Monday, December 5, 2011

Bishop Skylstad, There Oughta Be a Law! Oh...wait...

The situation in Bend gets curiouser and curiouser, and it does indeed seem like we are headed through the looking glass, where things are all backwards. Be sure to see the guest commentary, too.

A message making the rounds from Fr. Radloff says:

Although I will officially become pastor of Saint Francis Church on December 17, 2011, the Installation Mass HAS BEEN MOVED to the Octave of Christmas, Thursday, December 29, 2011, 7:00 PM at the new Saint Francis Church on 27th Street. 

So…even though Bishop Skylstad has “granted an extension” to Fr. Francis, and wants to be “pastoral, charitable, and canonically correct”, Fr. Radloff maintains he’s already been guaranteed the position of pastor at St. Francis. And I expressly recall that Bishop Skylstad used the term  “Administrator” in his previous communiqué. Perhaps he has changed his mind.

But what about “due process” – acting in a “canonically correct” manner? Or is the bishop simply going through the motions, acting upon his own foregone conclusion? That does not sound like a just process to me.

I’m not a canon lawyer, but I can read. Let's take a look at Canon Law in the section entitled, “The Procedure For The Removal Of Parish Priests”. The pertinent canons are 1740 through 1741.

Can. 1740 When the ministry of any parish priest has for some reason become harmful or at least ineffective, even though this occurs without any serious fault on his part, he can be removed from the parish by the diocesan Bishop.

Canon 1741 lists a number of grave reasons for which a parish priest can lawfully be removed, but the bishop doesn’t necessarily have to have one of those reasons for the dismissal; any one of them would strengthen the bishop’s case, though.

Bishop Skylstad himself has said in an email that “the reasons for making my decision were not based on inappropriate behavior or violation of personal boundaries”. And I have heard from a source close to Fr. Francis that Bishop Skylstad offered no reasons for the dismissal beyond “it’s time for a change”.  

Here’s the next few canons (all emphases mine):

Can. 1742 ß1 If an investigation shows that there exists a reason mentioned in Can. 1740, the Bishop is to discuss the matter with two parish priests from a group stably chosen for this purpose by the council of priests, at the proposal of the Bishop. If he then believes that he should proceed with the removal, the Bishop must, for validity, indicate to the parish priest the reason and the arguments, and persuade him in a fatherly manner to resign his parish within fifteen days.

Can. 1743 The resignation of the parish priest can be given not only purely and simply, but even upon a condition, provided the condition is one which the Bishop can lawfully accept and does in fact accept.

Can. 1744 ß1 If the parish priest has not replied within the days prescribed, the Bishop is to renew his invitation and extend the canonical time within which a reply is to be made.

So, it looks like the parish priest has some options as far as “extensions”, and the bishop is to be charitable in granting them.

Next, we find that the priest has further rights if he opposes the action. The bishop has some responsibilities if this is the case. They are outlined in this canon:

Can. 1745 If, however, the parish priest opposes the case put forward and the reasons given in it, but advances arguments which seem to the Bishop to be insufficient, to act validly the Bishop must:

1ƒ invite him to inspect the acts of the case and put together his objections in a written answer, indeed to produce contrary evidence if he has any;

2ƒ after this, complete the instruction of the case, if this is necessary, and weigh the matter with the same parish priests mentioned in Can. 1742 ß1, unless, because of some impossibility on their part, others are to be designated;

3ƒ finally, decide whether or not the parish priest is to be removed, and without delay issue the appropriate decree.

I know there's a lot more to interpreting and applying Canon Law than just reading the canons, but at the same time, there are some things in the above sections that seem pretty straight-forward. You can decide for yourself. Maybe we could run it by Dr. Ed Peters... In the meantime, I think Bishop Skylstad has some explaining to do, and I hope he is called upon to do so by his superiors.

If Bishop Skylstad wants to be canonically correct, there are a number of steps to go through, and he’s already skipped a couple of them.

If Bishop Skylstad wants to be pastoral, he should not be rushing through this procedure, skipping steps, and trying to force his own agenda on the priest, the parish, and the diocese. Canon Law is there for a reason. Bishop Skylstad is not above the law, and it is scandalous for him to take actions that appear to indicate that he thinks he is.

If Bishop Skylstad wanted to be charitable, he would not be allowing Fr. Radloff to flaunt his new “pastorship” before it is even a reality. He would be taking the process seriously, which means that there might not be a vacancy at St. Francis Parish in Bend after all.

Usquequo, Domine?

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