New procedures to remove negligent Bishops… what could go wrong?

The Pope has issued an Apostolic Letter (heavy) Motu Proprio to establish procedures to remove bishops who don’t act adequately in regard to priests who hurt children or vulnerable people.

Good.  On the face of it, that’s great.

I’ve been irritated ever since the US bishops decided to exempt themselves from the so-called Dallas Charter.   Instead of “clerics”, they chose “priests and deacons”, thus leaving themselves outside.

However, as I have listened to my friends react to this news in email and and texts, I am confirmed in my first reaction.

Bishops will now have an even greater motive to hammer innocent priests into the ground in order to cover their episcopal backsides.

Will this mark another “open season” on priests?

Think about it:

Freeda Burnbradia doesn’t like what Father preaches, or that he doesn’t have altar girls.  In her oddball feminist fog she imagines that, during a rehearsal for a Mass, Father is not quite properly dealing with all the altar boys.  Hence, she writes to the local Bishop of Libville, Most Rev. Fatty McButterpants, with the notion that Father might not be dealing with children in a way that she (therefore everyone) approves.   The Bishop of Libville then grinds Father into grit in the gutter on the force of a suggestion. He wants to cover his increasingly wide ass in light of the new legislation.

Father is, of course, entirely innocent.  But this moment gives everyone cover to get a troublesome priest out of the way.

It’s all about bishops and never about priests.

Except for Summorum Pontificum.  That was about priests.  It was a document of astonishing importance.


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  1. Hidden One says:

    I have read a suggestion that this motu proprio could also be appealed to by priests who have been mistreated by bishops in ways like the one you describe. What do you think of that possibility?

    [Perhaps. But I don’t think that that was one of the aims of this move.]

  2. Kent Wendler says:

    I’m totally confident that M.R. McButterpants will be absolutely appalled at what he has done as bishop when he has his personal encounter with the One Who Is absolute Truth as he immediately approaches death and his own particular judgement. Let us hope that the M.R. McButterpants will not not yield to despair and final impenitence. Even if he does accept our Lord’s Mercy, his purgation necessarily will be quite severe and his earthly merit (and heavenly reward) much diminished.

    The same can be said for Ms. Burnbradia, but to a substantially lesser extent because of her probably (invincible?) ignorance.

    As for Father, well, he is being given the chance to wear a martyr’s crown, and his earthly tribulation must necessarily, as for all of us, be short – compared to Life Everlasting.

  3. Sword40 says:

    Figures. What with Franciscans of the Immaculate being ambushed. Nothing we can do but increase our prayers and try to stay with tradition. I feel very sorry for my seven children and my 19 grand children. They will suffer far more than I.

    Put 5 to 5 and pray!

  4. GrumpyYoungMan says:

    “We have found a witch – may we burn her???”

  5. I am increasingly uncomfortable supporting this sort of thing with my hard-earned money, particularly when diocesan appeal time comes around. I don’t think just conservative priests will be hurt, though. A lot of the people in the pews might have even pettier reasons for unjustified attacks than ideology. The Dallas Charter did grave harm to the priest-bishop relationship and that is what really needs to be fixed. We definitely don’t need any more witch hunts.

  6. Charles E Flynn says:

    From The Catholic Herald: “The Pope’s move to hold bishops accountable could have seismic consequences:

    The potential scope of this new definition of episcopal negligence is of huge significance. Under these new norms, bishops could see cases brought against them for failures in financial oversight, personnel policy or virtually any area of diocesan governance which could potentially cause “physical, moral, or spiritual harm” to an individual or the community.

    On the specific issue of the handling of complaints of sexual crimes against priests, in the wake of the more horrific revelations of cover-ups in some dioceses, some bishops have taken public pride in their “swift and decisive action” following any allegation made against a priest; those priests who have been subsequently found innocent but seen their reputations ruined by summary justice may well have a case to bring.

    Traditionally, the bishop in his diocese has been, almost literally, a law unto himself. Recovering the dignity and authority of that office from encroaching centralisation towards Rome was a key theme of the reforms of Vatican Council II. While the reasons he has done so are obvious and compelling, Pope Francis, for all his emphasis on synodality, has, for good or for ill, just dealt a major blow to the independence of the average diocesan bishop.

