Mass resignation proposed by one bishop in December


WHEN THE Irish bishops met for their general meeting in Maynooth last December to discuss the fallout of the Murphy report, one of the younger bishops proposed that they should all offer their resignations, it has emerged in Rome.

This move would have left Pope Benedict XVI an entirely free hand as to who and when to reappoint. The proposal did not go down well, meeting with a mixture of bemusement and incredulity.

The Catholic Church and in particular the Holy See do not like resignations. Perhaps the most high-profile sacrificial lamb offered up to public opinion as part of the fallout of clerical sex abuse was Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law, who resigned his position in December 2002 after 11 months of bitter polemics about his alleged mishandling of various child-abusing priests in his archdiocese.

Not everyone recalls, however, that prior to December 2002, Cardinal Law had already twice offered to resign but had twice had his resignation rejected by the Holy See.

All of this has a bearing on reports at the weekend that Archbishop Diarmuid Martin had “his wings clipped” at the historic meeting between Pope Benedict and the Irish bishops in the Vatican last week.

Vatican insiders suggest that while Pope Benedict was definitely concerned by the impression that not all the Irish bishops saw eye to eye with Dr Martin over his handling of the Murphy report, the pope still granted the Archbishop of Dublin more time and space than any of his colleagues at the meeting, with the exception of Irish Primate, Cardinal Seán Brady.

While many seasoned Vatican observers were alarmed by Dr Martin’s absence from the Irish bishops’ Rome news conference immediately after the meeting with Pope Benedict, it would be misleading to interpret this as an indication he had lost the pope’s backing, according to sources.

However, as the Vatican’s own press release admitted when expressing the hope that the meeting would “help to unify the bishops”, it is clear the Holy See realises that not all the Irish bishops are on the same page as Dr Martin on the way forward about clerical sex abuse.

Vatican sources also say the Holy See is still concerned about Irish church governance.

In that regard, the Holy See would still like to see the Irish church radically reorganised (perhaps through reducing the number of dioceses from 26 to eight) but acknowledges that such a reorganisation has already encountered resistance from the bishops.

- A meeting last Thursday between Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi illustrates the Vatican’s realpolitik. “Cordiality” prevailed as agreement was reached on funding for Catholic private schools, among other issues.