Last month a retired Roman Catholic bishop named O’Connor was laid to rest in Huntingdon, Quebec. A number of years ago Bishop O’Connor was charged with the sexual abuse of young people. That, however, is not he main story. The main story is that Bishop O’Connor, albeit under pressure, resigned from his diocese.
That was unusual because almost all the bishops who were implicated in or abetted the sexual abuse of children are still in office. Not only that but Cardinal Bernard Law with whom the whole mess started in Boston was given a papal promotion and now occupies a Vatican sinecure in Rome.
All of which begs the larger question. To whom are Catholic bishops accountable? The simple answer is Nobody. The fact is bishops tend to be absolute monarchs in their own dioceses, answerable neither upwards nor downwards – nor sideways, to fellow bishops. This is not necessarily a power grab. It has more to do with the system itself.
Sadly, Vatican 11’s theological image of the Church as the new “People of God” has so far not been translated into church structures. Even the Second Vatican Council’s call for diocesan pastoral councils has not been properly heeded.
There is something seriously wrong when the only effective accountability experienced by a bishop occurs when there is an unwelcome call from the press, exposing a matter the diocese has tried to bury. That is what happened over clerical child abuse.
Should the laity have a direct say in the way local bishops are chosen?
Should each diocese have a synod on which laity are represented and to which the bishop is accountable?