Saturday, 7 June 2014

Appointment of Bishops: A Better Way

This article was published, slightly edited, in the Scottish Catholic Observer a few weeks ago.

For those of us who love the Scottish Catholic Church, the last few years have been rather uncomfortable. It started with Roddy Wright: would that it had ended there! But here we are, and it seems that the two biggest lessons that should have been learnt after that sad and sorry episode haven’t. Although there has been a recent exception as regards one of them (see below).

As it happens, my nephew, Kevin, witnessed Bishop Wright doing his runner. He and a couple of friends were staying in the presbytery of St Columba’s Cathedral as house guests of Fr Sean MacAulay, God rest him. It was a working holiday. They were trying to rid the bell tower of its unwelcome guests, the pigeons. Princess Di’s mother, Frances Shand Kydd, and God rest her, was on kitchen duties. She tried to be helpful in other ways, suggesting: “Why don’t you just shoot them?”

From his bedroom window, Kevin saw the van being loaded that Wednesday morning (September 4, 1996). Telling Fr Seany of this as they went in for breakfast, he declined the latter’s suggestion that he take a wee walk up the street to see what was going on.

But a blind man could see what is not going on in the Church eighteen years later. The good Catholic people of Argyll and the Isles were left for over three years nursing their grief, keeping it warm in the absence of a shepherd. I am sure Archbishop O’Brien, as he then was, did his best. But more was required. And Rome did not do it.

More recently, in Dunkeld, Bishop Vincent Logan announced in December of 2010 that he had submitted his resignation to the Holy See because of ill-health. Astonishingly, at least to your humble but esteemed scrivener here, this was not accepted until June 30, 2012. Even more astonishingly, despite having sat on his resignation letter for 18 months, the acceptance of it was not accompanied by the announcement of a successor. We had to wait a further 18 months before Bishop Stephen Robson’s appointment was announced on December 11 last.

For three years Rome knew that a new bishop was required in Dunkeld; and nothing was done. Just as it hadn’t been done in Argyll and the Isles. “Hod oan. Hod oan. Fings wur bein’ dun,” Archbishop Mennini protests (but in Italian, of course). Then why were the good Catholic people of Dun(dee)keld kept in the dark?

[(Dun(dee)keld? Suggestive of Oor Wullie and hence my attempt at the use of dialect. While we are at it: why not change the name to Diocese of Dundee? Ever tried to find Dunkeld?]

And as for Dunkeld, just to make things even more ludicrous, Bishop Robson, then Auxiliary in Saint Andrews and Edinburgh, on Sunday, October 13 last, as PP announced in the parish bulletin of Ss John Cantius and Nicholas, Broxburn: “Very Important Message. We warmly welcome Monsignor Patrick Burke to our Parish Family. We are lucky to have a much loved priest and pastor. Mgr Patrick has worked in Rome in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for a good number of years – especially with Pope Benedict before his retirement as Pope.”

Three things were immediately obvious: Bishop Robson was for the off, the only questions being where to and when; Bishop Robson was going to be replaced as PP by Mgr Pat, and; Mgr Pat was to be appointed Vicar General, or at the very least “a” Vicar General.

As to that latter, why else would he have accepted Archbishop Leo’s plea that he return to his home archdiocese from Rome to help him in his new mission? Even if Mgr Pat were falling out of love with his work in the CDF (and I have no reason to believe he was), why come back to all the trials and tribulations facing the Church at home?

One is reminded of Archbishop, later Cardinal, Manning’s visitation of Glasgow in October 1867. At his later urging, Propaganda Fide offered the post of Apostolic Administrator of the Western District to Archbishop George Errington (who Pius IX had deposed in 1862 as Coadjutor Archbishop with Rights of Succession of Westminster, thus paving the way for the convert Manning to succeed Cardinal Wiseman). Mgr Errington was by then working quite happily as a PP at the mission on the Isle of Man. Aged 64 years, and using that as an excuse, he declined to accept appointment. It was noted at the time: “A man would have to be a saint or a madman to accept the episcopal seat of Glasgow: he was neither.” Nor is Mgr Pat.

Why not tell the good Catholic people of Dunkeld, and the rest of us, at an early date: “This is what is going to happen. When Mgr Leo has had a brief period to settle in and Bishop Stephen has had a chance to help him do that AND hand over to Mgr Pat both as VG and PP, then…” Instead the Media Office is demanding The Tablet retract their story that Mgr Pat has been appointed VG! I thought “Media” implied communication?