  7. Maltese says:

    I feel badly for good Priests (a couple of whom I call good friends)–always under suspicion, for doing their jobs. Now Bishops will be under the microscope, suspect (or, always subject to eternal suspicion) from radical liberal nuns. I’m considering attending the SSPX Chapel in Albuquerque, NM-Sts Peter and Paul–where such problems don’t exist (and where they’ve started an excellent new elementary school.) They say this craziness didn’t start with Vatican II, but I would say it did.

  8. Christ-Bearer says:

    Well, a bishop is still a priest, and a deacon, so let them follow Dallas!

    There is a cemetery in my diocese with three parking spots, one labeled “reserved for bishop” one for “priest” and one for “deacon”. I was miffed that technically the bishop gets to park in all three!

  9. Dimitri_Cavalli says:

    Some right-winger doesn’t like Sr. Maureen Fiedler and writes to her superior, alleging that she raised money for the Sandinista dictatorship in Nicaragua despite its anti-Semitism and well-publicized persecution of the Miskito Indian population….

    Oh, wait, that’s actually true.

  10. Dimitri_Cavalli says:

    “So if the priest weighs much as Frances Kissling [did she report sex abuse of adults or minors to the authorities during her abortion clinic days during the 1970s?]…. then …. GUILTY!”

  11. kiwiinamerica says:

    The key to the sex abuse issue is and always has been, the seminaries. All this “zero tolerance” blather is simply after-the-fact damage control. This problem must be attacked at source and it involves weeding out homosexuals in the seminary prior to ordination, as the Church has repeatedly stated, most recently during the pontificate of BXVI.

    Of course, when the present pontiff was asked about homosexuals in the priesthood he responded with his infamous “who am I to judge?” comment. Holy Father, when a man presents himself for for ordination, you as a bishop, (and/or the seminary director) had darn well better judge!! It’s your duty and responsibility to the Church. Failure to carry out this responsibility resulted in the unleashing of numerous predatory homosexual priests which has caused incalculable scandal and billions of dollars in damages, not to mention numerous ruined lives.

    Wake me when Francis starts talking about weeding out these men before ordination, rather than those who love Latin and traditional liturgy which is about the only thing which will get you booted from a seminary.

    The truly “negligent” bishops are men like Francis who allow these predators to be ordained.

  12. NBW says:

    I would hope that people would not use the Apostolic letter to remove good priests. It’s sad that there are people willing to do this to remove good priests. We must pray for priests and ask for St. Michael the Archangel’s intercession. I love the names especially Bishop Fatty McButterpants! so funny!

  13. VexillaRegis says:

    A question: Does/will the bishop have this kind of power over religious priests also or just over diocesan priests and deacons?

  14. Fallibilissimo says:

    I understand the concern Father has. However, something must be done, in legislative terms, so that there is some accountability, even at the episcopal level…no? If this new procedure Pope Francis has introduced is imperfect and susceptible to grave abuses, just what does a good procedure look like?

    If we leave large swaths of the hierarchical clergy “unckecked” by expectations in the law I think that would be dangerous. I can’t help recall that part of the catechism on original sin: “Ignorance of the fact that man has a wounded nature inclined to evil gives rise to serious errors in the areas of education, politics, social action and morals”. In other words, even our beloved Bishops are human…finding a good “procedure” in this [and other] regards should actually help the Bishops better fulfill their duty. I do believe that many of them, who were dealt with these horrendous situations, just didn’t know what to do and surely reacted poorly because of ignorance and the lack of clarity in what was expected of them.

  15. cwillia1 says:

    I am, like Charles Flynn above, concerned about the bigger implications of the motu proprio. We can talk about synodality all we like but this action contradicts the talk. The Vatican can now remove bishops when they judge them to be negligent – not culpably negligent, negligent. This makes a bishop an employee of the pope. And for that matter the “synod” on the family was a good example of the misapplication of the concept of synod to cover arbitrary action directed from corporate headquarters. Accountability for bishops starts with a bishop’s province. Let a bishop’s brother bishops hold him accountable. The problem that arises here is that bishops will not hold each other accountable to orthodoxy and orthopraxis if they themselves are heterodox or if they value cordial relations over the integrity of the faith.

