Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Bishop Geoffrey Robinson... Some more thoughts

Well, today Cathnews serves the Catholic community of Australia by giving us an update on the Robinson Tour. Not much that's news there, only the continuing saga of the opposition that Robinson is meeting in the US from the local bishops of the dioceses he is visiting. Lest we think that it is only the Australians paying attention to this tour, it is high enough on the American radar to be picked up by CNS (Rocco Palmo at "Whispers in the Loggia" see here where Rocco Palmo gives continuing reports). Apparently the opposition is not simply being orchestrated at the local level but has come from Head Office. The prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Giovanni Battista, has himself urged (commanded?) Bishop Robinson to desist.

So, two issues. First, what is the issue? Why is Robinson being opposed. The cynical would say that it is because of his raising the issue of the responsibility of the bishops themselves for the sexual abuse crisis. They don't want any adverse publicity or any finger pointing so they are opposing Robinson because he is doing just that: raising the issue publically and pointing the finger. This impression is supported by the fact that some of the bishops who have directly opposed him have indeed been responsibile in some degree for the crisis in the first place. Human nature being what it is, it is hard to dismiss this cynical interpretation.

But the "putting the best construction on everything" interpretation is by far the simpler explanation. This explanation is purely and simply the one that arises from the Australian Bishop's statement about Robinson's book "Confronting Sex and Power in the Catholic Church". They acknowledge Robinson's legitimate concern and his record of good work in this area in the past. If Robinson had simply written a book about that, that would have been confronting but not objectionable. It would even perhaps have done us all a great service. Instead, he chose to see the essential structure and nature of the Church herself as the most significant factor causing the entire crisis, and so calls for (what can only be described as a) "root and branch" revolution in the Church's governance. The "reforms" for which he calls are entirely incompatible with the Church's own understanding of her nature. These reforms include calls for re-evaluating the morality of sex outside marriage and homosexuality, allowing women priests, and dismantling papal authority. These are one thing--but they stem from a more serious attitude in the book, which reviewer Richard Gaillardetz identifies as
a deeper reflection on Christian faith and the ways in which unhealthy conceptions of God, revelation, divine providence and Jesus Christ inevitably have negative ecclesial consequences.
That's his take. The Australian Bishops describe this attitude as "Bishop Robinson’s uncertainty about the knowledge and authority of Christ himself". That's the real problem here. If the accusation is true, it is very, very serious. MORE serious, may I say, than the sexual abuse crisis itself. (I have just committed some sort of heresy in saying that?) He is trying to cure the disease by taking a knife to the heart of the patient.

That's the first issue. The second issue is that this man is a bishop. That's why this book and its author is getting so much attention from people for whom addressing the sexual abuse crisis is not their primary objective. In the Cathnews article, we are told that retired King County Superior Court Judge Terrence Carroll said:
I think it's a shame that [a bishop] of the Catholic Church cannot be welcomed into our diocese simply because the message he has to give is one that they don't want to hear. ...The clergy abuse issue brought front and centre for many Catholics the whole issue of the structure of the Church hierarchy and the various parts of the faith that need to be open for discussion beyond the handling of this specific issue. All of these things need to be talked about. That's all [Robinson] is asking to do.
But does Robinson still consider himself "a bishop of the church"? Not according to the same article in which it is stated that
Robinson said he ultimately concluded that he could not continue to serve as a bishop of a Church that left him with such "profound reservations." He resigned and began to write his book....
The fact is that canonically he is still a bishop. He may be retired, but he has not sought to resign from the episcopacy, nor has he been deprived of that office by the Holy See.

There is a saying (coined by your's truly) that "There is nothing more dangerous than a retired bishop". Witness John Shelby Spong. He has all the status of a bishop, without being answerable for the way in which he uses that status.

6 Comments:

At Tuesday, June 10, 2008 2:53:00 pm , Blogger Athanasius said...

Try as I might, I simply can't get excited about by the Robinson Global Tour, and his book.

I am completely bored with these baby-boomer "radicals" who think the solution to all Catholic ills is for us to adopt the shibboleths of the sixties and a bourgeois version of Anglicanism.

The caravan has moved on, folks. The '68 generation meant well, but it didn't work out. The real dynamism, such as it is, has shifted elsewhere.

 
At Tuesday, June 10, 2008 3:59:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

Couple of points:

First, it’s a teeny bit disingenuous to suggest that the reason the US bishops are opposing Robinson’s tour is that the Australian bishops have issued a statement expressing grave concern about the book. You don’t have to be too much of a conspiracy theorist to look at the sequence of events and think that causation may in fact have worked the other way; the statement was issued specifically to provide a referable basis for US bishops’ opposition to the tour.

