In today's commentary Frank Purcell reveals that the Australian Bishops have admitted they have still not implemented procedures instituted under the new Code of Canon Law in 1983 for appeals under the Charter of Rights implemented in that new Code. In the face of the continuing appeasement of the insecurities of a tiny rump of Catholicism at the expense of the broad body of Catholics, Frank Purcell, joins the rising chorus of protest around the world at the direction in which the recent Popes and the Roman Curia appear to be taking Catholicism. He argues that greater procedures for accountability need to be implemented at all levels within the institution.
One of the few surviving Absolute Monarchies…
A firestorm has hit the Vatican over the lifting of the excommunication of the Holocaust denier, Lebebvrist Bishop Williamson. In the German-speaking world it has been further inflamed by the appointment of an arch-conservative Austrian priest to be bishop of Linz. The recommendations of the Austrian Church were ignored and the spirit of collegiality violated. Vatican II is at risk from a bureaucracy which is unaccountable and intent of preventing any democratic influences on its governance style. The authoritarianism and disregard for justice and a fair go are significant factors in the alienation of so many Catholics from our Church. Unless things change calling people to 'come home' is going to fall on deaf ears.
The Papacy and its bureaucracy, the Roman Curia, is one of the few surviving absolute monarchies in the 21st century. Most of the others are dysfunctional military dictatorships. One of the shared characteristics of absolute monarchies and military dictatorships is their lack of any accountability except to God. History has shown that accountability to God doesn't have the same impact as having to front up in Parliament to answer some tough questions, and then having to face regular elections which can inflict penalties on leaders who are not performing.
President Obama has been accepting responsibility for proposing two unacceptable candidates for his Cabinet. Someone in his team failed to do an adequate check on possible skeletons in the candidates' closets.
The Vatican has been having similar problems. Someone in the Pope's team didn't do much checking on one of the Lefebvrist bishops whose excommunication for being illegally ordained was lifted at the end of January. In any democratic system the people responsible including the Prime Minister, the Minister responsible for the department and the Head of that department would be on the carpet publicly. Unfortunately, Catholics around the world have no way of demanding a proper explanation from the Vatican. The only people who can pressure Rome for that are the members of the secular media. As far as the Church is concerned, the Pope is above all that.
In this 21st century, one of the lessons history has taught us is that absolute authority ultimately becomes corrupt. Why should the Church be any different? We are all human, including the Pope and the members of the Roman Curia. We can all make mistakes and bad judgments. But unless there is some form of accountability, nothing is learned and 'leaders' making poor judgments or, lacking in basic competencies, are all too easily protected from having to accept responsibility for their mistakes.
Lack of proper mechanisms of accountability…
The appalling behaviour of paedophile priests in Australia was allowed to go on so long because the Church did not have any proper mechanisms by which people could appeal against the administrative actions of bishops. This has been a long recognised weakness and nothing has been done about it.
Pope John Paul II proudly announced in 1983 that the New Code of Canon Law now contained a charter of rights for members of the Church, together with procedures in place to defend those rights. A recent appeal to the Bishops' Commission on Canon Law for access to those rights received the reply that the Australian Bishops still haven't put those procedures in place and an appeal against a bishop for violating those rights was still not possible. Bishop Robinson was right. The bishops have still not learned the hard lessons of the paedophile scandal. Serious allegations still cannot be tested in the Church. Not even the mediation procedures required by Canon Law are available if one is in dispute with a bishop.
From the time of the French Revolution, the Popes and curia were opposed to democracy, freedom of speech and freedom of religion until the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. They are still opposed to democracy inside the Church which they reject as if to democratise the Church would result in Church doctrine being decided by referenda.
But democracy is not just about policies and elections. Democracy is also about administration of the rules and the accountability of people given administrative authority. Day by day, leaders make administrative decisions about people and money which can have a devestating impact on citizens. Ask Cornelia Rau or Vivian Alvarez Solon who both suffered at the hands of our Immigration Department. Without some mechanisms of accountability, bureaucrats or Ministers who make bad judgments are never forced to take responsibility for their actions.
A tendency to identify papal infallibility with 'unaccountability'…
In the Church there is a tendency to identify papal infallibility with 'unaccountability'. Yet, Catholic theology on infallibility does not argue that the Pope has a hot line to the Holy Spirit. He is required to find out what is the belief of the Church. If he fails to do that, he cannot assert that his teaching is infallible. Humanae Vitae was a classical example. The bishops at the Council were deliberately excluded from any discussion of the issue, the advice of a consultative panel including a married couple was rejected, and before long it became clear that the teaching was not accepted by the faithful — many bishops, priests and an overwhelming majority of the laity. The lack of acceptance meant that the teaching was not infallible. Too many theologians like Fr. Nicholas Crotty were silenced or kicked out of Australia because he had the temerity to say that the teaching on contraception was not infallible. Crotty was right and the Australian Bishops were wrong in that case. But the Pope was wrong too and should have had to be accountable for his misjudgement.
Other examples of scandalous and of glaring administrative misjudgements are to be found in the processes followed when people are reported to Rome for heresy or bad theology. The processes do not ensure that the accused gets access to a copy of the accusations, or to the right to cross examine the accuser. Prefects of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith who fail to ensure the protection of human rights in Church procedures are guilty of serious misjudgements and should be accountable for their failures. The Pope should have a small group of non-curial Archbishops elected by National Bishops conferences who join with the Pope in reviewing the performance of the Curial congregations, especially when there are procedural concerns or apparent misjudgements and governance mistakes.
The Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference should have a Review Panel available to receive requests for a review of administrative decisions made by Bishops in their dioceses. It should include priests elected by the National Council of Priests, and women and men elected by the presidents of the Diocesan pastoral Councils. These would form a panel with the President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference to be a review panel if there should be appeals against administrative decisions which cannot be properly heard at the diocesan level.
Until the Church is prepared to lead by example, it will continue to lack credibility as a witness to the way in which Jesus defended victims, treated women as the equals of men and pleaded for a 'fair go' before the High Priest. The Vatican projects an image of being strong on human rights, but is reluctant to lead by example in the way it treats its own members. Until it reforms its undemocratic, unaccountable system of governance its evangelisation is going to be constantly undermined in the eyes of its own members as well as in the eyes of the world we seek to influence.
What are your thoughts on this commentary?