Well, today Cathnews serves the Catholic community of Australia by giving us an update on the Robinson Tour. Not much that’s news there, only the continuing saga of the opposition that Robinson is meeting in the US from the local bishops of the dioceses he is visiting. Lest we think that it is only the Australians paying attention to this tour, it is high enough on the American radar to be picked up by CNS (Rocco Palmo at “Whispers in the Loggia” see here where Rocco Palmo gives continuing reports). Apparently the opposition is not simply being orchestrated at the local level but has come from Head Office. The prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Giovanni Battista, has himself urged (commanded?) Bishop Robinson to desist.
So, two issues. First, what is the issue? Why is Robinson being opposed. The cynical would say that it is because of his raising the issue of the responsibility of the bishops themselves for the sexual abuse crisis. They don’t want any adverse publicity or any finger pointing so they are opposing Robinson because he is doing just that: raising the issue publically and pointing the finger. This impression is supported by the fact that some of the bishops who have directly opposed him have indeed been responsibile in some degree for the crisis in the first place. Human nature being what it is, it is hard to dismiss this cynical interpretation.
But the “putting the best construction on everything” interpretation is by far the simpler explanation. This explanation is purely and simply the one that arises from the Australian Bishop’s statement about Robinson’s book “Confronting Sex and Power in the Catholic Church”. They acknowledge Robinson’s legitimate concern and his record of good work in this area in the past. If Robinson had simply written a book about that, that would have been confronting but not objectionable. It would even perhaps have done us all a great service. Instead, he chose to see the essential structure and nature of the Church herself as the most significant factor causing the entire crisis, and so calls for (what can only be described as a) “root and branch” revolution in the Church’s governance. The “reforms” for which he calls are entirely incompatible with the Church’s own understanding of her nature. These reforms include calls for re-evaluating the morality of sex outside marriage and homosexuality, allowing women priests, and dismantling papal authority. These are one thing–but they stem from a more serious attitude in the book, which reviewer Richard Gaillardetz identifies as
a deeper reflection on Christian faith and the ways in which unhealthy conceptions of God, revelation, divine providence and Jesus Christ inevitably have negative ecclesial consequences.
That’s his take. The Australian Bishops describe this attitude as “Bishop Robinson’s uncertainty about the knowledge and authority of Christ himself”. That’s the real problem here. If the accusation is true, it is very, very serious. MORE serious, may I say, than the sexual abuse crisis itself. (I have just committed some sort of heresy in saying that?) He is trying to cure the disease by taking a knife to the heart of the patient.
That’s the first issue. The second issue is that this man is a bishop. That’s why this book and its author is getting so much attention from people for whom addressing the sexual abuse crisis is not their primary objective. In the Cathnews article, we are told that retired King County Superior Court Judge Terrence Carroll said:
I think it’s a shame that [a bishop] of the Catholic Church cannot be welcomed into our diocese simply because the message he has to give is one that they don’t want to hear. …The clergy abuse issue brought front and centre for many Catholics the whole issue of the structure of the Church hierarchy and the various parts of the faith that need to be open for discussion beyond the handling of this specific issue. All of these things need to be talked about. That’s all [Robinson] is asking to do.
But does Robinson still consider himself “a bishop of the church”? Not according to the same article in which it is stated that
Robinson said he ultimately concluded that he could not continue to serve as a bishop of a Church that left him with such “profound reservations.” He resigned and began to write his book….
The fact is that canonically he is still a bishop. He may be retired, but he has not sought to resign from the episcopacy, nor has he been deprived of that office by the Holy See.
There is a saying (coined by your’s truly) that “There is nothing more dangerous than a retired bishop”. Witness John Shelby Spong. He has all the status of a bishop, without being answerable for the way in which he uses that status.