with him. Hundreds of believers were in the streets of Trnava protesting, During last 48 hours over 6.000 people signed the petition:
    Solidarity and Support for BISHOP BEZAK.

    I will just briefly say that he is a wonderfull person, he was our priest for 2 years. He was so much into Christ and loved him a lot. He had wonderfull relationships also with non christian peoples and aslo with the reporters.
    When he was named as a Bishop he sent all his priests in diocese (hundreds of them) his cell phone number to have personal contact with them. He started to uncover and reveal very doubtful financial operations of his predecessor bishop John Sokol (STB agent dismissed and sued for 16.000.000€ defalcation), and I can go on and on…

    Please consider to forward this to as many people as you can, because

    Who is Robert Bezak?
    Here you can read FIVE BEZAK’S SINS: THE GLOSS ABOUT BEZAK (translated with Google translate):
    FIVE SINS of Bishop Bezak’s (gloss)

  • Stan

    Please consider to forward this situation to as many people as you can, because in our little Slovakia we can’t do anything with the power od the Holy See.

  • John


    A kiszivárgott információk szerint az érsek illetéktelenül szentelt pappá személyeket és nem megfelel?en vezette az egyházmegyét. 2009-ben történt kinevezésekor mintegy 80 papot helyezett át, és az esperesi hivatalokba is túlnyomó többségben saját embereit ültette be. M?ködése kezdetén adott igéretét, miszerint 5 éven belül megtanul magyarul, már nem volt ideje beváltani. Amikor magyarok lakta területen végzett liturgikus tevékenységet, szlovák nyelven szólt a hívekhez, így szavait megbízottai fordították – értesült a Pázmaneum.

    This paragraph in Hungarian gives the following reasons for the dismissal of AB Bezak:

    “Unnamed sources report that the Archbishop was accused of ordaining to the priesthood unsuitable individuals; shortly after his appointment to the sea of Szobathely/Trnava he transferred 80 priests to new posts to favor his friends and supporters; he made no effort to speak Hungarian to his Hungarian faithful although he promised to learn to speak Hungarian within 5 years.”

    This is the gist of the report. Szombathely is an old Hungarian city and ethnic feelings are constantly in play because Slovak politicians preach ethnic hatred to stay in office. Slovakian Hungarians are not allowed to speak their language in public. It appears that Bishop Bezak felt more Slovak than Catholic. He actively resisted his dismissal by the Holy See. For example, his Slovak supporters collected signatures on his behalf to forestall the dismissal.

    The article can be found here:

  • David Paggi

    I suppose the current practice in journalism nowadays is that the author must connect the dots for the typical reader. What sells is the emotional reaction, not facts dispassionately presented. The inherent problem is that too much temptation is given the author to lead the reader to what too frequently is a forgone conclusion not reasonably supported by available facts.

    I believe this is the case here. Terry points out that there are significant facts and relevant canonical commentary entirely absent from story as reported so far.

    These general observations aside, there are distinctions missing from the AP story. That there was an Apostolic Visitation & apparently failed undertakings by the oformer abp, whether linguistic or financial, shows that there was objective data available on which the Vatican could act. I am not well informed about the details of the scandal, but it seems unlikely there was a reporting mechanism to Rome for abuse allegations as there was for, say, financial reporting. Presumably this deficiency has since been cured, but unless I’m wrong, the information would simply not have been available for the Vatican to have removed bishops (or priests) as there was in the present case.

    If my speculation is correct, the author’s conclusion is misleading in that she is either holding a prior period to present standards or worse, expecting the Vatican to have a crystal ball (or Palantir, for Tolkein readers). This is consistent with Bill’s observation that this author has a history of hostile reporting, & so it seems likely that she jumped to her desired conclusion without really testing fhe available facts.

  • Maureen

    Well, there you go. Whatever might have been wrong before, there’s definitely something wrong with Bezak’s administration now. A saintly bishop would accept the Pope’s decision and go quietly, whereas this one seems to be stirring up his followers. (Or possibly his friends are the kind of people who stir things up, in which case some of his friends probably caused the apostolic investigation, too.)

