Fr Eric Hodgens questions the nobility of character exhibited by the Australian bishops in their recent doings in Rome. This short essay, which has been submitted for simultaneous publication in The Swag, the journal of the National Council of Priests of Australia and Catholica, raises serious questions at a number of levels of the Christ-like behaviour being presently exhibited by our episcopal leaders. Extravagent real estate deals on the one hand in contrast to the sacrificial slaughter of one of their own without any regard to fairness and natural justice. There is not even any transparency and accountability in the real estate deals. We seem to have moved a long, long way from the sandal-clad humility, material poverty and wealth of Spirit modelled for us by Jesus of Nazareth.
Domus Australia: who paid and was it worth it?
The Australian bishops were in Rome during October for their regular five yearly report. This gave Cardinal Pell the chance to get the pope to bless his favourite project in Rome — a beautifully refurbished old religious house which has been turned into a 33-room guest house for paying visitors. Its grand chapel and organ have been richly restored. It can be used for conferences and has a 150-seat auditorium.
It also has an apartment for Cardinal Pell.
It did not come cheap. Tess Livingstone and Paul Wilson in The Australian cost it at $30 million. But other reliable sources quoted by Paul Barry in Powerindex [LINK] say it is $85 million before overruns — the bulk of it coming from Sydney Archdiocese funds. The cardinal had hoped that many Australian bishops would have contributed but ended up with only Melbourne, Perth and Lismore coming to the party. These are the only names on the dedication stone.
Guests can book in at www.domusaustralia.org. The rates are $160 to $220 per night depending on the season.
Who paid and was it worth it? Hard to tell. Dioceses do not publish their accounts. Diocesan funds belong to the Catholics of the diocese. However, bishops are free to dispose of diocesan funds as they please and with no disclosure, no transparency, no accountability.
Can this enormous expense be justified? The Catholics of Sydney, Melbourne, Perth or Lismore were not consulted. It is a capital investment with no chance of producing a reasonable financial return even costing in a high putative price for the provision of a grand apartment for the Archbishop of Sydney. How can we find the answer when there is no accountability? What does it say of us who trust bishops? The ethics of our secular state are higher than those of our Church.
The treatment meted out to Bishop Bill Morris...
One of Australia's most pastorally effective bishops, Bishop Bill Morris, did not make the Rome visit. He had been forced to retire early by the pope. A bishop of a diocese is not appointed at the pleasure of the pope. He is there in his own right. Only in the most extraordinary circumstances may the pope intervene and only if the good of the diocese and the Church at large is in grave danger. In a pastoral letter in 2006 Bishop Morris pointed out to his diocese that they are increasingly deprived of regular Sunday Mass because of the lack of priests. He said that, if ordaining married men or women eventually got approval within the Church, he would be prepared to ordain them priests. Note: only if approved.
In the light of this, the Roman Curia called on him to resign. The main reason seemed to be that he had dared to mention the issue of women's ordination. In 1994, in a letter called Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, Pope John Paul II claimed that the church did not have the power to ordain women. In his view this ended the matter for ever. Pope Benedict XVI stated in a letter to Bishop Morris that this was infallible teaching.
A bit rich if you understand the strictures and pre-requisites for infallibility built into the Vatican I definition. In fact it was simply a power play by Rome to reassert control and let bishops know where they stood.
To add some cred to the pursuit of Bishop Morris, Rome sent an inquisitorial visitor, Archbishop Chaput from Denver. His report was given to Rome in secrecy, never published and never seen by Bishop Morris.
Rome succeeded in forcing Bishop Morris to take early retirement in May this year. It was presumed that Archbishop Chaput's report was negative; but reliable sources quoted Archbishop Chaput recently saying that his report had been positive. How could you verify this? No transparency, no accountability.
Meanwhile Bishop Morris asked Pope Benedict what recourse he had. The Pope's reply was that the Canon Law provided no recourse process for bishops. Natural justice denied. Canon law is defective compared with the common law of our secular state.
Meanwhile, back to the ad limina. The bishops had interviews with Cardinal Levada of CDF and Cardinal Ouellet of the Congregation of Bishops. The cardinals told the Australian bishops that it was doctrine, not discipline, which was the issue. Really? Further their action was fraternal and pastoral — not juridical. Funny, that. And the Australian bishops simply rolled over. Like subs in sado-masochistic play they thanked their humiliators for being generous with their time. Bill was done. As one keen commentator observed — they eat their own when fingered by Rome. Look at Heaps, Robinson and Heather. And add Hunthausen and Gumbleton from the USA.
How can you trust them? They are reckless with our patrimony. They seem incapable of protecting their own rights, let alone ours, in a system which is corrupt by today's secular standards? No wonder the attitude of so many priests and observant laity is moving from disappointment to disgust.
Thank God we live in a secular state and not in a Catholic theocracy.
Eric Hodgens submitted to Catholica on 28 Nov 2011
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