The Duns Scotus of Flatbush tendered his resignation to the Holy Father recently, having turned 75. He continues in office today, even though we’ve known since forever that he was going to reach mandatory retirement age this fall, and have known since the first Daily depositions were made public earlier this year what kind of bishop he was (i.e., that he had, through his own malfeasance in office, facilitated the serial rape of Catholic children by wicked priests). Why does he continue in office today? What are the faithful to conclude about the way Rome sees them? Why does Rome move with lightning speed to remove bishops like O’Connell and Weakland, who are tainted by personal sex scandal, but does nothing about Law, Daily et alia, who have allowed through their misgovernance children to be sexually abused by their priests?
Well, this (hopefully) faithful member of the flock doesn’t conclude anything, not having the information to do so. I do, however, keep other possibilities in mind besides, “John Paul holds the laity in contempt.” Here are some of the possibilities I keep in mind: Most bishops through most of the Church’s history are, I would guess, compromised–deeply compromised–by something or other they’ve done in response to something one or more of their priests has done, whether sexually, financially, politically or otherwise. The more I look at the problem, the more I have to conclude that this is probably the norm, and moreso in a sexually depraved culture like ours (you should see what bishops after the Reformation had to deal with!). So let’s do a gedankenexperiment, take your suggestion, and ax local bishops who aren’t guilty of sexual depravity themselves, but who have profoundly failed to govern when others under their authority did sin. What’s the cutoff point for kicking out such bishops? If the Pope kicks out Law, Daily, McCormack and Mahony, why not the rest of the European and American episcopacy except for Bruskewitz and Dolan–given your diagnosis that corruption is the rule and not the exception? If not this extremis, then what’s the criteria for sorting them out? How much malfeasance is allowable? The devil’s in the details. And, of course, the problem remains that if the Pope has failed in his office, then he should be kicked out too on the same grounds as all the others. If the episcopate *as an office* is the problem then what are we saying? That Catholic theology is wrong? Big questions ensue.
I basically don’t see any way out but through. The Church’s basic habit is to perform amputations only when absolutely necessary and to conserve as much as possible. It is also to be as lenient as possible when the offender acknowledges his offense. When the amputation was necessary, it happened swiftly to guys like O’Connell. But to break with this pattern of making amputation as rare as possible and to instead urge it as normative medicine is to issue an open-ended call for the Pope to abandon the Council’s emphasis on collegiality, to reject the Church’s teaching about the autonomy of the local bishop and to make the Holy Father a monarch the envy of Hildebrand. Such ideas have consequences, since they lead to a truly hyper-clericalist model in which the Church is truly under the sole rule of one man in Rome. And if the next man is a man, not like Karol Woytila but more like O’Connell or Gumbleton, or a heartfelt authoritarian, what then?
So mass firings of bishops is just not going to happen. I think it’s unrealistic to demand it and I think it’s not fair to suggest that the only possible motivation for refusing to adopt such measures is clericalism. As a member of the (hopefully) faithful laity, I honestly don’t think we’re seeing Papal contempt for the laity. I think we’re seeing the normal struggle of the Church, and particularly of the Holy Father, to choose between multiple evils and multiple goods.