Sydney bishop shares views on removing priests

Auxiliary bishop and Rector of Good Shepherd Seminary, Bishop Julian Porteous, has delivered an address on the removal and transfer of parish priests, as part of the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy series of further education for priests via the Internet.

The videoconference, which took place on 27 May, was published in the most recent issue of the Zenit electronic news service.

The removal of priests has occurred most frequently in recent years in the context of allegations of clergy sex abuse.

The title of the series is Canon Law at the Service of Priests, and Bishop Porteous presented the delicate issue of using canon law to remove a parish priest as an act of service towards the priest.

He said that there may be occasions when "the bishop, taking account of the needs of the priest, but also taking into account the needs of the flock entrusted to him, must consider a canonical process to remove the parish priest from his office".

"The bishop must proceed in the spirit of the proper relationship outlined above, as father and brother. If possible, he should assure the priest that the process will be in his best interests and in the interests of the parishioners he has been serving," he said. "The reasons for removal or transfer must be objectively serious, and the bishop will use pastoral advisers to discern the seriousness of the reasons. The canons point out that there may be no fault on the part of the priest."

Bishop Porteous said that both justice and due process demand that the parish priest is involved in the proceedings, and the priest's privacy must be respected.

"To this end some independent person or body of persons well disposed to the overall good of the Church may need to be engaged who can monitor the process and advise both parties as to whether a just process is unfolding."

He said that the issue of privacy, and the requirement for clear communication of the reasons for removal, are "made acutely delicate in some societies and nations, such as Australia, by the interest of the mass media in the affairs of the Church".

Bishop Porteous said that media interest "unfortunately tends towards highlighting anything negative, especially that which can be presented as scandalous."

Giving the example of the Australian Bishops' project the Encompass institute, he said that the bishop must provide for the proper care of the priest, spiritually, emotionally and physically.

"He may need professional help. To this end the bishop or more effectively the bishops' conference may find it very helpful to work towards the establishment of a facility that can provide the necessary professional care for priests who find themselves in such need."

On the Removal and Transfer of a Parish Priest (Zenit 5/6/05)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Congregation for the Clergy | Teleconference | S.E. Julian Porteous (Sydney): The removal and transfer of a Parish Priest
Encompass Australasia
Bishops' Committee for Professional Standards | Integrity in Ministry | Towards Healing
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference - National Commission for Clergy Life and Ministry

Pope call priests to place nothing above love of Christ (Catholic News Agency 6/6/05)
Videoconference on Canon Law Planned (Zenit/Catholic Online 26/5/05)

7 Jun 2005