Action Alert!

What we don't know

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jul 16, 2015

Several readers have written to voice their dissatisfaction with our headline story about the Brazilian Archbishop Antonio Carlos Altieri, whose resignation the Vatican announced yesterday. If it’s any consolation, we’re dissatisfied, too.

The Vatican announcement, as usual, provided no explanation for the archbishop’s removal. The official statement merely mentioned #401-2 of the Code of Canon Law, which stipulates that a bishop may be removed if “illness or some other grave reason” renders him “unsuited for the fulfillment of his office.” There has been no mention of illness in this case. (And if the archbishop is seriously ill, it is a disservice to him to make such a vague announcement, opening the door to speculation about more serious personal flaws.)

Our story mentioned all that we could glean from Brazilian media reports about the resignation. The archbishop had been criticized by some of his priests, both for his spending and for his “rubricism” (whatever that is). But if critical clerics could arrange for a bishop’s ouster, no bishop in the world would last long in office. Something else is going on here. What is it? We don’t know. As soon as we have more concrete information, we’ll pass it along. Until then we’ll simply observe—as we have observed before—that if a prelate is removed from office because of some personal failing, it would behoove the Vatican to explain.

We don’t expect a denunciation of the deposed bishop. We understand the desire to protect his reputation. But when no explanation is given, speculation can easily turn to the most scandalous possibilities. Among them, by the way, is the possibility that the Holy See is acting arbitrarily, to remove prelates the Vatican leadership doesn’t like.

And speaking of scandals, earlier this week we reported that the criminal trial of former papal nuncio Jozef Wesolowski was postponed, after the defendant was hospitalized. (Wesolowski, you will recall, was an archbishop and Vatican diplomat, until he was stripped of his office following a canonical trial on charges of sexual abuse.) The postponement of his criminal trial before a Vatican tribunal is perfectly understandable, as long as his illness was genuine. Now we learn that he has been released from the hospital.

The trial of Wesolowski is being viewed, quite understandably, as a test of the Vatican’s determination to punish clerical abusers. Ordinary business slows down markedly in Rome during the summer months. But if there’s anything that should move forward quickly, it’s this trial.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at CatholicCulture.org. See full bio.

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  • Posted by: bruno.cicconi7491 - Jul. 16, 2015 5:37 PM ET USA

    Brazilian newspaper ZeroHora has just published an interview with the former Archbishop. Nothing shocking in there - it seems that the bishop did not put up a fight and resigned of his own accord, due to differences of posture and rhythm between him and the local priests. If there is something else, it is not public. ONE IMPORTANT OBSERVATION: people acquainted with the diocese have reported that the bishop was not particularly conservative.