05 January 2010

Precedent for resignation of a whole hierarchy

Father Vincent Twomey SVD, in a letter to The Irish Times on 2 December, called for the resignation of the five bishops still in office who had been mentioned in the Murphy Report. The text of the letter can be found on Dr Twomey’s website. In a letter in today’ issue of the paper he asks for forgiveness for having included Bishop Drennan:

Madam, – Since I am on record as calling for the resignation of the bishops mentioned in the Murphy report (December 3rd), I should have expressly excluded Dr Martin Drennan. The present Bishop of Galway was not found guilty of either negligence or cover-up by the Murphy commission. The one substantial reference to Bishop Drennan in the report (51.1-51.2) indicates that, when he was Auxiliary in Dublin, he acted appropriately in the case in question. The report concludes, “The Archbishop acted correctly in immediately addressing the concerns and suspicions in this case.” This amounts, if I am correct, to a recommendation of Bishop Drennan’s initial response with regard to a young priest acting suspiciously with young males.

Calls for his resignation are unfounded. If I was in any way guilty of inciting such calls, I am sincerely sorry and ask forgiveness. – Yours, etc,

Professor Emeritus of Moral Theology,
Divine Word Missionaries,
Maynooth, Co Kildare.

Patsy McGarry, Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times comments on the letter:

There are precedents for bishops resigning, including a whole hierarchy. Archbishop Penney of St John’s, Newfoundland, resigned in 1991. As I recall, the head of the committee he had appointed was a retired chief justice of Newfoundland, an Anglican. It is clear that Archbishop Penney wanted the truth to come out. The National Catholic Reporter commented on this in 2004:

From the Editor's Desk
The accounting begins

“We are a sinful church. We are naked. Our anger, our pain, our anguish, our shame and our vulnerability are clear to the whole world. … I’m prepared to take the responsibility, and that’s something I have to live with.”

Those were the words of then-Archbishop Alphonsus Penney of Newfoundland, Canada, in 1990 on announcing his resignation after a committee that he had appointed to look into sexual abuse in his archdiocese returned a scathing assessment of his handling of the matter.

Penney did not have Vatican approval to resign. He just did so because he had come to realize that he had terribly mishandled reports of sexual abuse of children. He had failed his people as a spiritual leader. And he stepped down.

The Penney incident, in the wake of the week’s reports here on sex abuse, is instructive in a host of ways. First, it was a bishop taking responsibility, without any qualifiers or excuses, for what happened on his watch. Nowhere did he blame the press or an oversexed culture or the reforms of Vatican II or his lack of understanding of the problem or a lack of communication with his fellow prelates or the lack of understanding of sexual abuse by the social sciences of that era. People had been hurt; he had been a large reason the hurt continued. He apologized and he stepped aside.

After he resigned, he sat for a detailed interview (NCR, Aug. 10, 1990) and recounted the insights he had gained during the ordeal, not least of which was the support of people appreciative of the way he sacrificed his career for the integrity of the church.


In a very different situation, the bishops of the five ecclesiastical jurisdictions in the Philippines at the beginning of the last century resigned or were transferred in 1902 and 1903. One was succeeded by the first Filipino bishop, the others by Americans. This was in the wake of the Spanish-American War and the Treat of Paris in 1898 when the USA bought the Philippines from Spain for $18,000,000 or as Filipinos often put it, they bought Filipinos for $2 a head:

Nueva Caceres: 20 July 1903. Succeeded by Filipino 1905

Cebu: 30 July 1904. Succeeded by American, appointed 17 July 1903

Jaro: resigned 27 October 1903. Succeeded by American, appointed 12 June 1903

Manila: resigned 4 Feb 1902. Succeeded by American, appointed 6 June 1903

Nueva Segovia: transferred to Spain 25 June 1903. Succeeded by American appointed 10 June 1903.

The information can be found at http://www.catholic-hierarchy.org/ .

The overlapping dates for Cebu, Jaro and Mueva Segovia suggest that perhaps the Spanish bishops had to be pushed but communications in those days were much slower than now.

Would it be helpful if all Irish bishops offered their resignations so that the Church could make a fresh start for the sake of everyone? Vincent Twomey suggested something like this, along with a drastic reduction in the number of dioceses in Ireland, in an article in The Irish Times on 9 December.

The Pope could choose not to accept some resignations.

1 comment:

Convenor said...

Dear Father,

I read: "I wasn’t even born when the abuse in the church went on, so I don’t feel guilty – but I do feel a collective sense of shame" in two ways.

First, it seems to imply that the abuse stopped before this 34-year-old was born. Really? Where has he been for those 34 years? He may think that 'new procedures' administered by the same old administrators have eradicated all abuse but 34 years ago? Really? Is this just another case of clerical heads up to the collar in sand?

Second, if he was born (or studying or ordained) when the abuse was going on (as it still goes on today, since sin and sinners are always with us) would he be guilty then?

I won't repeat the old chestnut about participation in the sin of others but do they teach ordinands anything at all these days? Or do they assume that they learned it all in Primary School?

Let's face facts, nothing has changed within the ranks of clericalism - and nothing will, except the excuses. Just because you're being persecuted doesn't mean you're a martyr. Just because you're suffering doesn't mean you're being purified.

Isn't this just another form of externalist religion? If the procedures are right we must be better. If we're suffering, we must be improving. If we're praying we must be getting holier.