1025 K Mon 17 Jun 2002
I recorded the interview with Bishop Geoffrey Robinson on
the Sunday Profile radio program yesterday. I have listened to
it several times. Here is part of the interview I have transcribed
from my recording:
Bishop Robinson: ... there are other people though, and this
is a not uncommon one, their offence was 30 or 40 years ago,
they are now 70 years old, or something like that. Its shown
that they did offend. What do we do with them? If we simply kick
them out on the street they're going to offend. Sexual offences
are a bit like an alcoholic or a person giving up smoking. If
a person is trying to give up drink and you put him under stress,
the likliehood is he'll drink.
Monica Attard (the interviewer): But what do you do with him?
Bishop Robinson: We draw up a contract. Part of it is that
he may never dress as a priest, he may never call himself by
a priestly title, he may never present himself as a priest to
anybody and then there would be other, 50 other conditions, that
he receives proper treatment, ongoing care after the treatment,
that he would need permission to go outside the house. If he
violated that contract in any way, then he'd be out.
Monica Attard: But he can remain living in one of the Church's
Bishop Robinson: Yes, in a community where there'd be some
means of support and some means of preventing offenses. We see
that as our very first duty. Even before, dare I say it, caring
Monica Attard interrupts: Do you understand why the public
would find that absolutely abhorrent?
Bishop Robinson: Can you understand though what the alternative
is. To say to a 70 year old guy you're out. Go find another life
for yourself. A fella who's never done that before. If you do
that he'll offend. ...
I think this would be in accord with Church law if the priest
has received the penalty of "dismissal from the clerical
state" (following the procedures of the Code of Canon Law.)
According to Canon 1350:
1. In imposing penalties on a cleric, except in the case of
dismissal from the clerical state, care must always be taken
that he does not lack what is necessary for his worthy support.
2. If a person is truly in need because he has been dismissed
from the clerical state, the Ordinary is to provide in the best
My concern would be if the priest had not received the penalty
of dismissal from the clerical state. Then he remains a cleric,
with the rights and duties of a cleric. He should participate
in the liturgy as a cleric and dress as one.
In my situation I have been instituted as a lector. According
to Canon 846 "The liturgical books, approved by the competent
authority, are to be faithfully followed." According to
one of these liturgical books, the Lectionary for Mass:
During the celebration of Mass with a congregation a second
priest, a deacon, and an instituted reader must wear the distinctive
vestment of their office when they go to the lectern to read
the word of God. (General Introduction to the Lectionary for
So I have the duty to wear vestments. It would be wrong of
me to sign this away in a contract. It would be wrong for people
in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church to apply pressure, encouragement
or duress for me to break this law. I see it as a right of people
in the Church to know that I have this office of lector. Monsignor
Cormac Burke wrote along similar lines:
... The purpose of the law is indeed that the priest should
be set apart and distinguishable (cf. PO 3), not however as a
man entitled to or claiming privilege, but as one who is ready
at all time to serve; its clear purpose is that the people should
always be able to identify their ministers and servants. ...(Authority
and Freedom in the Church, Ignatius Press, 1988, pages 34-35).
The Norms voted on by the US bishops include 9C:
9. Where sexual abuse by a priest or deacon is admitted or
is established after an appropriate investigation in accord with
canon law, the following will pertain: ...
C. If the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state has
not been applied (e.g., for reasons of advanced age or infirmity),
the offender is to lead a life of prayer and penance. He will
not be permitted to celebrate Mass publicly, to wear clerical
garb, or to present himself publicly as a priest.
Here they have confronted the question, but I think they have
given the wrong answer.
Copyright J.R. Lilburne, 17 June 2002.