by Thomas P. Doyle on Nov. 10, 2011
Examining the crisis
"The British High Court ruled Tuesday that the Roman Catholic Church can be held responsible for the wrongdoings of its priests, according to BBC News.
"The Church had claimed it could not be held vicariously responsible because there was no formal employment relationship with its priests," the site reported.
It appears that Mr. Justice MacDuff used a realistic test to determine if the Diocese of Portsmouth was liable for the actions of its priest, Fr. Wilfred Baldwin, who is accused of raping a woman, now 47, when she was a girl at a children's home in Hampshire."...MacDuff bypassed the literal interpretation of a classic employer-employee relationship when it came to the diocese and the priest and focused instead on the relationship itself as well as the role of the bishop of the diocese in the activities of the priest. "
"..The bishop alone appoints a priest to his post, and the bishop alone can remove him. It is true that the pope alone has the power to involuntarily "defrock" a priest, but that is not the point. The bishop can suspend a priest with little or no due process. He can remove a priest's faculties, which are the special permissions needed to perform key priestly functions. The bishop lacks the power of complete dismissal from the priesthood itself, but he certainly can dismiss a priest from an assignment, ministry or even residence in a diocese...
..."Priests are referred to as "collaborators," "brothers," "sons" and co-workers with the bishop, all of which lead to the mistaken impression that there is a standard collaborative relationship based on some degree of equality. Nothing could be further from the truth. The bishop is part of a governmental system that is the last absolute monarchy in the world. He is an aristocrat and the sole authority in his own share of the overall church-kingdom...What is even more important to understand is that though the bishop does not technically "own" the property and the funds of a parish, he does have control over them. The priest's monthly check may be drawn on the parish bank account, but it is the bishop who has ultimate control over that account."
"It is true that there is no formal contract between a priest and a bishop, but there is no need for one. During the ceremony of his ordination to the priesthood, the priest promises "obedience and respect" to his bishop and to his successors. This is not mere decoration but is a real promise with real consequences. The bishop's word is final subject in some cases to appeal to the Holy See. The priest is pledged to obey the bishop, thereby fulfilling God's will for him in his life and ministry..."
[Tom Doyle is a priest, canon lawyer, addictions therapist and longtime supporter of justice and compassion for clergy sex abuse victims. He is a co-author of the first report ever issued to the U.S. bishops on clergy sex abuse, in 1986.
Bridget Mary's Reflection:
In the Roman Catholic Women Priests model of governance, the bishops are equal members of the community. They have a spiritual, pastoral role, but no administrative duties. Our bishops ordain deacons, priests and bishops. The ordinands do not promise to obey the bishop. In fact, at ordinations ordinands prostrate in front of the altar to indicate consecration to God, not in front of the bishop to demonstrate obedience to the bishops.We are reimagining the bishop's role as one that is truly collaborative and egalitarian.
Bridget Mary Meehan, ARCWP