Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Bishop may lose his job, but not his salary or his standing in the Church

Catholic bishops who resign over abuse scandals are well looked after by their Church. They usually keep their salaries (around £25,000) and are provided with accommodation by the Church.

Those who are forced to resign may see it as punishment but it is not punishment as the normal professional world understands sacking and disgrace.

The disgraced bishops do not actually resign from membership of the Catholic hierarchy unless they seek to be laicised, for instance in order to marry.

Donal Murray will face the prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation of Bishops, Giovanni Battista Re. He was the personal appointment of Pope John Paul II and was fast-tracked to the position of cardinal.

Retained by Benedict after John Paul's death, Re is clearly regarded in Rome as a safe pair of hands. He is, paradoxically, spoken of as a liberal.

However, he once upheld a decision to excommunicate the mother and doctors of a nine-year-old Brazilian girl for procuring an abortion for her when she fell pregnant with twins.

Bishop Murray will have some idea of what to expect of Cardinal Re before they arrive in Rome for the Congregation appointed him and arranges all audiences with the Pope. He has powers of excommunication but no-one expects him to be as harsh on a bishop as on the mother of a pregnant child.

So when Bishop Murray faces the humiliating task of submitting his resignation, he will not lose his salary or his standing in the Church. He will have to move home but that is part of the normal inconvenience of being a clergyman.

The Vatican has the power to defrock Bishop Murray but that is a punishment it has so far reserved for offending priests and not for the bishops who covered for them and moved them around to avoid scandal.

Even bishops who have directly abused children have been protected, according to writer Jason Berry who produced Vows of Silence, a documentary on the Vatican. He cites the example of Irish-born Anthony O'Connell who resigned as Bishop of Palm Beach, Florida, in 2002 and now lives in a monastery in South Carolina.

The highest profile resignation by a member of the Catholic hierarchy was that of Cardinal Bernard Law who had covered up child abuse on a massive scale in the diocese of Boston. Just as he had shuffled abusing priests around, the Vatican shuffled him into a cushy job as archpriest of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. The Church provides him with an apartment.

There have been high-profile resignations by bishops in Ireland before this.

Eamon Casey, the Bishop of Galway, was outed as having a son from a long-standing affair with an American woman. He was sent abroad — as a missionary — and has returned to Ireland on the understanding that he maintain a low profile. For a man who was such a natural showman, this silence is probably painful. However, the Church teaches repentance and forgiveness and therefore leaves a way back to respectability for the errant sinner. The Church, it has been joked, might be glad of more men like Casey now for he was at least directing his sexual interest at an adult.

Meanwhile, Bishop Brendan Comiskey of Ferns stepped down in 2002 after publicity around the appalling behaviour of the manipulative paedophile Fr Sean Fortune.

Comiskey was later reported to be training as a counsellor in the United States but has had no public profile since.

Today Bishop Murray contemplates his fate. He lamentably failed to deal with a paedophile priest in Dublin archdiocese and he struggled for a week after the publication of the Murphy report to retain the right to decide his own future. He may not be alone standing before the Congregation of Bishops to hear the fate they have in mind for him. But he need at least not worry about having a roof over his head and a decent income.

That much is assured.

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