  16. Benedict Joseph says:

    Is there a new forbearance exhibited by ecclesiastics who once expressed concern over the novel course directed from Rome? Might there be a surreptitious word in the pipeline to be still and get with the program? Could this be a way to kill two birds with one stone – assuage the left with the heads of certain bishops while making dioceses open to occupation by more amenable clerics? Intimidation?
    One wonders if during the commemoration of the protestant revolt, to which we all look forward in October, will there be a papal exhortation of our separated brethren to come clean on the state of their closets.

  17. capebretoner says:

    “If we leave large swaths of the hierarchical clergy “unckecked” by expectations in the law I think that would be dangerous.”
    If they don’t live by God’s Law, why would we ever expect that they would abide by some man made rule of law? And where is the accountability for the bishops themselves? As a parishioner of the Diocese of Antigonish, this is the question I have. Anyone who works for the government these days, or reads the news, knows that laws that aren’t enforced are just paper platitudes to say, looky here, we’re doing something.

  18. un-ionized says:

    kiwiinamerica, what about the Order which has an official policy that ” the same demands of chastity apply to all brethren of whatever sexual orientation, and so no one can be excluded on this ground”? Notice the wording “whatever sexual orientation.” Is this a problem?

  19. robtbrown says:


    I agree with you about the problem coming out of the seminaries, and I think your solution is true–but only partially so.

    For a priest to persevere he needs a certain emotional and spiritual independence. There’s a good chance in his first ten years that he will be in a rectory with priest(s) whom he dislikes and/or with whom he doesn’t agree. Or that after assignments with priests he does like, he finds himself living alone in a rectory.

    For various reasons seminaries have failed in this very important task, instead producing priests who were never formed in this independence.

  20. robtbrown says:


    1. Although decentralization of addressing the problem might have organizational advantages, there is no Scriptural basis for other bishops in the same episcopal conference having any authority in the removal of bishops.

    2. Let me restate what I wrote here a few days ago: The power of a pope in a diocese is not mitigated by the installation of a bishop in that diocese.

    From Lumen Gentium 22:

    The pope’s power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power.

  21. robtbrown says:


    I was given instruction in 1970 by a really good and wise FBI priest. A few years before his 1989 death, he told a priest friend and me that when we and others had told him of the sexual problems in seminaries, he thought it was exaggeration. Such claims were so far from his own experience that he couldn’t believe our descriptions couldn’t be true. At the time he said that, he already realized how deep the problems were.

    I think that was one (but only one) reason why so many bishops were negligent. Also:

    A. They employed the old MO that was used when a priest was involved with a women: Move him to another parish.

    B. There was so much double talk (some coming from Rome) about doctrine and discipline that bishops had learned to look the other way. (1)

    C. Aggressively addressing the problem would have made waves, and making waves is no path to promotion.

    (1) And so I have to wonder what will be the secondary effects of the theological sleight of hand attempted in Amoris Laetitia.

  22. dochm13 says:

    I think there is a much broader agenda at work here, and the clerical abuse angle is a diversion. An earlier commenter linked to the Catholic Herald article, which I think gets it exactly right. Bishops can be removed for “harm to the community”, which could mean literally anything. And there is this other thing swirling around that’s a pretty big deal…

  23. TWF says:

    In the early church, as testified by the ancient ecumenical councils and the Fathers, local synods did indeed elect and discipline bishops within their region. Rome has always had primacy in a theological sense, but it wasn’t until relatively recently that Rome centralized practical administration of the global Church.

  24. lmgilbert says:

    It so happens that I have a brother who was lured into the marvelous lifestyle at St. Mary’s in Baltimore in 1969. Never ordained, he died of AIDS in 1993, having repented of his “lifestyle” only months before, and receiving the last sacraments on his deathbed- thanks be to God. There was also another dicey incident that affected another brother very badly.

    Of course, all this affected our family drastically, but the really drastic effects came after the scandal broke. The animus of my remaining six siblings (the youngest of whom is 60) is decidedly against the bishops and against the Church for not holding them accountable. When I speak of really drastic effects, I mean siblings not only leaving the Church, but abandoning faith in God. So, I am very hopeful that this move by the Holy Father will re-awaken their interest in the Church and belief in the justice of God. To accomplish this end if an episcopal head or two were to roll (but only justifiably, of course), I could not be more pleased.

