Why don't the popes remove wayward bishops?


#1

I’m not sure where to post this question, but this forum seems appropriate.

I was thinking, why in Heaven’s name would the Orthodox even consider reuniting with us Catholics when we have some absolutely terrible leaders among the episcopacy who allow things like heresy, liturgical abuses and the like to run rampant in their dioceses? You know the bishops I am talking about here. Why don’t the popes flex their muscles and remove these “bad” bishops? Surely the pope has this power? This is always something that has bothered me.


#2

That’s a very good question that many of us would like to hear the answer to. Let’s hope one of the theologians or apolgists on line will tackle it forethrightly.


#3

As I understand it, it is because each bishop has ‘autonomy’. Bishops are installed into their bishoprics as autonomous shepherds to be leaders themselves and to report to the Pope on how they are serving their people. IOW, the Pope is not like a King who can ‘remove’ an erring Earl, Duke, Count, etc. ‘for cause’ or ‘at will’. It takes something extremely serious for a Pope to even consider the idea of having–for the good of Christendom–to discipline or investigate a given bishop, and it certainly would not be done without the input of the bishop, other bishops, etc.

The Pope is not a micromanager. So long as the bishop does not come right out and teach, on his own authority as a bishop, that Christ was not divine, or ordain women etc., so long as there is enough ambiguity, or even outright lying (the Holy Father is not omniscent) then there is no ‘reason’ for the bishop’s actions to be called into question. After all, Jesus Himself did not remove Judas, did He? And as Scripture says, we are called to ‘forgive’ 70 x 7. I am sure that on their ad limina visits (which each bishop must make I think every 5 years or so to report to the Pope personally), the Pope has had some ‘questions’ to some individual bishops, and perhaps even some (private) admonitions and some expectations for penance and reform etc. And then it is up to the bishop to implement the Pope’s desires (in obedience) or to continue in disobedience and ‘ask for forgiveness’ the next time around.

There are a LOT of bishops who are facing a lot of difficult situations and who deal in different ways. Some might ‘appear’ to be ‘letting’ some questionable practices go on. . .but when it comes right down to it, no matter how ‘wrong’ liturgical dance might be, it is not quite so serious as, for example, pushing for women priests or gay marriage. So that ‘darned bishop’ who looks as though he never ‘cares’ about his priests fooling around with ‘weird’ extras in the Mass might be saving all his authority and his ‘big guns’ going after (quietly and behind the scenes) those ‘bigger’ apples.

We should be praying for our bishops more and second-guessing them less.


#4

Thanks for your reply! It was very interesting and I agree with much of what you said. I learned a few things too.

But I am thinking more along the lines of bishops who publicly indicate they will not refuse Holy Communion to pro-abort politicians, those who permit pervert priests to maintain their ministries (anyone spare $640,000,000?), those who fail to teach about the evils of abortion, contraception, homosexual conduct, and so on. I think these issues are worthy of using the bishop’s big guns, to use your apt phrase. After all, what else is he going to use his ecclesiastical authority for, if not to admonish sinners and teach the faithful?

I sincerely hope that Pope Benedict is doing what you have suggested - scolding these bishops in private to get them in line. We have suffered for too long!


#5

Perhaps part of the answer lies in history. Back in the 4th to 6th century many Bishops, even a majority of them, were Arians, but very few were ever deposed. I suppose when push comes to shove as long as Catholics in the pews can attend a valid, not necessarily a licit Mass and receive the Sacraments validly, then they can live with a little heresy or disobedience in their Bishops and Priests. Not desirable, but perhaps the alternative is much more disruptive and threatening to the rank and file Catholic.

Secondly the bureaucracy of the Vatican is not all large enough to keep very close tabs on the worlds Bishops and to take action which may be as complicated as a typical criminal trial. Just too much to handle.The index of forbidden books was dropped primarily because it just could not keep up with the flow of new books.


#6

I don’t have an answer to this; I’ve been a Catholic for only a little over 2 years, and I don’t quite know everything yet :smiley:

However, I have often thought that if God doesn’t start some kind of housecleaning process in His Church, He really ought to apologise to Ananias and Sapphira. :confused:


#7

I, too, have been very upset at certain Bishops. However, when I look in the mirror, I see a sinner in need of reconciliation with God. Therefore, I must temper my hard feelings about certain bishops and consider my own sins, of which are many.

Throughout Church history, there have been good Bishops and poor Bishops, as is so today. Let’s remember to pray for them all.


#8

I’m sure many of us are familiar with the story of my dioceses former Archbishop:
query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?sec=health&res=9A0DE7DA1739F935A3575AC0A960948260

The Vatican did not shrink from addressing this situation which, even back in the mid 80’s would not have been considered “extreme”. Why are they so inconsistent?


#9

I hate to say this, but I think so many of the problems we have today come from the results of VII and what people in the church, misinformed people in the church, thought it meant. I get the impression that after the council, because it was represented as such a big ‘modernization’ and ‘reform’ movement, some things went way too far the other way in liberalizing and reforming. And there was nothing to keep in in check. So what we see today in a lot of the laity, priests, bishops and other parts of the church as far as weird ideas and liberal stances come from that time. This includes Bishops that think they can push their own agenda and do whatever they want.

