The fine canonically focused blog In the Light of the Law has a fascinating post today about removal of a bishop from the clerical state. We often hear about removal of priests, but not of bishops. But, bishops are clerics too.
Let’s have a look:
After decades of disinterest, suddenly two Canon 1405 cases?
POST ONE: Pope Benedict XVI is believed to be mulling over the possibility of expelling a bishop, Fernando Lugo, from the clerical state. That would certainly be a first under the 1983 Code (the Jacques Gaillot case in 1995 was not a precedent; Gaillot was removed from office, but not from the clerical state), and I’m pretty sure it never happened under the 1917 Code.
Lugo, though suspended and removed from ecclesiastical office, remains a cleric, but his election under a reformist banner to Paraguay’s presidency upped the ante. Clergy are forbidden to assume civil governing offices (see 1983 CIC 285.3 and my negative conclusions about "Permission given to priest to run for political office", 2007 CLSA Advisory Opinions 60-62) and bishops in political office are at odds with, oh, about a dozen other norms.
Canon 290,3 says that removal from the clerical state can be granted (or imposed, if it comes to that) on deacons for "grave cause" or presbyters for "most grave cause". But the canon doesn’t even mention dismissal of a bishop from the clerical state. It’s as if no one could imagine it ever happening.
Lugo has reportedly offered to "resign" but it is unclear exactly what he meant by that, or he could face a penal process with the pope as judge per 1983 CIC 1405, 1. Ironically the pope could hear this matter as a case of judging "those who hold the highest civil office of a state" or he could hear it as a case of judging "bishops in penal matters." But regardless of which kind of case he considers, removal of a bishop from the clerical state, and not just from office, is an extremely serious action, something that hasn’t happened for centuries.
Okay, so, maybe it’s time it did.
POST TWO: How utterly ironic.
I had intended the above title, about the "two Canon 1405 cases" to refer to two possible applications of Canon 1405 in the one case of Bp. Fernando Lugo. But now I see another news item that would involve, of all things, Canon 1405 for a second, completely separate, time.
I refer to Richard Sipe’s denunciation of, among others, Theodore Cdl. McCarrick (ret. Washington) on the grounds of sexual misconduct. I know next to nothing about Sipe, but his statement leaves little room for nuance: "I know the names of at least four priests who have had sexual encounters with Cardinal McCarrick. I have documents and letters that record the first hand testimony and eye witness accounts of McCarrick, then archbishop of Newark, New Jersey actually having sex with a priest, and at other times subjecting a priest to unwanted sexual advances."
The same Canon 1405 I referenced above reserves solely to the Roman Pontiff the right to judge all cases involving cardinals and, in penal matters, bishops. Under either heading, let alone both, the only person authorized to investigate, and if warranted judge, Sipes’ allegations, is the pope. No ecclesiastical authority may move on this matter without the consent of the Roman Pontiff.
I do think, however, that in conscience, (though not by canon law given the abrogation of 1917 CIC 1935.2), Sipe is bound to send to the Holy See all the information he has about these matters, and not wait to be asked for it.