  25. Dimitri_Cavalli says:

    There was a priest here in the Bronx whom I would go to for Confession. (I’m one of those Catholics who is uneasy about going to Confession at my regular parish. It’s not them; it’s me.) I liked him a lot. He was eventually appointed pastor of a Church in Westchester County just north of the city.

    In 2002, the Archdiocese suspended this priest because of “an allegation of inappropriate behavior from his past.” No details emerged, and this priest went into Siberia-like exile. The Westchester DA Jeannie Pirro, who is now a FOX News host, investigated him and other accusations. She never brought any indictments but alluded that the statute of limitations had expired for the cases.

    No information about what this priest is alleged to have done was ever released by the DA’s office or the Archdiocese. He was never mentioned in any lawsuits against the parish or the Archdiocese. In 2005 or 2006, the Archdiocese announced that the Vatican formally laicized him and five other priests. Again, no details were provided about the allegations. In fact, you can’t find details, posted anonymously on the Internet, that would shed some light (and which I would take with a grain of salt). I published an op-ed about the priest in the Journal News, the daily Gannett newspaper in Westchester, calling for the accusations against the priest to be released by the Archdiocese and the DA’s office, but nothing happened.

  26. Yosef says:

    “§ 1. The Diocesan Bishop or Eparch, or who, even if on a temporary basis, has the responsibility of a particular Church, or another of the faithful community equivalent to it in accordance with can. 368 CIC and can. 313 CCEO, can be legitimately removed from office, if have, through negligence, place or omitted acts have caused serious harm to others, whether it be individuals, whether it is of a community as a whole. The damage may be physical, moral, or spiritual balance.”

    Given the past 50 years or so, the state of the Church, the Liturgical and Moral wasteland that surrounds us, one has to wonder just how many Bishops should be removed because of the grave spiritual damage that has been caused either through commission or omission, according to the wording of the document.

  27. Charivari Rob says:

    The early translation I read attached to a different article said something like “diocesan bishops and their counterparts”. I took that to mean the answer would be ” yes”.

  28. Charivari Rob says:

    I mean…
    What happens now is a bishop says to a superior: There may be a problem with your man – pull him from public work in my territory and investigate. If the superior didn’t follow through, Rome would be after him.

  29. chantgirl says:

    I wonder if bishops and/or priests will be removed for being “unmerciful” in the wake of AL.

  30. robtbrown says:

    TWF says:

    In the early church, as testified by the ancient ecumenical councils and the Fathers, local synods did indeed elect and discipline bishops within their region. Rome has always had primacy in a theological sense, but it wasn’t until relatively recently that Rome centralized practical administration of the global Church.

    1. In Switzerland bishops are elected by the Cathedral Chapter. The only difference between now and the time you mention is the speed of communication.

    BTW, that’s how Bishop Vogel came to be the ordinary in Basel–at least until it was made public that he was a father in the biological sense.

    2. Would you have liked locally chosen bishops when Poland was under Communism? No doubt the there would have been major infiltration of the hierarchy, just as there was in the Russian Orthodox Church.

    Rome, however, has always looked for local input in the election of bishops. Sometimes, it’s rejected, just as when the personal appeal by Bernardian for his candidate for NY was rejected by JPII. (Bernardin had been controlling the nominations of US bishops.) Other times it’s the other way around: Mueller was BXVI’s choice for Cologne, but the German episcopacy didn’t want him.

    3. I’m not sure what you mean by practical administration–isn’t all administration practical? I do know, however, that in there was major intervention by Rome in Paris in the 13th century–during the time of the Mendicant Controversy. I also know that the Investiture Controversy was not addressed by French bishops but rather by Pope St Gregory VII.

    4. I agree, however, that after Trent the Church became too centralized, mostly as a reaction to anti-Catholic forces. Unfortunately, de-centralization produced Cupich in Chicago.

  31. Supertradmum says:

    I felt that Benedict XVI was “the priests’ pope” as he addressed so many issues concerning priests, and also seemed frequently to be writing to them, for them.

