obfuscation hurts the innocent

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Dec 04, 2009

Archbishop Kevin McDonald of Southwark, in England, has stepped down. Since he is only 62—13 years short of the normal retirement age for bishops—his resignation calls for an explanation. But none is forthcoming from Rome. The wording of the Vatican announcement is familiar:

The resignation from the pastoral care of the archdiocese of Southwark, England, presented by Archishop Kevin John Patrick McDonald, in accordance with canon 401 para. 2 of the Code of Canon Law.

That announcement, with only the proper nouns changed, exactly matches the one that the Vatican uses when a bishop resigns in disgrace—as for example, when Bishop Raymond Lahey of Antigonish resigned just before his arrest on child-pornography charges. Canon 401-2 is broadly worded, saying that the Pope may accept a bishop’s resignation if it is warranted by “illness or some other grave reason.” The official Vatican announcement never gives any further clarification.

In Archbishop McDonald’s case, the real reason for resignation is illness. He suffers from heart disease—he has had triple-bypass surgery—and crippling arthritis. The poor man deserves sympathy, not suspicion.

Unfortunately, suspicion comes naturally after a decade of watching misbehaving prelates slip out of town under the protective cover of the 401-2 explanation. The deliberately uninformative announcements from Rome draw no distinction between the McDonalds and the Laheys. Clarification would protect the good name of the innocent, while obfuscation serves only the interests of the guilty.

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: WNS3234 - Mar. 18, 2017 11:46 AM ET USA

    A parish priest I have a few salient points. The era of "prince-bishops" has shifted into the age of "CEO-Episcopacy. Apostolic Succession has become a paper trail and the missionary Zeal of Patrick, Boniface, Ansgar, Cyril & Methodius has become legendary. The Holy Spirit, source of apostolic zeal, and catalyst for Faith has no static management model. Saints are safer in retrospect; they always frighten the complacent. Zealous pastors rise from zealous households which like disciples, cf above

  • Posted by: - Mar. 21, 2012 8:30 AM ET USA

    My Faith was enlivened and nourished by the parish I was a part of for 12 years - back in the '50s, in Philadelphia. We could walk to the church for all that they offered to us and walk to our friends' houses, who also belonged to the parish. We knew the parish priests well, and my most fond memories come from there, unfortunately never to be seen again, I fear.

  • Posted by: frjpharrington3912 - Mar. 20, 2012 9:02 PM ET USA

    "The harvest indeed is great, but the laborers are few. Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into his harvest." As remarkable was Saint Patrick's missionary work in converting Ireland to the Catholic faith in the 5th century, just as remarkable is how God prepared him for this great undertaking. The saint tells us that while a slave in Ireland he endured many hardships and deprivations and spent many a day and night in prayer and fastings. A worthy thought for Lent.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Mar. 17, 2012 12:07 PM ET USA

    I once heard a prelate speak to a group of people about a possible parish project. By the end of the discussion, the prelate had not made reference to Our Lord, Our Lady, or prayer at all during his talk. Everything was related to logistics and practical considerations. We have put the pious medieval spiritually aside and embraced the world of modernity full on. It has not come without a price. Bishop Sheen spoke of Empathy, Antipathy and Apathy. Of the three, apathy is the most inhuman.

  • Posted by: FrPhillips1125 - Mar. 17, 2012 10:14 AM ET USA

    This article needs to be distributed far and wide. It should be required reading for every bishop!

  • Posted by: koinonia - Mar. 21, 2010 12:24 PM ET USA

    Unfortunately, priority is placed in the "bottom line." Furthermore, sexual abuse issues continue to exert considerable financial strain. Nonetheless, a Catholic bishop recently addressed a group wanting to form a parochial school. Despite plenty of references to financial considerations, there was not one mention of Our Lord, Our Lady or prayer. Not one. We have outgrown the uncomfortable piety of the past and become sensible, pragmatic citizens in the post-modern world. But at what "cost?"

  • Posted by: TheJournalist64 - Mar. 19, 2010 10:26 PM ET USA

    Hear, hear. Most pastors, however, are content with the status quo. When I suggest simple marketing-evangelistic efforts, most just shrug and wonder why.

  • Posted by: rubbergloves012524 - Mar. 19, 2010 8:11 PM ET USA

    " Is the content of the Catholic faith less viable today than it was in the 5th century? Is the guidance of the Holy Spirit less valuable?" No and No. But the pagans are different. The Irish pagans of St. Patrick's time had a natural understanding of the transcendant. St. Patrick brought the Truth to those who were looking for it. Today's pagans are neo-pagans and the culture has convinced them that "any truth is good truth." God will supply grace as needed, but the 5th century it ain't.

  • Posted by: - Mar. 19, 2010 12:51 PM ET USA

    Perfect, just perfect. Thank you, Phil!

  • Posted by: dqualk - Mar. 18, 2010 12:51 AM ET USA

    YEAH! Excellent article for St. Patrick's Day! I will strive to evangelize my friends and neighbors. May the Lord use me to spread His Gospel. May we all accept the great challenges Christ places before us and evangelize our communities!

  • Posted by: FrPhillips1125 - Mar. 17, 2010 7:25 PM ET USA

    Amen! I often wonder, when I see a Catholic church sold to a protestant group, how is it they can make a go of it?

  • Posted by: koinonia - Dec. 07, 2009 12:09 PM ET USA

    A St. Pete aux. bishop banished a devoted priest from his parish in the 1980s. Devotions ceased and a bust of Pope JP II was found later in the trash. The bishop was promoted by the same pontiff. Several years ago he admitted to sexual indiscretions and "retired." Right now the Jesuits face 500 new "victims" in the NW US. The damage is staggering in so many ways- far beyond the $1 BILLION paid out to date in the US alone. Obfuscation is a big reason we have this mess in the first place.

  • Posted by: JARay - Dec. 05, 2009 12:36 AM ET USA

    This resignation can also be found on several of the solidly Catholic blogs from England and they make it quite clear that this is a genuine resignation because of very ill health. If I remember aright, when Archbishop MacDonald was appointed his appointment came as a surprise to some who had feared the appointment of a rather liberal bishop who thought that he had the job in the bag!