Action Alert!

Fallout from the Chilean bishops’ resignations: some unanswered questions

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | May 21, 2018

The mass resignation of Chilean bishops has provided us with more questions than answers. Among the questions that must be answered before this dramatic move can be assessed:

  • Did the Chilean bishops resign on their own intiative? All of them? Or did the Pope suggest the move? If the latter, did he suggest resignations or call for them? Did he make any effort to distinguish between the bishops guilty of covering up abuse and those who may be innocent, or will those questioned be addressed now, after the fact?
  • Will the Pope accept only the resignations of those bishops who have been gravely negligent (or worse) in handling sex-abuse complaints? With the resignations on his desk, what’s to stop him from replacing other bishops, who may have handled abuse cases properly, but incurred the Pope’s displeasure on other grounds?
  • If the Bishop of Rome can require other bishops to resign—can indeed plan to remodel the hierarchy of an entire nation—what then are the limits of his power? Only recently the Pontiff asked the German bishops to settle their own theological differences on the question of intercommunion. If they fail to find a consensus, could he theoretically ask all of them to resign, for the sake of ecclesial communion, and remove those whose views he found distasteful?
  • If the Pope has the authority to dismiss bishops for serious offenses (and he alone determines which offenses fall into that category), in what sense is the Church governed by a college of bishops? What differentiates this form of administration from the corporate style, in which the chief executive is free to hire and fire his subordinates at will?
  • Will Orthodox prelates, already leery of papal authority, be frightened by this unprecedented move? If an entire body of bishops can be swept away at the Pontiff’s demand, what hope can Orthodox bishops have for preserving any vestige of their autonomy if they return to communion with the Holy See? Will the Chilean episode be a setback for ecumenical progress, then?
  • In short, whatever happened to collegial and synodal style of leadership that Pope Francis has consistently recommended?

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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