Secondly, it’s a huge leap from identifying, as Galliardetz does, a “reflection on . . . the ways in which unhealthy conceptions of God, revelation, divine providence and Jesus Christ inevitably have negative ecclesial consequences” – this is almost a truism – to seeing “uncertainty about the knowledge and authority of Christ himself”, as the bishops do. I honestly struggle to accept that these are two “takes” on the same aspect of the one book. I can see there’s nothing for it; I’ll have to read the book myself.

In the meantime, not having read the book but having read plenty of reviews, discussion, etc, many of them very critical, what your post here brings home to me is that the bishops’ statement characterised the book in much, much more serious, and more negative, terms than most other observers. They seem to have spotted something that many have missed - and something that, you would think, would be quite hard to miss.

This underlines a point I made earlier, and which I think you agreed with.
There’s no use – in fact, it’s positively counterproductive – in issuing a statement like this unless you’re going to follow through, and say in more detail what your problems are, and discuss them.

This puts the bishops in a bit of a bind. It’s been suggested – and it’s not entirely implausible – that this particular passage was offered by Cardinal Battista, with the invitation that you might like to say something, oh, along these lines, your Grace, in the statement which you will be issuing.

The problem here is that the Roman dicastereries are not used to having to discuss, debate, defend or vindicate their views in the hurly-burly of the public square, or even of the churchyard. The ACBC lives in a somewhat less rarified atmosphere, and will now find itself, if it wants to retain credibility, having to follow through in discussion and discourse. But they’ll now be defending a position which might not be expressed quite as they would have chosen to express their own views of the book.

Michael Whelan, as you know, has already come out swinging, and his thought have been shared with an eager nation courtesy of the Religion Report. He won’t be the last, I dare say. The bishops can keep schtumm, and effectively cede the debate, or they can join in the discourse and defend a position which may not in fact be entirely theirs. An unappealing choice.

 
At Tuesday, June 10, 2008 5:07:00 pm , Anonymous M. M. Regan said...

"They seem to have spotted something that many have missed - and something that, you would think, would be quite hard to miss"

Peregrinus: I note that the ACBC statement speaks of "correspondence and conversation". One might infer that Msgr. Robinson went further in this "correspondence and conversation" than he is prepared to go for the public record. For now, at least.

 
At Tuesday, June 10, 2008 7:02:00 pm , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

Well, the ethics of a public denunciation based on private correspondence would be the subject of a whole 'nother post.

But the practicalities also need to be considered. As I've pointed out, the bishops will have little choice but to defend their statement. That's going to be a problem, if they can't point to the reasons for the statement.

 
At Tuesday, June 10, 2008 8:36:00 pm , Blogger Joshua said...

Well, if David's own posting be truthful, and the retired bishop did question basic norms of sexual ethics, then his book is obviously dangerous and even encouraging of serious sin, quite apart from any other dubious contents it may have. Such propagandizing of filth is reprehensible.

Everyone knows the link between doctrinal deviation and moral turpitude: to ease his guilty conscience, the deviant rationalizes his misbehaviour by choosing to depart from the truth.

Heresy is more a question of the will than of the intellect.

 
At Tuesday, June 10, 2008 8:48:00 pm , Blogger Schütz said...

Peregrinus:

it’s a teeny bit disingenuous to suggest that the reason the US bishops are opposing Robinson’s tour is that the Australian bishops have issued a statement expressing grave concern about the book.

Did I say that? I don't think I did. I meant to say that they were opposing him because of the letter from the Congregation for Bishops at Head Office.

the statement was issued specifically to provide a referable basis for US bishops’ opposition to the tour

I must honestly say the idea had never occured to me! It would involve the even sillier idea that Australian Bishops are opposing the Robinson book because of grave concerns of the US Bishops! Direct to the conspiracy theory file with that one, I reckon.

I can see there’s nothing for it; I’ll have to read the book myself.

I was rather hoping to avoid the same conclusion myself. I have read selections from it but don't know if I have the time or the energy to read all of it. (So much to read... so little time to blog). Like you, I rely mainly on the reviews. All of which paint a pretty similar picture, differing only on whether the resultant picture is a pretty one or not. And that taste seems to be in the mouth of the beholder...

this particular passage was offered by Cardinal Battista, with the invitation that you might like to say something, oh, along these lines, your Grace, in the statement which you will be issuing

So NOW its the Cardinal in Rome pulling the chords of the Australian Puppet Bishops?! Good Lord, Perry, where on earth do you hear these things? Are you suggesting that the Australian Bishops can't think for themselves or don't have the gumption to issue a censure on their own say-so?

courtesy of the Religion Report

Grrrr.... I can tell you that that man loses friends as easily as he gains them by his unbalanced and highly incendiary journalism. (Let us all pray for the recovery of the author of the Crittenden Report [http://thecrittendenreport.blogspot.com/] in the mean time so we can once again rely on his skilled duel with the forces of evil).

 

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