Mass today, a new bishop for Melbourne and disagreement with Archbishop Hart's statement: "Only the Pope can remove someone from the priesthood."


About John Lilburne


Journal 7 May 2002


1859 K Sun 5 May 2002

Today at the Cathedral in Melbourne there was a "Mass of Thanksgiving for the Neophytes".

Archbishop Hart gave the instruction "Please sit" before the Kyrie and Gloria, as he did last week.

Two particularly interesting things happened. Firstly there was a Crowning of a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Secondly Archbishop Hart announced that Monsignor Mark Coleridge is to be ordained as a bishop on 17 June 2002. He will be an auxiliary bishop in Melbourne.

I found out about his ordination yesterday:

3-May-2002 -- Vatican Information Service


VATICAN CITY, MAY 3, 2002 (VIS) - The Holy Father appointed: ...

- Msgr. Mark Benedict Coleridge, official at the Secretariat of State, as auxiliary of the archdiocese of Melbourne (area 27,194, population 3,365,173, Catholics 995,797, priests 611, permanent deacons 1, religious 1,988), Australia. The bishop-elect was born in Melbourne in 1948 and ordained a priest in 1974.

Strangely this appears on before it gets posted on From the internet I found out that he was a Master at Catholic Theological College, where I have been studying for the past five years. He has been working at the Vatican and giving talks as a biblical scholar on "Catholics Listening to God". He has been a consultant to the National Liturgical Commission.

Yesterday there was an article in The Age by Peter Ellingsen, with the headline on the front page: "Priest's sex-abuse victim sues former archbishop". Part of it was:

... Dr Hart could not guarantee that Melbourne would embrace a strict policy of zero tolerance towards priests who abused people sexually.

He said that if the independent commissioner into sexual abuse by preists, Peter O'Callaghan, QC, informed him a priest had offended, the priest would be taken out of contact with people.

But this does not mean the prest will be sacked.

"Its not in my power to stop them being a priest," Dr Hart said. "Only the Pope can remove someone from the priesthood." ...

I think what Archbishop Hart said is wrong. According to Canon 1395.2:

A cleric who has offended in other ways against the sixth commandment of the Decalogue, if the offence was committed by force, or by threats, or in public, or with a minor under the age of sixteen years, is to be punished with just penalties, not excluding dismissal from the clerical state if the case so warrants.

According to Canon 290:

After it has been validly received, sacred ordination never becomes invalid. A cleric, however, loses the clerical state: ...

2 by the legitimate infliction of the penalty of dismissal

3 by a rescript of the Apostolic See which is granted by the Apostolic See to deacons only for serious reasons and to presbyters only for the most serious reasons

It would be fair to say that it is easier to dismiss someone when you are the Pope, you just sign a rescript. But Archbishop Hart can do it as a penalty in a tribunal case.

It concerns me that Archbishop Hart is either unaware of his powers or creating an incorrect impression of them in The Age newspaper.

The US cardinal's in their communique of 24 April 2002 said:

3) While recognizing that the Code of Canon law already contains a judicial process for the dismissal of priests guilty of sexually abusing minors, we will also propose a special process for cases which are not notorious but where the Diocesan Bishop considers the priest a threat for the protection of children and young people, in order to avoid grave scandal in the future and to safeguard the common good of the Church.

A case can be argued that the procedures should be streamlined. But this does not alter the fact that an Archbishop's tribunal can impose the punishment of dismissal from the clerical state. This punishment also means that the Catholic Church stops financially supporting the priest and providing accomodation. I see it as an approach that should be taken more frequently.

I believe that if the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state were imposed, then there could be an appeal. Then, I think, Canon 1353 would take effect:

An appeal or recourse from judical sentences or from decrees which impose or declare any penalty whatsoever has a suspensive effect.

So perhaps Archbishop Hart would be correct in saying: "Only the Pope cannot remove someone from the priesthood, without any possibility of the decision being appealed, and the penalty thereby suspended." I think that would have been a better statement to have made than the one he did.

1027 K Mon 6 May 2002

I have been thinking more about this. Maybe people will believe: "Its in the power of the Tribunal, not in the power of the Archbishop".

According to Canon 1419:

The diocesan bishop is the judge of first instance in each diocese and for all cases not expressly excepted by law; he can exercise his judicial power personally or through others in accord with the following canons. ...

It seems to me that the bishop can be the sole judge:

Can. 1424 -- In any trial a single judge can make use of two assessors, who are clerics or lay persons of upright life, to serve as his consultors.

And in Canon 1425:

The bishop can entrust more difficult cases or cases of greater importance to the judgment of three or five judges.

So I believe an Archbishop could choose to be the only judge for a case.

1816 K Tue 7 May 2002

My belief on Monday above was wrong. The Archbishop cannot be the only judge in a case of dismissal for the clerical state, according to Canon 1425.1:

Every contrary custom being reprobated, the following cases are reserved to a collegiate tribunal of three judges:

... 2 penal cases: a) concerning offenses which can entail the penalty of dismissal from the clerical state ...

Copyright J.R. Lilburne, 5 May 2002. Last updated 7 May 2002. Extracts from Code of Canon Law: Latin-English Edition, Canon Law Society of America, Washington DC, 1983.

Other sites:

The Age article "Priest's sex-abuse victim sues former archbishop"

US Cardinal's Communique of 24 April 2002