Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Have we learnt nothing from the abuse scandal? The case for laicising Bishop Patrick Power

I've been mulling over how to respond to the revelation that just retired Bishop Patrick Power - as well as, allegedly, at least one other senior member of the Canberra clergy - has a live-in woman friend.

The nauseating report of the Bishop's retirement Mass (complete with a picture of apostate ex-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in the queue for communion) in today's Canberra Times, and of course picked up by Cath News, made up my mind.

Can this truly be the Church?!

In the end, I've decided to speak out because I am utterly scandalized to learn of this, and to learn that it was permitted to continue so long.

Even more scandalized that the man is being lionized by the press and 'progressive' catholics instead of being condemned for heterodoxy and advocacy at least of heteropraxis.

Let us hope that Pope Benedict XVI moves swiftly to laicize him lest he continue to lead others astray.

Have we learnt nothing from the abuse scandals?

One of the features of the abuse scandals was the clericalist deferral to the word of priests who denied all sin, claimed all innocence.  One of the lessons we should have learnt is that claims of innocence need to be properly tested, not just accepted because it is a priest (or bishop) speaking.

So why then is no one challenging Bishop Power's alleged commitment to celibacy even the face of his acknowledgement on television that he has been in a 'loving relationship' with a woman for the last ten years?!

He said, in an interview on ABC TV, that it is important to his relationship to God that "I try my best to honour that [commitment to celibacy]". 

Why should we take that seriously?  And is it even a claim that he has never fallen?  More importantly, even if he has kept his promise of celibacy, his public acknowledgment of the relationship will surely endanger others who will be encouraged to follow his example.

Consider too, the context.  He has acknowledged that many of his seminary class mates have left the priesthood to marry.  Others, it seems, were child abusers:

"I think that much of the sexual abuse... I'm not saying it's caused by celibacy, I've never said that, but I do think that in that whole climate I don't think that we've, within the Church, got a healthy attitude towards sexuality, and I remember going to court one time to give some hope of a lighter sentence for one of my classmates that was going down for that [!] and I pointed out that in the seminary we were very poorly prepared for a celibate life, and I think in many ways it's all about relationships and where priests are denied healthy relationships that they'd have within marriage, that at times there can be the temptation to find comfort in other areas..."

One of the features of the abuse crisis was surely that occasions of sin frequently led to the commission of sin (human nature being what it is!).  One of the lessons we should have learnt is that the Churches age-old emphasis on avoiding occasions of sin should be followed, not rejected. 

Instead, it appears successive Canberran archbishops have allowed Bishop Power have allowed to continue to live in scandalous circumstances that appear to have been well-known to many in Canberra, particularly amongst the clergy. 

I'd like to hope that Bishop Power's 'early retirement' was actually action by Rome (where the wheels after all do turn slowly in such cases!) and do reflect some attempt to rectify the situation on the part of now Archbishop of Brisbane, Mark Coleridge.  But if, as someone has claimed in a comment, other Canberra clergy are living in similarly scandalous situations, you have to wonder.

Finally, one of the features of the abuse crisis was that heterodoxy - adherence to error or heresy - frequently flowed through into heteropraxy, most often manifested as immoral behaviour.

Since his retirement, Bishop Power has dropped all restraint, openly advocating the practice of homosexuality, the ordination of women, and allowing married clergy to return to pastoral ministry.

All care no responsibility!

 A commenter on my earlier, rather sympathetic post on the Bishop suggested that he was a case of all care, no responsibility.

I'd have to say his behaviour at the moment is certainly lending considerable support to that view.

Canberra-Goulburn is currently without either an Archbishop or an Auxiliary.  That surely puts an enormous  administrative load on those left behind to administer the diocese for the remainder of the interregnum period.

Yet instead of offering to help out, Bishop Power portrays, in the Canberra Times, his abandonment of his Office as a positive virtue:

"His hopes for retirement, freed from the burdens of meetings and bureaucracy, include that he be freer to support priests and deacons hanging in for the long haul. He would also have more time to catch up with other friends and family members and to have a special outreach to those on the outer in the Church and the wider community."

Is this one of those cases of presenting a positive front?

The Vatican is of course notoriously reluctant to speak out on these kind of issues, and explain for example, just why a bishop has requested or accepted 'early retirement'.

The reasons for this perhaps made sense historically, in the desire to preserve reputations.

Maybe they still make some sense when the bishop or priest concerned keeps quiet, or better still adopts a suitably penitential lifestyle.

In this day and age though, when wrong is proclaimed as right, and all too many of those who promised obedience feel free to break that promise, never mind the others made at their ordination, the case for greater transparency seems overwhelming....

Meanwhile, please join me in praying for a good, holy, orthodox and strong new Archbishop for Canberra-Goulburn.

And while you at it you might raise a prayer for good bishops for the still vacant diocese of [about to become?] Wilcannia; and for the Archdiocese of Hobart and diocese of Ballarat (where the bishops are above the age limit).


Jim Hewitt said...

