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Ominous Power Grabs – Part I

by Christopher A. Ferrara
June 8, 2016

In a new “apostolic letter” published in Italian and signed simply “Francesco,” Francis has in his motu proprio (on his own impulse) laid down “new norms” for the swift removal of bishops by Vatican decree.  Presented by the Vatican and the media alike as a measure directed at bishops who shield “pedophiles” (i.e. homosexuals who prey on boys) or fail to act against them promptly when their crimes are discovered, the letter is actually far broader in scope than that — and far more ominous.

The tipoff comes in the first two paragraphs (my translation).  Paragraph 1 provides that a governing bishop, “even with a temporary title,” can “legitimately be removed from his office if, through negligence, he places or omits actions which have caused grave damage to others, whether it involves physical persons, a community or both together. The damage can be physical, moral, spiritual or patrimonial [i.e. financial]

Paragraph 2 provides that a bishop can be removed under the vague formula in Paragraph 1 “if he has objectively lacked in a serious way the diligence which is required of his pastoral office, even without serious moral fault on his part.

Call me overly suspicous, but the quoted language sounds to me like a recipe for the removal of any prelate whose governance is considered harmful to the “community” because he is “divisive” — meaning he has made decisions taking a “hard line” on Church teaching or restoring liturgical tradition and has thus aroused angry protests against him.

My suspicion is not without immediate historical context that warrants it.  Since March of 2014, based on some colorable claim or other falling far short of the scandals under such wolves as Mahony, Gumbleton and various currently reigning liberal bishops, Francis has ordered the removal of no fewer than five prelates who all fit the same profile: perceived as doctrinally and liturgically conservative, friendly to the traditional Mass, able to attract vocations, and thus the subject of demands for punitive measures by liberal agitators. They are:

  • March 2014 – Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elstm, Bishop of Limburg, Germany.
  • September 2014 – Rogelio Ricardo Livieres Plano, Bishop of Ciudad del Este in Paraguay (who has since died).
  • March 2015 – Mario Oliveri of the Albenga diocese in northern Italy.
  • April 2015 – Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri.
  • June 2015 – Archbishop John Nienstedt of Minneapolis.

There is more: Father Lombardi all but admitted an ideological motive for the removal of Bishop Livieres. The reason, said Lombardi, was not alleged financial mismanagement or the appointment of an accused child molester as diocesan vicar — a priest the Vatican itself had recommended! — but rather what Lombardi called “relations within the episcopacy and in the local church, which were very difficult….” For one thing, Livieres’ seminary was full while the rest of Paraguay was bereft of vocations.

Nicole Winfield of the Associated Press reported what was already obvious to traditionalist observers:
[T]he removal underscored the deep ideological shift in the Catholic Church with Francis in charge. Vatican watchers say it is highly unlikely that Pope Benedict XVI would have removed either Livieres or the “bling bishop,” [Tebartz-van Elstm] since both had strong supporters among the more conservative prelates in Rome who appreciated their firm orthodoxy in the face of opposition from more progressive parts of the church…. Francis has made clear his disdain for traditionalist Catholics, finding them self-absorbed retrogrades who are out of touch with the church’s evangelizing mission today.

Indeed, to date Francis has not ordered the removal or demanded the resignation of a single theological or liturgical liberal in the entire world episcopate, even though many are much more deeply involved in scandal than the five whose heads have rolled.

Quite the contrary, to the dismay of his own “sex abuse panel” at the Vatican, Francis installed as Bishop of Osorno, Chile, the notorious Juan Barros, a close associate of the even more notorious Fr. Fernando Karadima, found guilty in a trial at the Vatican in 2011 of sexually abusing boys and sentenced to a life of prayer and penance. Barros (already a bishop) was installed despite multiple allegations linking him to Karadima’s crimes, including witnessing and doing nothing about them. As The New York Times reported, Francis would not be dissuaded from his decision even by “weeks of protests, candlelight vigils and letters to Pope Francis” or the attempt by members of the faithful physically to prevent Barros’ installation in the local cathedral.  Rather, Francis mocked the objectors to this outrage as “dumb.”

Worse, if that were possible, Francis infamously appointed to his laughably misnamed “Synod on the Family” the disgraced Cardinal Godfried Danneels — a member of the “St. Gallen’s mafia” that lobbied for Francis’ election as Pope. Francis did so despite massive evidence, including a tape-recording, of Danneels’s deliberate cover-up of hundreds of instances of homosexual molestation of boys by Mgr. Roger Vangheluwe when Danneels was Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussels and Primate of Belgium from 1979 until 2010.

The appointment of Danneels to a Synod on the Family must rank as one of the major disciplinary farces of the postconciliar epoch, which is saying a great deal. Danneels, declared the Rorate Caeli blog, “is a one-man symbol of all that is wrong and wicked with the Hierarchy, the epitome of the worst meaning of the word ‘clericalism’, the opposite of anything that could represent authentic reform and restoration — a man who abused the spirit and annihilated Belgian Catholic families, and protected those who abused the bodies of children, a man who after leading Catholicism in his country into the ground should have been relegated to degradation and penance for the rest of his life yet still receives papal honor to influence a Synod on the Family!”

Perhaps my suspicion is ill-founded, despite the clear evidence of a double standard outlined here, evidence even the secular press has noted. Perhaps Francis will take action against liberal bishops who would readily fall under the broad langugage of his new removal provision.  But I would wager that we will see no such thing, and that this new papal document is but another step in consolidating an overall strategy that amounts to governing the Catholic Church as if it were a banana republic: protection and even advancement for El Supremo’s friends, no matter how bad they are, but persecution for those on the “enemies list,” no matter how good they are.

Indeed, there is another new measure from Rome which supports this inference.  That will be the subject of my next column.