In the coming while the Catholic Church in Australia is in for the most substantial and perhaps interesting shake-up in its distribution of episcopal power that most of us will have seen in our lifetimes. The shake-up is largely triggered by the fact that a larger than normal number of bishops will be retiring over the next few years on account of reaching the age limit and more particularly there should be some very interesting shifts in that smaller group called metropolitans or archbishops who essentially "control all the money" simply because they're in the places where there tends to be a higher concentration of "silly little old ladies and silly little old men who leave their multi-million dollar estates to the Church for perpetual rosary crusades". Each million dollar bequest the Church receives is probably worth about a thousand ordinary pew-sitters financially. Don't be deceived, as the example of Marcial Maciel Degolado brought into focus there are still a heck of a lot of "silly little old ladies and men" leaving their estates to Holy Mother Church for the recitation of perpetual rosary cycles. The oldest dioceses, unless someone has squandered all the money along the way somewhere, tend to have these largest bequest portfolios. In today's commentary Fr Eric Hodgens is principally discussing the interesting speculation that is emerging in the Diocese of Sandhurst centred on the city of Bendigo in rural Victoria following the unexpected early death of Bishop Joe Grech early in January. There's much other gossip circulating around the nation though of the other appointments coming up some of which I and others have shared on Catholica in recent weeks. There are also articles in the mainstream media such as Barney Zwartz's recent article in The Age on the controversy over the selection process [LINK]. Fr Hodgens' commentary today might be read as a reflection on the wider process of selection — and how it has become once again corrupted, and politicised, in recent times as much as it is a reflection on the particular games being played out in one rural diocese in Victoria.
The Genazzano Cup Form Guide...
Joe Grech, bishop of Bendigo, died suddenly early in January. The Bendigo diocese — still called Sandhurst in Catholic Church circles — mourned his loss, appointed an Administrator and began a wait. The people and priests of Sandhurst do not know how long they are to wait, who they will get as the next bishop, how long it will take or even how the replacement process really works.
The bishop's house in Bendigo is called Genazzano. So some wag privately published a Genazzano Cup Form Guide which listed twenty or thirty starters with comments on their chances and their odds. A very funny guide especially if you know the people who were listed as starters.
What is tragic is that such a guide would be amusing. The people most affected by this appointment are not even marginally involved in the selection process. The canon law principle: "what affects all should be decided by all" is mocked as the king makers jostle to get their man in. And their choice will be the man best suited to bolster their faction. Whether he is any good for Sandhurst is the last consideration.
Episcopal "king makers"...
Look at the disproportionate number of Opus Dei members, or sympathisers, appointed bishop over the last twenty years. And the Salesian Order gets inside running world wide indicating that Cardinal Bertone, the Salesian who is Papal Secretary of State, is a king maker. It is rumoured that Melbourne's long wait for an Auxiliary Bishop replacement is due to Cardinal Pell's vetoing Archbishop Hart's nominee.
The keen observer can see which king maker is getting his boys up. It highlights the faction struggles both at middle and top level. What goes around comes around. In a recent top level factional fight Cardinal Pell was beaten by Cardinal Ouellet of Quebec in the race to head the Congregation of Bishops. That probably means Cardinal Pell is sentenced to another five years in Sydney. He turns 70 this year.
In 1936 the senior priests of Hobart diocese were key players in the election of Justin Simonds as their archbishop. Such participative consultation has since been usurped by episcopal factions. We now just take it as normal that these issues are decided by faceless men upstairs. A decision will be announced sooner or later and the Sandhurst faithful will be expected not only to accept the newly superimposed leader but to be grateful. The Patti Hearst syndrome is alive and well in the church.
Genuine consultation is an ethical pre-requisite in this day and age. Meanwhile the continuance of this system is disgraceful for the faithful of Sandhurst and even unfair on the new bishop — most likely unknown, unwanted and unloved.
Eric Hodgens 16/03/11
What are your thoughts on this commentary?