Let him without sin cast the first stone.
Jim Hewitt

Nina Blondel said...

Kevin Rudd -he's our very own Vicar of Bray! Is he Anglican or is he Catholic? I'm as appalled as you by fornicating clergy.

Kate Edwards said...

Jim for reasons I've previously set out, that quote is completely inappropriate to this situation. The relevant quote would actually be go and sin no more!:

But Scripture aside, canon law puts special obligations on clerics at all levels - to be good examples by virtue of their public office.

Carob_molasses said...

Kate, Im also pretty stunned on the woman friend revelation. I cant see a clear source mentioned. Where'd you learn this?

Here's a positive about +PP's Keneally-esque outreach to disaffected Catholics. His style of catholicism gives a harbour to people who cant handle your version of Catholicism. It means their kids grow up in the church in some or other fashion, rather than as protestants proper, even with a lot of cafeteria catholicism. Now we know that just as tyrants produce rebels, so rebels in their turn become tyrants; the next generation thereafter start off with a loose catholic identity, and a significant minority of them will become the conservative, Orthodox-hardliners of the future (seminaries are full of these types nowadays, little Kate-clones, as you report on the Sydney dioceses might show. Sigh.).
To allow the Pat Powers to do their thing, so long as they stay verbally Catholic, is 'ecologically' a smart move in terms of cross-generational preservation of the faith if one thinks in terms of three or four generations.

Having said that, Im pretty surprised by your mention of the woman friend thing (and a bit squirmy). It isnt in the Canberra times article - whats your source?

Jim - yes I agree, and I would mention the first stone etc, but we've had that debate, and anyway, on the basis of age and his position as bishop and his attestations, one has to presume against genital sexual activity by the Bishop, I would have thought, which exhonerates him entirely. And thereafter not circulate nasty rumours speculating about it. Be decent and kind to +PP, please.

Carob_molasses said...

Kate, sorry I didnt see the link to the interview - I just watched it. Could you knock out the two paragraphs asking for a source from my post. I stand by the rest of it.

Indeed, ok his situation is irregular and unfortunate, but it shows that Catholics can 'live together as brother and sister'. That might be heartening for people in irregular messy relationships re eg. divorce or SSA; +PP might be a model for how to make something work and allow domestic not-bed-but-table intimacy in a situation that is messy and less than ideal because of the consequences of past choices...

Im curious - after watching that, how can you not admire +PP's depth and humanity?

Fr Ronan Kilgannon said...

i wonder if I have missed something? I wonder if you have jumped to a conclusion without serious proof. I watched the interview and heard nothing more than a Bishop who claims that he has remained committed to his vow of celibacy, and has a housekeeper who loves, respects and supports him. I have met many priests - in the past mainly - who had housekeepers who supported them and their ministry and often moved from parish to parish with them. Did I miss some hint of the Bishop having a sexual relationship with his housekeeper? Are you presuming this because they live under the one roof? Not something I would do certainly, but I have had lifelong female friends who have loved me and supported my own commitment to celibacy. Is the use of the word "love" the problem?

And Kate, I am getting a bit tired of almost everything priests do being referred back to the so called clerical abuse scandal. I think it is about time that the laity looked into their own households. Or it it just that there is no media focus on the high percentage of child sex abuse in the general population - 7,000 reported cases in NSW in 2010 with very little press coverage and no mention of convictions. I cannot believe that Catholic families are exempt from these statistics. Oddly enough I saw an advertisment discussed on The Gruen Transfer recently by an organisation that claimed two and a half million Australians have been sexually abused. The statistics in the USA are 34 million.

Yes, as a group we have learnt from the scandal and no other profession has put more effort into assuring (as far as it is humanly possible) that it will not happen in the future. No case has been reported in Australia that has occurred within the past 10 years.

If the Bishop has a case to answer well and good. By I found no reason to presume one from the interview.

Kate Edwards said...

Fr Ronan (and others),

That this is more than a housekeeper being thanked is made abundantly clear by the discussion in the ABC 7.30 report interview of the sacrifice he has not only make himself but imposed on her due to his decision to stick to his promise of celibacy, his refusal to comment on the question of whether they had discussed marriage, and the discussion of whether he should in fact now seek to do so.

Can people live as brother and sister? Certainly. Do they always succeed in this? Well no. That is why the Church has always been very careful about such arrangements, particularly when it comes to priests.

And yes, sexual abuse occurs everywhere. But that does not excuse those who have a special requirement to seek holiness under canon law, and who have so much power to damage by virtue of their office, to be held to a higher standard.

Are there new cases? I don't know - as far as I've been able to discover no public data is available on this (though I'd be happy to be corrected on this). It typically takes around ten years for cases to come forward for all sorts of reasons.

What is clear is that older cases continue to be handled quite badly in some cases (I'm thinking particularly here of Maitland-Newcastle under the ancien regime; AB Hepworth; and others).

My strong view is that we haven't learnt the lessons until immorality of all types condemend by the Church - including fornicating priests a la the recent Parramatta affair, homosexual practice, and more - cease to to be defended by so-called catholics (including bishops), and greater transparency and accountability mechanisms are put in place.

