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The 'dash-2' deception

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Oct 01, 2009

 With the revelation that Bishop Raymond Lahey faces prosecution on child-pornography charges, we have one more sad entry on the list of "dash-2 bishops"-- those prelates who have stepped down ahead of the usual retirement date, citing #401-2 of the Code of Canon Law, which allows for such early resignations in case of "illness or some other grave reason." The announcements from Rome are invariably terse and uninformative; the canon is cited and no other information is given. 

So we are left to speculate about what "grave reason" might have prompted the resignation. After a decade  of such announcements, we know the likely possibilities. If the bishop has some grave medical condition, the diocesan press release will provide the details. If not, we brace ourselves for the worst. 

In the Antigonish diocese, when Bishop Lahey's resignation was announced, chancery officials naturally wondered what to expect

“I guess I could say the bishop had indicated on Saturday that he was resigning for personal reasons and there had been lots of speculation about what those personal reasons were,” said Father Paul Abbass, a spokesman for the diocese.

Apparently those chancery officials, along with the metropolitan archbishop in Nova Scotia, remained in the dark until the criminal charges against Bishop Lahey came to light. 

Bishop Lahey resigned only after he had been caught with pornographic images on his computer. He was already facing the likelihood of criminal prosecution, and the Vatican presumably knew as much when his resignation was accepted. What possible purpose was served by delaying the public release of that devastating news? With Lahey as with so many other "dash-2" bishops before him, the truth inevitably came out, encouraging the cynical perception that Church leaders were desperately trying to suppress the truth.

The routine use of the "dash-2" announcements to camouflage episcopal misconduct is an injustice to faithful. If a bishop is resigning in disgrace, mature Christians deserve an honest explanation. Would that honest explanation be humiliating for the bishop? If so, he deserves the humiliation, for violating a sacred trust. By withholding the facts, the Vatican creates the impression that the comfort of a bishop is more important than the confidence of the laity. 

Moreover, the routine misuse of the quiet "dash-2" announcement is an injustice to any bishop who might have a legitimate reason to use that option. Imagine a bishop who has discharged his episcopal responsibilities flawlessly, but suffers from a psychological condition that makes it impossible for him to continue in office. He might wish to leave office quietly. But if he resigns, citing canon 401-2, and does not disclose his psychological problem, he will leave out his days under a cloud of suspicion: one more victim of the "dash-2" syndrome.

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