Action Alert!

The enduring problem with Canon 401-2

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jul 30, 2012

Today the Vatican news service announced that two more bishops have resigned, citing #401-2 of the Code of Canon Law. That canon, as knowledgeable Catholics now know, stipulates that the Pope may accept the resignation of a bishop who is unfit to continue with his duties because of illness or “some other grave reason.”

Here’s the problem: If these two bishops (one in Germany, the other in Colombia) are seriously ill, we owe them our sympathy and our prayers for their recovery. Unfortunately there is that other possible explanation. For years now we have seen the same canon 401-2 invoked to explain the resignations of bishops who have departed in disgrace after some personal scandal. The terse Vatican announcements never distinguish between the bishops who are forced out because of gross misconduct and those who are genuinely ill. That’s a disservice to the prelates whose weaknesses are merely physical.

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 See full bio.

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  • Posted by: demark8616 - Aug. 05, 2012 12:02 PM ET USA

    I get your point. Yes, it is hard on those bishops that resign due to illness or another reason. To utilize this canon for such different reasons is bound to cast a slur of sorts on those innocent of gross misconduct. I'm sure they include mental/emotional reasons too, not just physical? So, it is possible that there is not such a marked degree of disservice taking place here. It is probably also done in this way so as to protect the reputation of those 'asked to resign' because of misconduct.