So, the two lessons that should have been learned after the Roddy Wright affair (no pun intended, or it would have been the plural) were: firstly, sede vacante should always be ended soonest (they managed this with Archbishop Leo); secondly, if there is NECESSARY delay, let the people know AND let them know as much as possible, not as little.

Yes, the Church is not a democracy. Yes, indeed, it is much more than that! It is a family. And families break up quickest and more irreconcilably when communication breaks down. Or wasn’t there in the first place.

What can be done?

My love of Papa Ratzinger stems from an interview with that same Mgr Burke mentioned above. This was back in August 2005 when he celebrated his last Mass as PP of Our Lady and St Ninian, Bannockburn, before taking up his appointment in Rome. There had been a photograph published in various newspapers of Pope Benedict shaking hands with Pele. According to one, an unnamed Vatican official had had to explain to His Holiness who Pele was. Since by then I knew that Fr Pat had known him well from his time as a graduate student priest residing in the German College, Rome — it is a long story — I asked if this could possibly be true. “Hughie,” he replied “he smokes Marlboro, drinks lager and supports Bayern Munich. So what do you think?”

That’s my kind of guy!

Some time ago, preparing an article about His Holiness, I looked at the history of the Archdiocese of Munich and was surprised to notice that whereas Joseph Ratzinger had been “appointed” Archbishop of Munich, as had his two predecessors, previously Archbishops of that great Metropolitan See were elected, with scant exception. The last elected Archbishop was Michael Cardinal Faulhaber. (Readers in my home town of Motherwell will be interested to know that His Eminence hailed from our Twin Town, Schweinfurt.) Then Bishop of Speyer (also elected) he was elected on May 26, 1917, and his selection was confirmed by Pope Benedict XV on July 24 (it took so long because of the war). He died on June 12, 1952, and his successor, Joseph, later Cardinal, Wendel, was appointed by Pope Pius XII on August 9, 1952.

More recently, it was announced that, after celebrating his 80th birthday on Christmas Day, Joachim Cardinal Meisner, Archbishop of Cologne, had finally retired on February 28. The process to elect his successor is already underway. And then on March 21 it was announced that Archbishop Werner Thissen of Hamburg had retired. And the process to elect his successor is also already underway.

I could go on at great length about how all this has come about, and there is a similar history of ecclesiastical election in Austria and some other countries, but the only important thing is that in both cases the process will be more or less the same, albeit the time scales are slightly different. And in both cases the good Catholic people of the Sees involved know what is happening, who is doing it, approximately how long the different things involved will take, and, and most importantly, roughly when they will have a new Archbishop (or Bishop, for this does not only apply at the most senior episcopal level).

Essentially what would happen here in Scotland is this. Firstly, within 8 days a diocesan administrator is elected by the College of Consultors, the group of senior priests, numbering between 6 and 8, freely chosen by the former diocesan ordinary to serve for a five year term. (This is how it is supposed to be done now. Recently, in two it was and in two it wasn’t: another long story.) The administrator’s first responsibility is to prepare a report, in the form used for the ad limina, on the See to be delivered to the Apostolic Nuncio for onward transmission to Rome. He has three months maximum to do this. (Until the administrator is chosen, the Auxiliary Bishop, if there is one, the senior Auxiliary, by appointment, if there is more than one, is in charge. Only usual business may be transacted.)

Secondly, the Cathedral Chapter must within three months present to the Holy See a list of suitable candidates. The Nuncio, the remaining bishops of the Province and the Bishops’ Conference would all be entitled to present candidates. The Pope (with the assistance of the Congregation for Bishops, advised by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) will then draft a list of three names from all of these proposals and from amongst these the cathedral chapter must choose by election a new archbishop or bishop.

The expectation is that this entire process must take no longer than a year. And should take considerably less. Cologne expects a new Archbishop in a few months. Are Scotland’s Catholics less deserving of consideration?

Oh, I nearly forgot. And the beauty of all this is that since everything is being done locally — subsidiarity, anyone? — it is both more easy for the people to make their voices heard and more likely that it will be listened to. Even if, in charity, the Cathedral Chapter do not go with the vox populi. But at least they will have the opportunity, if they so wish, to let their parishioners know why they didn’t. On the QT, of course. 

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