John Lilburne's journal about Canon Law, Archbishop Hart and the removal of parish priests. It discusses an article in The Age of 15 December 2001 with the headline "Taking Rome to Task".



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1036 L Tue 18 Dec 2001

According to The Pastoral Companion (Franciscan Press, 1995) by Father John Huels, page 377:

Canon 833, nn. 5-8 requires the following persons to make a profession of faith personally; they are also obliged to make the oath of fidelity on assuming an office. (See CDF, nota, AAS81 (1989) 104; CLSA Roman Replies (Washington: CLSA, 191) 11-12.)

1) In the presence of the diocesan bishop or his delegate, vicars general, episcopal vicars and vicars judicial.

2) In the presence of the local Ordinary or his delegate and at the beginning of their term of office, pastors, the rector of a seminary, professors of theology and philosophy in seminaries, and those promoted to the order of deacon. ...

There are others who should take the oath. For bishops there is a specific canon on their requirement to take an oath of fidelity, in a chapter on bishops, Canon 380:

Before taking canonical possession of his office, he who has been promoted is to make the profession of faith and take the oath of fidelity to the Apostolic See, in accordance with the formula approved by the same Apostolic See.

John Huels presents the oath of fidelity to be taken by deacons in the United States. It includes:

... I shall follow and foster the common discipline of the whole Church and I shall observe all ecclesiastical laws, especially those contained in the Code of Canon Law. ...

For "superiors in clerical religious institutes and societies of apostolic life" it is slightly different:

.... I shall insist on the observance of all ecclesiastical laws, especially those contained in the Code of Canon Law. ...

I suspect this is also the wording of the bishop's oath of fidelity. According to a press release of the Melbourne Archdiocese on 11 December 2001:

The Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, today indicated his total commitment and that of the Archdiocese to the measures established by Archbishop Pell in October 1996 to address complaints of sexual abuse by clergy and Church personnel.

Recent responses from the Congregation for Clergy in the Vatican have sought a more detailed procedure for dealing with priests when accusations are made against them. This development in no way affects, nor will affect, the validity of the decisions made by the independent Commissioner since 1996. ...

An article in The Age on December 15, 2001 has the headline "Taking Rome to task" is by Karen Kissane. Referring Archbishop Pell and the present Archbishop Hart it has:

... The rulings on the Melbourne cases, by the Church's Congregation for the Clergy, overturned Pell's decisions to remove the three priests and deny them the right to publicly administer the sacraments, which include holy communion, baptism and confession.

Pell's decree's on the matter were found to be "null and void and without juridical effect because of serious flaws de procedendo"; that is, Pell's decisions were invalid because the procedures of the investigation on which his decision was based did not conform to church law (canon law).

Hart insists that the cases will not be revisited and the priests will not be reinstated. He says Rome's ruling did not challenge the facts but merely expressed concerns about the process that assessed them. "Basically, they have indicated that the slower and more detailed process of church law hasn't been followed," he says.

It seems to me this is the crucial statement "church law hasn't been followed". Yet in the press release and further quotes in the article he seems to promote the approach of not following church law.

"The normal provisions of church law are that there's got to be a first warning, and then a period of time, and then a second warning, and then gradual restriction. Well, the judgment was made here in Melbourne that this is such a serious matter, we have got a public responsibility not to allow the possibility of reoffence, and therefore a decision was made much more quickly."

So the Vatican has made a bad call on this one? "No. I don't believe that the Vatican has made a bad call. I believe that the Vatican is pointing out to us the requirements and graduality of the process."

Hart acknowledges that a system of warnings is particularly unsuitable for cases that involve claims of sexual abuse of children: "Seriously, I cannot, as an archbishop, condone in any way any harm of children by church personnel or anyone else. That's why I totally endorse the steps taken by Archbishop Pell since 1996." He would not stand back from removing priests in such cases "because I cannot have it on my conscience".

Procedures for removing a Parish Priest are in Canons 1740 - 1747. Archbishop Hart seems to be saying that they should not followed. According to the article: "The debate is polite; verbally, due deference is paid to Rome's authority by those determined to defy it. But defy it they will."

At the end of the article he is quoted as saying: "I think I have to show more respect for what the church asks of me and the way I go about it. I will continue the discussion. But the church acknowledges that bishops have serious responsibilities and some of them are not always written down."

A reader of the article is left with the impression that he is being openly defiant of Church law -- that he is using his conscience and unwritten law as an excuse for not following the written law.

For the sake of Church unity I think it is important that he correct this impression, perhaps by writing to The Age, or putting out a press release.

Copyright J.R. Lilburne, 18 December 2001. Canon law extracts from The Code of Canon Law (HarperCollins, 1997).

Links to other sites:

Congregation for the Clergy

Melbourne Archdiocese Media Releases

The Pastoral Companion by John Huels on