Discussing an interview with Bishop Robinson on Sunday Profile and the issue of removing the rights of clerics in the Catholic Church.


About John Lilburne


Journal 16 June 2002


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 homes.

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 for victims.

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 way possible.

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 Mass, 54).

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.

Other sites:

abc.net.au/news "Priests guilty of sex abuse likely to offend outside Church: Bishop"

Sunday Profile

USCCB Essential Norms