    Remember, Pope Francis is a Jesuit and thinks top down….imho.

  32. kelleyb says:

    This prompts me to request donations to Opus Bono Sacerdotii. If this motu proprio creates the carnage possible, good men will need help.
    This organization is a life line for Priests in need of help. Father Z has mentioned this organization in the past. When I read the stories OBS includes in its literature, I cry. Also, pray for priests. St. Thérèse of Lisieux pray for our priests.

  33. Kathleen10 says:

    I can’t speak to whether or not this will be a good thing or not, probably it will be both, but generally speaking, this papacy seems to produce those things that will help those of a certain ideological persuasion, and definitely not those “others”, by which I mean, faithful or tradition-minded priests and bishops. I have yet to see this papacy produce anything that could be said to help those in the second camp, it’s usually a mallet for them, so I’d look sideways at this.
    But Kiwiinamerica said it best, and while this used to confound me, I’m now resigned to new realities. The church “should have” prevented homosexuals from entering seminaries years, decades ago, and now, it’s too late. They’ll never do it now, heh, far from it. At some point they’ll probably recruit active homosexuals. Let’s face it, we’re practically there, as far as the NewChurch goes. All this blahblah about Safe Environments. Meaningless without that logical enforcement.

  34. un-ionized says:

    Kathleen10, from what I observed at my former parish, we are already there. The skill at coverups and gaslighting of people in the know shows that we are already there.

  35. un-ionized says:

    Kathleen10, see Timothy Radcliffe’s letter called “The Promise of Life.”

  36. lmgilbert says:

    There is one aspect to this motu proprio, or rather to the scandals that necessitated it which I have never heard discussed. To anyone who reads through the files of “pedophilic” priests now posted online on many diocesan websites, as I have, there is one fact that begins to dawn on one after a while. Admittedly, I have only thoroughly read through five of them for they make very discouraging reading, but in every case alcohol played a very large part in these events. The priest had some young man over. They spent the evening drinking and seduction ensued. My guess is that that-or something very much like it- is the template for virtually the entire scandal.

    It was the case for my brother. An upperclassman seminarian got him drunk and abused him. And so we had the scene at the end of that academic year where while the upperclassman was being ordained deacon my brother was rocking back and fourth in a fourth story window on the verge of suicide. The only thing that prevented him was the thought of how it would affect our mother.

    At any rate, I have never heard the alcohol/scandal relationship mentioned, but it seems to me it cries out for thorough-going research.

    Now, if the research bears out my thesis, what should be the response on the part of the episcopate, the presbyterate? Should it be primarily motu proprios, “Called to Protect” indoctrination and training for teachers, ministers, etc, or the little signs that one finds on the grounds of monasteries and seminaries to the effect that children should accompany their parents at all times? For what are we protecting our children from but priests!!?? All of this business I find completely maddening as bureaucratic, faux solutions to a very fundamental and blatant problem. Frankly, I am not sure that the basic, fundamental problem is alcoholism, drinking or homosexual tendencies in priests, but it does seem very likely that research would show that drinking on the part of priests with homosexual tendencies does lower their inhibitions and opens the way to mayhem, or rather that that was the common denominator in virtually all incidents.

    Now in light of that fact, if it is a fact as I think, what then ought to be the response on the part of the Church? Well, for one thing, I doubt very much that Belloc’s cheery little ditty ought to have currency in a seminary or rectory: ‘Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!'” If I were less pious, my response to that would be equally Bellockian, “May all my enemies go to hell. Noel, noel, noel.”

    At the time of my brother’s unhappy sojourn, St. Mary’s seminary had a bar, presumably so that future priests would learn how to handle their liquor. It is not very difficult to imagine what the saints would think of that arrangement, and in any case it seems not to have had the desired effect.

    Regarding Belloc’s paen to good red wine, I get it. We are not Puritans. Surely we have established that. At this point, though, we have to establish in the public mind that we are not perverts. Sorry, padres, but that is the reality of the situation. And how might our bishops and priests do that? I can think of nothing more to the point both in terms of penance, or preventing future incidents or in terms of recovering our standing in the public eye that by taking the pledge en masse and by making it known to the world at large. Yes, your brother fell, not you, but who will do penance if not you, O priest of Jesus Christ?