  • Amanda

    All of these comments by John about “Szombathely” are absolutely ridiculous. Even just a quick wikipedia search shows you that Trnava is almost 97% ethnic Slovak. And even though there are Hungarians, this foolish argument would be the same thing as saying that a bishop from Maine should be fired because he can’t speak French.
    No, the real issue here is that there is simply no proof for the “administrative issues” Bezak is supposed to have caused. The old archbishop Sokol is known to have “lost” millions of Slovak crowns from the Trnava archdiocesan accounts. Bezak was the one to request the visit by the Vatican to check the accounts. It wasn’t Bezak that mismanaged the fund, it was his predecessor. But, since some of the stolen money is suspected to have been funneled into the Vatican, Sokol was never reprimanded and Bezak has taken the blame.
    Don’t get me wrong, I respect the Pope and am not trying to start a flame war. But there is definitely something rotten in the state of Slovakia’s RCC.

  • Just sayin’

    A.P. and Reuters are one-and-the-same. Reuters is Rothschild owned. There is only 1 “news” service.
    That is not to say that the Pope doesn’t have the authority to remove any bishop at any time–collegiality notwithstanding. There exist many debatable issues here; but the Petrine Primacy isn’t one of them.

  • Julia

    Interesting 6/15/2012 article on bishops removed by the Pope in recent times. Great Italian writer with good non-hysterical info.

  • Ann

    I have been noticing a big change in AP articles in the last year. They never were great, but these days 90% of them are pure pop culture analysis, and most of those have no actual news content at all (facts, events, new information). And in my small town newspaper, AP is our ONLY source of national and international news.

    Is there any real alternative (online maybe?) to the AP?

  • Just sayin’
    Not a “news” site but certainly an education.

  • annika

    Prosecutor to investigate Trnava archdiocese finances under Sokol
    6 Jul 2012 Flash News

    The financial management of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Trnava during Ján Sokol’s 20-year tenure as archbishop until 2009 is to be checked by Slovakia’s general prosecutor after an auditor at the archdiocese filed a criminal complaint on Wednesday, July 4. The audit had been initiated by Sokol’s successor, Archbishop Róbert Bezák, who was dismissed by the Vatican from his position at the beginning of this week, the Sme daily reports today (Friday, July 6).

    The auditor, who asked not to be named, said she could not reveal details. She said that she was required by law to file the criminal complaint since she had uncovered facts that suggested a crime had been committed. The Conference of Bishops of Slovakia (KBS) has refused to comment on the audit, or on any potential prosecution. KBS spokesman Ján Ková?ik said that the new head of the archdiocese, Jan Orosch, who reports directly to the Vatican, will deal with the case. (After Bezák’s dismissal, management arrangements for the archdiocese were changed by the Holy See.) Sources close to Bezák say that it was precisely his efforts to make the financial management of the Trnava archdiocese more transparent that led to his dismissal, Sme reported.

    The church has not commented on the reason’s for the Pope’s abrupt dismissal of Bezák, ignoring even questions from a group of missionary associations and activists.

    Bezák’s supporters had expected to hear a fuller explanation of his dismissal at a rally planned for Thursday, July 5, in St Nicholas Square in Trnava, but the planned mass protest, at which black ribbons were supposed to be worn, did not take place. Another rally to support Bezák has been called for later today (Friday, July 6), at which organisers say new information about the reasons for his dismissal will be given.


    Compiled by Zuzana Vilikovská from press reports
    The Slovak Spectator cannot vouch for the accuracy of the information presented in its Flash News postings.

  • Thinkling

    John L. Allen has picked up this story (starts halfway down), so I imagine it will be seeing more attention.

    Interesting that his take (admittedly, still hearsay, which he admits) parallels much of the commentary in the comments here. Allen is usually pretty good, so keep your eyes peeled.