Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Recourse Madness

Here's some grist for the mill: Guess which presbyterate is all abuzz over yet another questionable canonical action of its bishop....

After a year in which several priests of a certain American diocese have been summarily stripped of their faculties and removed from assignments seemingly without the due process and other requisite provisions mandated by canon law, buzz is that one curtailed priest returned to the rectory in which he was living to find a smith changing the locks. The cleric is now, for all intents and purposes, homeless by administrative fiat, as opposed to the finding of a tribunal -- and the priests are, as one would guess, livid.

"I don't know how [the diocesan curia] sleep at night," one told me, "knowing they've just kicked a priest out into the street."

Now, where this gets sticky is that this guy's case -- and several others from said diocese -- have been placed on administrative recourse (i.e. an appeal) to the Holy See. Under the operative jurisprudence of the canons, if a recourse is in process, nothing can change in terms of the obligations of the diocese toward the sanctioned cleric; the priest doesn't have to be in active ministry, but he can't be deprived of his temporal welfare. The principle, of course, is that while the priest gives his obedience, the church gives its solicitude. And you can't have one without the other.

Bottom line: this is a very bizarre case among very bizarre cases. And Rome rules more often than you'd think in favor of the priests, frequently kicking out cases (and overruling diocesan bishops) on procedural grounds.

For example, in late 2004, the Apostolic Signatura -- the Vatican's highest tribunal -- found that Bishop Donald Pelotte of Gallup was out of bounds in sanctioning one priest with whom he had frequently clashed, and ordered that the diocese compensate the cleric years' worth of back pay which he had been denied.

Then again, these situations are not unique. In another diocese, two sanctioned priests are said to be living on welfare despite having petitions working their way through the dicasteries.

Good grief.