  37. WYMiriam says:

    It’s hard to comment on a motu propio that **apparently** has no **official** translation in English at this time. I am curious as to how ZENIT will report on this.

    The two articles I read *about* the motu propio stirred up a disconcerting queasiness in my belly. It appears that, while being perhaps a very good and much-needed “amendment” to . . . something (canon law?), it has the earmarks of not being well-thought-out. As just one example, the congregation that is to have the duty of investigating is not specified; which one of the four that I’ve seen mentioned as being competent will it be?

    It seems strange to me that Pope Francis has little ability to write a thing like this well (even though I know that all popes are different). Even though this was written “on his own initiative”, does that mean that he wrote the thing secretly, with no input at all from anyone? I fear that the whole thing will have to have some major clarifications and/or adjustments made to it. I can’t help but contrast this with Summorum pontificum, also a motu propio, which had (if I remember correctly) only one or two things that needed clarification after being published.

    But what makes me queasy is not a similarity between this motu propio and those of other popes. What makes me ill is a seeming similarity between this motu propio and some of the executive orders handed down by President Barack Hussein Obama: and I mean this only in the highly restricted sense of being something that looks like the result of a personal hobby horse that gets turned into a directive without it having gone through proper legal channels to make sure that (a) in the latter case — presidential — it’s going to pass Constitutional muster, and (b) in the former case — papal — it’s going to have all the details spelled out in great detail and dovetail with what Canon Law already says.

    Come, Holy Ghost, Creator blest, and fill the heart and mind of Pope Francis with clarity of knowledge, depth of understanding, and true fatherly wisdom!

  38. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Actually in early early Christianity, bishops were chosen by the local missionary guy (like Paul).

    In slightly later Christianity, bishops were chosen by acclaim vote of the local town Christians. (And woe be to the learned Christian man who thought he was just passing through…. They would jump on him like a Western movie town needing a sheriff.)

    So yeah, synods choosing bishops came later.

  39. AnnTherese says:

    There is no perfect solution, true. But in cases where bishops have knowingly allowed this to occur, such as with Cardinal Law, justice will be served. Allowing him to escape responsibility in the US and get a new gig in Rome gave a big thumbs up to bishops to perpetuate this behavior of hiding and lying.

  40. Del Sydebothom says:

    Maybe this would be a good reason to make more widespread use of acolytes who are grown men.

  41. un-ionized says:

    AnnTherese, And the different Orders escape scrutiny altogether as the bishops look the other way, allowing the provincial hierarchy to have full jurisdiction. I wonder if some of the dramatic increase in vocations of some of the Orders is a result of this, they have become refuges.

  42. robtbrown says:

    Suburbanbanshee says:

    Actually in early early Christianity, bishops were chosen by the local missionary guy (like Paul).

    In slightly later Christianity, bishops were chosen by acclaim vote of the local town Christians. (And woe be to the learned Christian man who thought he was just passing through…. They would jump on him like a Western movie town needing a sheriff.)

    So yeah, synods choosing bishops came later.

    In the Early Church travel was very slow. For that matter, it wasn’t much improved 1500 years later. David McCullough’s bio of John Adams points out that a trip from Boston to Philadelphia during the early years meant he would be away from his family for months at a time.

    Communication was at the same speed as travel. Not only no Internet or FAX, there were no telephones or telegraphs. Communication moved at the speed of horses. And so it’s a bit of straw man argument to show that Rome didn’t appoint bishops hundreds of years ago.

    Rome has never claimed that the pope has always appointed bishops (or for that matter, approved a selection). The aforementioned transportation time provides an obvious answer. What Rome has claimed is authority over the bishops. That does not mean that, even in the past 150 years, the pope or the Curia personally made selections. Even in more modern times candidates were selected locally, with the nuncio or apostolic delegate as the mediator.

  43. Athelstan says:

    Hello Andrew,

    The Dallas Charter did grave harm to the priest-bishop relationship and that is what really needs to be fixed.

    What relationship? In some dioceses, they’re merely at-will contract employees with little administrative authority left to them.

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  45. Ave Crux says:

    Here’s an analysis of the content and “what could go wrong”…

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