Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

Career-threatening ailments

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Feb 13, 2004

The most Rev. Thomas L. Dupre ... abruptly resigned yesterday as bishop of the Springfield Roman Catholic Diocese, citing health reasons.

Outstanding. Bishop Dupre bails out of his bishopric five years ahead of the statutory retirement age of 75 under the rubric of Canon 401, paragraph 2, "because of illness or some other grave reason." He thereby joins a distinguished group of other "dash-2" retirees: Bishop Keith Symons (presently 71 years old), Bishop Patrick Ziemann (62), Bishop Dan Ryan (73), Bishop Joseph Hart (72), and Bishop Anthony O'Connell (65). All of the above stood accused of illicit sexual relations, with males, at the time of their premature retirement.

What if, one wonders, a bishop really retired for reasons of ill health -- how would he announce it? Would he allow himself to be lumped together with the other dash-2s? Wouldn't he instead show up at his press conference holding a large placard reading NOT BOYS under his chin while his physician, under oath, gave us the exact stats on his PSA or blood sugar?

Back in, say, 1973, both charity and common sense would have prompted us to assume that a bishop who announced ill health as the reason for his retirement suffered, in actual fact, from ill health, and that his illness was the true cause of his stepping down.

Times have changed. How much, you ask? Look at it this way: if you were a bishop who'd lived an upright life but had to exit tomorrow because of a dicky heart, wouldn't you make sure fifty or sixty of your episcopal confreres publicly attested to your probity? And if you were a bishop-friend of the man making the early exit, wouldn't you be downright eager to comply?

Is it ungenerous of us, before a case has been proven against him in a court of law, to class Dupre with other unsavory members of the boys-boys-boys brigade? Yep. But what goes around comes around: bureaucratic equivocation works both ways. We didn't give Dupre the dash-2 tag, the Congregation for Bishops did. And if his brother bishops believe we'd do Dupre an injustice in giving his dash-2 a negative interpretation, then it's their duty to instruct us -- in plain speech, not ecclesiastical code -- how it happens that in this instance the "grave reason" is a morally respectable one.

P.S. According to the Springfield Republican story linked above, "[Dupre's] ailments are not considered life threatening, according to diocesan officials."

We can all breathe easier.

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