The good news is, this Pope is trying to set things right as we see as of late. But it’s going to take a while. The church has to reform the reform, get rid of all the garbage that was taught and all the wacky liberalizations and theories that have been allowed to go on in the church. It’s got to start with catechizing the laity and teaching people what the catholic faith says. And it’s got to work its way through the church to the priests and bishops as well. It’s going to take a while. But in my opinion, from what I’ve seen going on, things are changing and reversing in the church. And what is even more encouraging is that the people want that change to happen. When the people demand the stabilization and reform of the reform, the priests and bishops and other clergy will have to respond and it will definitely speed everything up.


#10

Because those bishops can “flex their muscles” and take their particular Churches into schism. They have genuine, not delegated authority. They don’t need the Pope to have authority over their (arch)dioceses. More than anything else, the Pope does not want more division in the Church. As long as the heresy isn’t spreading throughout the Church, it might be better to “allow” a heretical bishop to remain in his position until God removes him than to go into schism with potentially long-lasting repercussions.

Jeremy


#11

You make the assumption that the Orthodox bishops are all in agreement on everything, and that none in their ranks could be considered to be terrible leaderes by other Orthodox bishops.

Methinks you don’t know enough about the Orthodox.


#12

I completely agree. But many times the “Bad” Bishops can’t be labeled as “bad,” until it’s too late.


#13

Actually, if the Pope removed a slew of bishops, the Orthodox would be LESS likely to reconcile, not more.

Papal authority is the problem the Orthodox have with the Catholic Church, and excercise of the same seems to cement their opposition.

We are also called to charity. The Church has shown great forbearance and flexibility in nudging the wayward back to the fold. Sometimes to her peril, as Leo X demonstrated.

The danger is considerably less nowadays as any Catholic with an Internet connection or access to a library can read the true teachings of the Church and thus insulate themselves from the occasional “hip” bishop.


#14

If you remember correctly friend, the Orthodox if both Greek and Eastern split back in the days of the Roman/Byzantine conflict. The reason for the split was because they, the Orthodox, do not recognize the Pope as the infallable leader of our faaith on Earth.


#15

But they are assigned their dioceses by the Pope. Couldn’t he (theoretically) assign a particular bishop a defunct diocese, order him to a monastery in the desert, and consecrate a good bishop for a diocese?
As for not causing more division, aren’t we basically talking about the difference between material and formal division? If the laity is already materially separated from Rome, why shouldn’t the Pope do everything he can to give them a good shepherd?


#16

Bishops and cardinals do get reassigned and recalled to Rome. Great care is taken, however, not to incite schism.

It should also be noted that these wayward bishops are rarely so bold as to challenge Rome directly or clearly. They tend to fritter around the edges of heresy. Read some of Luther’s entreaties to Leo X as an example.

Sin lives in the dark, and we sinners do all that we can to keep it in the dark where it may thrive.

Still, the Pontiff does intervene when necessary. See if you can find the video clip of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Nicaragua, where he literally stepped off the plane and dressed down a Catholic bishop who refused Rome’s order not to become part of the Sandinista regime. It is a side of Pope John Paul the Great you likely have never seen before, and is a part of several documentaries.

I am sure that even in that instance the Pope would have preferred his brother in Christ to have accepted gentler and less humiliating correction.


#17

This is problem #1

And as Scripture says, we are called to ‘forgive’ 70 x 7.

I agree that we are to forgive, but to leave them in a position of leadership is just wrong. If I catch my Son looking as porn on the computer, I will forgive him but I won’t let him on the computer for a while.
Without punishment the wrong lesson is learned.

I am sure that on their ad limina visits (which each bishop must make I think every 5 years or so to report to the Pope personally), the Pope has had some ‘questions’ to some individual bishops, and perhaps even some (private) admonitions and some expectations for penance and reform etc. And then it is up to the bishop to implement the Pope’s desires (in obedience) or to continue in disobedience and ‘ask for forgiveness’ the next time around.

I’m sure that if you were molested by one of these people you wouldn’t feel the same way.

There are a LOT of bishops who are facing a lot of difficult situations and who deal in different ways. Some might ‘appear’ to be ‘letting’ some questionable practices go on. . .but when it comes right down to it, no matter how ‘wrong’ liturgical dance might be, it is not quite so serious as, for example, pushing for women priests or gay marriage. So that ‘darned bishop’ who looks as though he never ‘cares’ about his priests fooling around with ‘weird’ extras in the Mass might be saving all his authority and his ‘big guns’ going after (quietly and behind the scenes) those ‘bigger’ apples.

We should be praying for our bishops more and second-guessing them less.

They have you and those who believe like you do fooled.


#18

Perhaps you could enumerate the Bishops in error, their manifest sins, and the appropriate punishment for each. We fools might benefit from your infallible wisdom.


#19

These names have been hidden by the leadership of your church even though it has admitted wrong doing, or do they generally hand out millions of dollars to people who make false accusations?

their manifest sins,

Only God and those guilty know all their sins.

and the appropriate punishment for each.

That is supposed to the job of your leaders.

We fools might benefit from your infallible wisdom.

I know that I’m NOT infallible and am NOT foolish enough to believe that any man is.


#20

Then perhaps you might want to consider that you’re mistaken.

Do you deny that false accusations are made against the Catholic Church and her clergy?

Do you believe that she should reassign or remove from office a bishop on the basis of an accusation alone?

Or do you believe those who accuse her to be infallible?


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.