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By Fr. Paul Mankowski, S.J. ( articles ) | Jun 16, 2003

Pope Pius VI to the Bishop of Cork (John Butler), 9 June 1787.

It is not to be believed, venerable brother, with what consternation and anguish of mind we have been seized and overwhelmed, ever since we have received authentic information, that such was the height of infatuation which your misconduct had reached, that you intended to espouse a Protestant female [heterodoxa muliere]; and dare, even now, to live with her in a state of most disgraceful concubinage. It seemed unto us, like some portentous visitation from heaven, that a person, who had for above three and twenty years filled the station of a bishop, should at this moment so far disregard the holy laws -- so far disregard the episcopal character and his own, so as to involve himself in such a depth of shame, to inflict on the Church so gross an outrage, and consciously and voluntarily, to plunge his own soul into utter perdition. Truly we shudder with horror at this flagitious proceeding; nor can we now -- from the intense agitation of our feelings -- find words competent to express our indignation at such an excess of depravity. Yet, amidst the variety of painful emotions which it has excited -- of grief, amazement, detestation, anxiety and affliction -- far ascendant above all the rest, and predominate in our bosom, is a truly paternal commiseration for yourself, and an ardent longing to rescue you, if possible, from such an abyss of profligacy and wretchedness. ...

Wherefore we summon, we address and beseech you, brother, fairly to view your condition, to abhor and bewail your wickedness, lest in the end you draw upon yourself the most dread of God's judgements, which yet remains suspended; and meanwhile expose yourself to the heaviest chastisement of your office, namely to be abandoned by the divine grace in the midst of your delinquency, and when sunk deepest in guilt, to be least sensible of its enormity.

Recollect what you were discharging, the functions of a bishop, and what even now you are, clothed as you still continue to be with that dignity which you so much dishonour and pollute. With all the warmth of zeal, therefore, which our pontifical character calls upon us to exert, we exhort you and beseech you, brother in the Lord, to awaken and arise. We admonish, we reprove, and rebuke you, and bring to our aid very office and ministry of paternal love, solicitude, and correction, to rouse, to elevate and inflame you -- miserably prostrate as you are, to the thoughts of salvation and the necessity of repentance.

But if -- which God forbid! -- you slight the stings of conscience; if you remain deaf to the invocation of this warning voice, and persist in the mire and the turpitude of so opprobrious a life, it will be our imperative duty, of which we give you this denunciation and solemn notice, to assume the part and enforce the measures prescribed by the sacred canons, measures with which, after having so long exercised the offices of bishop, you cannot be unacquainted.

From Con Costello, Faith or Fatherhood?: Bishop Dunboyne's Dilemma. Dublin: Woodfield Press, 2000, pp. 49f.

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