Thursday, 16 May 2013

Prayer and penance for Cardinal O'Brien: but what about Bishop Robinson and others?!

The Vatican has announced that Cardinal O'Brien of Scotland will leave Scotland for several months of prayer and penance.

That seems an entirely appropriate first step.

But it begs some questions, first about his own punishment, and secondly about the several other Cardinals and bishops whose crimes (canonical and otherwise) have become public scandals.

Such as former Sydney Auxiliary Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, who has just put out a new book advocating the ordination of women and other errors.

And to there is, as the ever excellent Fr Ray Blake has pointed out, the question of how many others are still lurking in the ranks of the episcopacy.

Cardinal O'Brien

Cardinal O'Brien, you will recall, was quickly retired, and decided not to attend the papal conclave after his double-life as a practicing homosexual was revealed a few months back.  The worst of the accusations were that he had propositioned seminarians under his authority.

Since then there have been assorted reports as to what would happen to him, and he seemed to be preparing to move  into a cottage for his retirement.

That is now on hold, as a Holy Office Press statement says:

“His Eminence Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brien, archbishop emeritus of St. Andrews and Edinburgh, for the same reasons he decided not to participate in the last Conclave, and in agreement with the Holy Father, will be leaving Scotland for several months for the purpose of spiritual renewal, prayer, and penance. Any decision regarding future arrangements for His Eminence shall be agreed with the Holy See.”

Deposing Cardinals

Prayer and penance is obviously a good place to start, but it begs the question of why he is still a Cardinal.

The title of Cardinal is different to that of bishop.  A bishop can, at least in theory be laicized, but as with a priest, his orders remain valid.  By contrast, Cardinal is not strictly a degree of Holy Orders, but rather a rank of honour that can be given - and taken away.

There seems no prospect that Cardinal O'Brien could continue to serve the Pope in the care of the universal Church, or take part in another conclave should the opportunity arise.  And he certainly doesn't meet the canonical selection criteria of being 'outstanding in doctrine, virtue, piety and prudence in practical matters'!  So why not just depose him from the office of Cardinal?  

Similar questions arise in relation to other 'retired' Cardinals such as Cardinal Mahony.

Cardinal O'Brien has at least acknowledged his crime, and agreed to do penance.  

Cardinal Mahony, by contrast, is still defiantly tweeting and blogging away, and even performing confirmations, thus continuing to undermine the credibility of the Church in the US, as well as the clean-up work on the abuse scandal of his successor.

Those retired bishops

And he is not the only bishop who continues to use his teaching authority to undermine the faith.

Consider the case of former Sydney Auxiliary Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, whose latest book 'For Christ's Sake' once again advocates heresy and error.  His last effort earned at least vague condemnations from the ACBC.  This one needs to be swiftly condemned too.

There are some who argue that ignoring these kinds of books is the best approach - condemning it will just drive up sales.  In some cases, such as Fr Kevin Lee's 's defamatory zamisdat 'confessions' that might be true. 

But in this case, we have a book published by a reputable publisher (indeed one used for many official and semi-official publications) whose title page gives him the title of bishop.  If acatholics want to read it precisely because the Church rejects it that's their choice, but the unsuspecting deserve to know its real status.

Knowledgeable doubters are a rare breed...

There are some, such as current US visitor Sherry Weddell of the US Catherine of Siena Institute, who claim that the crying need for Catholics is not catechesis, or focus on the liturgy, but rather something operating at a much earlier stage in the learning curve that primes us for a sense of and relationship with God.

The more traditional position, to which I subscribe, is that to develop a strong relationship with God we need above all to know him, and that includes intellectual knowledge, as well as experience of him in the liturgy.

And that position - which goes to the need for guidance from the hierarchy on books such as Bishop Robinson's - has just gained some support from some interesting new work from the US Center for Applied Research on the Apostolate (CARA).


A couple of years back a US Pew Forum survey found that 45% of US Catholics did not know do not know that the church teaches that the bread and wine used in Communion do not merely symbolize, but actually becomes, the body and blood of Christ.

The latest CARA research, though has, found that while half of self-identified adult Catholics (50%) are unaware of what the Catholic Church formally teaches, 63% of them nonetheless do actually believe that "at the Consecration during a Catholic Mass, the bread and wine really become the body and blood of Jesus Christ."

How do they reach this view?

Apparently most people who believe in the Real Presence are what the researchers call "knowledgeable believers," the 46% of adult Catholics who are aware of the Churches teaching about the Real Presence and believe it to be true.   But there are another 17% of  "unknowing believers" who believe in the Real Presence but who are unaware that this represents a Church teaching.

Importantly, most of those who don't believe in the Real Presence seem to be just ignorant: 33% of those surveyed were simply unaware of the teaching.

Indeed, according to the research only 4% of those surveyed knew the teaching and rejected it, making them formal heretics.

The conclusion from the CARA research:

"Now we know that lack of belief in the Real Presence is more a problem of religious education than of doubt."

Would the results be similar for Australia?  If any research has been done on this, it is not (yet) public. But I'd be prepared to bet the results wouldn't be all that different.

We need bishops and priests to teach truth!

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