Albert Einstein is widely credited with saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.”
Sadly, the popes of the Catholic church seem incapable of learning this lesson.
Last month, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of French Cardinal Phillipe Barbarin who was convicted in early March of refusing to report child sex crimes by a serial predator priest (Fr. Bernard Preynat) to legal authorities.
And way back in 1997, Australian Bishop Robert Mulkearns submitted his resignation to Pope John Paul after being investigated by police for covering up the crimes of Fr. Gerald Ridsdale, who raped and sexually abused more than 50 kids.
In between, bishops in Austria, Canada, Wales, Argentina, Mexico, Northern Ireland, Brazil, and Paraguay did likewise.
Seven bishops resigned in Ireland.
Just a year ago, EVERY ONE of Chile’s 31 bishops did the same.
Finally, in just one COUNTRY, (the US), in just one SEASON – the spring of 2015 – Pope Francis accepted the resignations of three bishops: one from Missouri (Bishop Robert Finn of the Kansas City-St. Joseph) and two from Minnesota (Archbishop John Nienstedt and Auxiliary Bishop Lee Piché, both of the St. Paul and Minneapolis Archdiocese.
STILL, clergy sex crimes and cover ups continue. Evidently, letting bad bishops resign is not doing the trick.
Why? In part, because of the wise observations by the brilliant staff at BishopAccountability.org who write:
“In all cases, the disgraced prelate retained the title of bishop and remained active in the church. To date, no pope has confirmed that he removed a culpable bishop because of his handling of offending clergy.”
(Perhaps the most famous case of coddling a corrupt Catholic prelate: Boston’s disgraced Cardinal Bernard Law, who later headed one of four prominent ‘papal basilicas’ in Rome and participated in the 2005 papal conclave).
Since resignations aren’t deterring wrongdoing, what might popes do instead with members of the church hierarchy won’t behave?
How about firing them?
Or demoting them?
Or demanding they work a year in a soup kitchen, if they want to keep their salaries and benefits?
Or, for starters, how about just publicly saying “Bishop John Smith is being disciplined BECAUSE he knew of or suspected child sex crimes and hid them instead of reporting them?
(Compare this straightforward approach with the incredibly vague statements popes have repeatedly isued when they accept bishops’ resignations: “It was announced today that the Holy Father has accepted the resignation tendered by the Most Reverend XX, in accordance with Canon 401 § 2 of the Code of Canon Law.”)
Or, how about yanking many if not most of the perks of their positions?
But again, no matter how it’s done or phrased, letting bad bishops resign isn’t preventing bad behavior. Expecting resignations to do so ignores Einstein’s wisdom.
Popes, starting with Francis, must find the backbone to forcibly and publicly oust them.