Kate Edwards said...

Oh and for the record, I have not in fact suggested that he has in fact broken his promise of celibacy.

I have simply asked the obvious questions, drawn attention to the obvious issues, that the Bishop's own public comments raise.

One might also note, on the claim made above that age (!) and being a bishop somehow magically preclude 'genital sexual activity' that quite a few bishops including a few Australian ones (WF ring a bell) have retired early of late for just this reason.

Of course, to those who advocate the abolition of the moral law, the bishop's 'deep humanity' and presumed impeccibility will no doubt be self-evident.

Kate Edwards said...

Prudence is indeed the issue Wolsey, as I suggested in my post.

One thing for a priest to have good woman friends. I think that is highly desirable, and we the laity should indeed do our best to support priests through such healthy relationships.

I'm certainly not a believer in the contemporary notion that every relationship is inherently sexual in nature, and that genuine friendships, whether between men and women or those of the same gender, are impossible.

But that is quite a different thing to living under the same roof with someone who there is apparently a serious question of you abandoning your vows for and marrying.

Even less prudent to then talk about it on television!

Kind of like this bishop at the beach with his girlfriend story:

Bring back the virtue of prudence amongst our clergy!

Kate Edwards said...

Correspondents whose comments are rejected should feel free to contact me offline if they wish an explanation for my reasoning.

frank said...

I work on the principle that one in twelve (Judas) of the clergy will seriously let down the church, almost all of the rest will do it to a lesser but still significant extent and there will only be one twelth (John) who will be there doing Jesus wok no matter what it takes.

Anonymous said...

Great comment and couldn't agree more. It is in accord with scripture, tradition and everyday experience as well.

Kate Edwards said...

+Wolsey said:


There's nothing wrong with a celibate cleric having women friends and being prudent about it.

(This comment has been edited at the request of its author).

Anonymous said...

I would like to point out that almost everybody is incorrectly referring to "celibacy", which simply means "the unmarried state". The priest vows NOT TO MARRY (though possibly intending rather more). This is not the same as "chastity according to one's state in life", which we are all bound to. In the case of a priest, he can be celibate, ie unmarried, while committing the sins of fornication or adultery, and not avoiding the occasions of sin.

Kate Edwards said...

Anon - You are reading the words out of context and are quite wrong.

The commitment not to marry is a positive commitment to celibacy for the sake of the kingdom. It includes continence in all forms, as canon law makes absolutely clear, viz CL 277: "Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven, and are therefore bound to celibacy..."

Sins such as fornication or adultery are clearly sins for a priest not only in their own right (as they are for all of us) but also constitute breaking that promise.

I'd also note, in the context of the same canon, that subsection 2 enjoins clerics to "...behave with due prudence in relation to persons whose company can be a danger to their obligation of preserving continence or can lead to the scandal of the faithful."

The recent story of the bishop secretly holidaying with his bikini clad 'childhood friend' is a perfect illustration of the issues.

Anonymous said...

From the Catholic Encyclopedia:
Celibacy of the Clergy

"Celibacy is the renunciation of marriage implicitly or explicitly made, for the more perfect observance of chastity, by all those who receive the Sacrament of Orders in any of the higher grades ... Speaking, for the moment, only of Western Christendom, the candidates for orders are solemnly warned by the bishop at the beginning of the ceremony regarding the gravity of the obligation which they are incurring. He tells them:

You ought anxiously to consider again and again what sort of a burden this is which you are taking upon you of your own accord. Up to this you are free. You may still, if you choose, turn to the aims and desires of the world (licet vobis pro artitrio ad caecularia vota transire). But if you receive this order (of the subdiaconate) it will no longer be lawful to turn back from your purpose. You will be required to continue in the service of God, and with His assistance to observe chastity and to be bound for ever in the ministrations of the Altar, to serve who is to reign.

By stepping forward despite this warning, when invited to do so, and by co-operating in the rest of the ordination service, the candidate is understood to bind himself equivalently by a vow of chastity. He is henceforth unable to contract a valid marriage, and any serious transgression in the matter of this vow is not only a grievous sin in itself but incurs the additional guilt of sacrilege."

So, celibacy is the renunciation of marriage ... for the more perfect observance of chastity ... Apparently, the candidate who goes through the ordination service is understood to bind himself "equivalently" by a vow of chastity. It seems that the "renunciation of marriage" and the "vow of chastity" are not the same, though profoundly connected. Your quote from Canon Law ("Clerics are obliged to observe perfect and perpetual continence for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven, and are therefore bound to celibacy...") also seems to differentiate between continence and celibacy.

Louise said...

If this woman has remained with bishop Pat b/c she loves him and doesn't want to be married to someone else, then it looks like another case of a man who isn't prepared to properly commit to a woman he says he loves. And that may be even more scandalous than a bishop having a marriage-like relationship (whether with/without sex). She has no social status with this arrangement. It's all sacrifice and no recognition.

Anonymous said...