Thursday, May 15, 2008

Bishops to Robinson: Keep Out

On the eve of his first Stateside appearance, the hammers have begun to fall on Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, the retired Sydney auxiliary whose controversial tome on power, sex and abuse in the church has seen the reserved, strait-laced canonist publicly taken to task for "casting doubt" on the teaching of Christ and the authority of the Magisterium.

In recent weeks, after Robinson wrote courtesy notes to the bishops of the American dioceses where he'd be appearing simply to inform them of his presence, several of the ordinaries reportedly responded by requesting that he cancel his plans. From Rome, the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re followed up by "urging" Robinson not to appear in the US around the same time that the Australian bishops broke their collective silence, issuing their first public comment on the prelate's Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus a full nine months after the book's explosive debut Down Under last August.

Earlier this week, the question of Robinson's ecclesial status came up as one host-city's presbyteral council was briefed on his impending arrival. Informed that the auxiliary-emeritus -- who retired in 2004 -- continued to enjoy good standing in the eyes of the church, the body was likewise told that "that could change" shortly.

Kept behind closed doors until now, the matter's broken out with the release of a letter in which Cardinal Roger Mahony has forbidden Robinson from "speak[ing] in the archdiocese of Los Angeles," exhorting the bishop entrusted with the Aussie church's successful handling of its abuse crisis to scrap his "entire" American tour, which begins tomorrow night in Philadelphia and runs through 12 June in LA.

In his letter, dated 9 May, Mahony -- head of the nation's largest diocese -- echoed the Australian bishops' "concerns about doctrinal errors and other statements in the book contrary to church teaching" as the rationale behind his move.  

Noting that "Canon 763 makes it clear that the Diocesan Bishop must safeguard the preaching of God's Word and the teachings of the Church in his own Diocese," the cardinal invoked the law to "hereby deny [Robinson] permission to speak in the archdiocese of Los Angeles." 

"As a brother Bishop, I urge you to cancel the entire speaking tour," he added, "and to work closely with your own Bishops' Conference on their investigation.

"I would surely expect you to follow exactly their recommendations in this matter."

Responding to the statement of the Oz bishops and its finding that "doctrinal difficulties remain" between Robinson's views and some declared teachings of the church, the author said earlier today that the body's stance "imposes impossible restrictions on any serious and objective study, and it is where I have broken from the Bishops Conference."

"Sexual abuse is all about power and sex, so it is surely reasonable to ask questions about power and sex in the church," he added.

Back in LA, the lone holdout on last year's record $660 million archdiocesan abuse settlement agreed earlier today to close its cases out of court.

A day after a civil jury began hearing claims of negligence by the local leadership of the Salesians, the order signed off on a $19.5 million deal with 17 survivors, all of whom reported abuse by the same priest.