A Program for Reform, Part Two

A Program for Reform, Part Two November 20, 2019

Part One

Let’s start with some suggestions for reforming authority structures in the Church, shall we? The power to avoid, dissemble, conceal, and reassign responsibility turned what might have been a series of local tragedies into a nationwide epidemic. The authority structure that enabled that needs to be checked, if not dismantled completely.

Now, I am not a professional canonist any more than I am an expert theologian, so some of the details and terminology in the following proposals may be off. I hope that doesn’t obscure any genuine value they have.

I. Reforms of Authority

1. A permanent papal legate (legatus a latere) shall be established, with authority over every diocese in the country. This office is not to be confused with the nunciature, an essentially diplomatic function; his office is closer to that of the apostolic visitor, but permanent. His principal task will be overseeing the conduct of the clergy, authorizing the immediate laicization of offending priests without further recourse to the Vatican, and the deposition of offending bishops and heads of religious communities with the Vatican’s confirmation. The idea here is both to place a check on bishops and religious, who have thus far shielded themselves pretty effectively from enduring any consequences either for abuses they have committed or for protecting guilty priests, and to accelerate the laicization of offenders in order to help protect victims and potential victims.

2. The Rite of Degradation shall be revived. It will be used in laicizing or deposing all clergy who are expelled from office on grounds of sexual abuse, financial misconduct, or other gross transgressions of their office. This is both because the faithful have a right to see justice publicly carried out—it’d be a reassuring change, among other things—and because laicizations of this kind (as distinct from cases of erroneous discernment and the like) are properly liturgical due to the character of the Church, and the corresponding character of these offenses.

3. A public database of the accused is to be established, overseen by a council of competent laity answerable directly to the Pope. It is to list: the full names (both legal and in religion, if applicable) of all clergy, religious, and lay leaders accused of sexual abuse, financial misconduct, or other gross violations of office; all past and present assignments in Catholic parishes and other institutions; and the number and nature of accusations against them. Bishops, heads of religious communities, and lay leaders will be required to share any information about abuse they possess, from whatever source, with this database. Knowingly concealing information about an accused person will carry the penalty of interdict latæ sententiæ—like, e.g., falsely accusing a priest of soliciting sexual favors in the confessional does.

I do not fondly imagine that these measures alone would adequately reshape even the culture of authority in the Catholic hierarchy of this country, let alone its culture in general. But I think they would be a good start, well worth discussing.

Images via Pixabay


Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!


TRENDING AT PATHEOS Catholic
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Mark

    Eh. A permanent papal legate seems unnecessary. Just give bishops the power to laicize priests without any recourse to Vatican authority. What manager can’t fire an employee without appealing to global HQ? It’s insane.

    A better proposal: laicized priests shouldn’t get “alimony”. If I’m fired for cause, my company doesn’t continue housing me or give me a stipend. Yet it seems like they can’t let go when it’s a priest. McCarrick is still living on church property for crying out loud. Let people just be sacked!

    Not sure the rite of degradation would actually ever be used. Because what ex-priest would submit to it? It’s not the Middle Ages, the Church doesn’t have *physical authority* over priests anymore, so it’s not like they could compel a priest to attend.

    As for a database…I’m not sure why a church specific database is needed. Don’t the civil authorities maintain a database of sex offenders? You’d think that would be enough. Not sure keeping all “accused” but not convicted is really fair either, though with statutes of limitations in the civil law I understand why you might be inclined to design it that way.

    The truth is, this isn’t hard. In fact it’s really easy: sack the bastards and call the police. That’s it. That’s what schools do. That’s what other companies do. The church needs no special reforms in this regard, in terms of “directly” addressing the issue. The way to address it directly is you report it to the police and if the person is found guilty or the accusations look credible upon investigation, you fire them and cut all ties.

    Where reforms are needed is in addressing the clerical culture that creates the weird sort of logic and loyalties (and blackmail) whereby there’s a reluctance to sack, and a reluctance to get civil authorities involved.

    No amount of rules help anything if you don’t address the root of the problem which is a reluctance to ever enforce rules. The modern clergy seems to really hate the idea of formal internal discipline at all. Like, there seems to be a bizarre phobia to ever actually disciplining or firing or punishing anyone. Heretics aren’t excommunicated, scandalous public figures keep being given communion, and priests and bishops keep never having consequences to bad behavior.

    We have to address the clerical culture that created this climate of total abdication of responsibility.