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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  • Posted by: cieslajohn7542 - May. 23, 2018 9:09 AM ET USA

    Pope Francis gets great credit for admitting that his initial assessment of abuse victims' claims was wrong and for calling all the Chilean bishops to Rome for a serious discussion. Whether all the Chilean bishops offered to resign because Francis forced them to, or because they came to that conclusion themselves, is irrelevant. Francis is holding bishops accountable...and that is what we need. I think that to speculate on ulterior motives for Francis' actions is unwarranted right now.

  • Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 - May. 23, 2018 12:09 AM ET USA

    Your question "whatever happened to collegial and synodal style of leadership" reminds me of the old saying "do as I say, not as I do."

  • Posted by: fenton1015153 - May. 22, 2018 8:53 AM ET USA

    The Queen of Hearts is reported to have said, "Off with his head." While that may be extreme it does express a decisive action. Can this Pope be decisive? My wish is that all these bishops be replaced the guilty along with any innocent for who could be innocent at that level. This should be an opportunity world wide to clean house. Will it be used? Stay tuned.

  • Posted by: feedback - May. 22, 2018 1:45 AM ET USA

    These are perfectly legitimate and important questions. Hopefully, this doesn't turn out to be a case of attempted remedy being worse than the disease.