Vatican clamps down on controversial bishops

Controversial US Bishop Thomas Gumbleton has been denied permission to speak in an Arizona diocese after the Holy See nuncio ordered him to seek leave from local bishops before speaking publicly.

The Arizona Republic reports that outspoken Bishop Gumbleton (pictured) has been silenced by the Vatican forcing him to cancel two planned talks in Arizona, organisers of the talks say.

The Bishop is a long-time activist in peace and justice issues and a frequent critic of US policy, especially on war and nuclear weapons.

Catholic reform group, Call to Action, says that Bishop Gumbleton of Detroit is now required to seek permission from local bishops anywhere he wishes to speak, by order of the Papal nuncio, the Vatican's ambassador to the US.

Normally, clergymen need permission only to conduct religious services.

Bishops Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix and Gerald Kicanas of Tucson refused to grant the permission, citing Call to Action's positions that conflict with Church policy.

Phoenix Diocese spokesman James Dwyer said the problem was not with Bishop Gumbleton, who has taken positions at odds with a majority of his fellow bishops, but with Call to Action.

But a member of a different organisation, Voice of the Faithful, claims that Bishop Gumbleton is being "blackballed" for his controversial positions.

Call to Action, which has about 325 members in Phoenix Arizona and 25,000 nationwide, describes itself as "a Catholic movement working for equality and justice in the church and society."

It has called for an end to priests' celibacy requirement, approval for female priests, and lay participation in the choice of church leaders, among other things.

"The bishop is pleased that Bishop Gumbleton has decided to cancel," Dwyer said. "I don't believe he or any bishop has to explain in detail why we do not endorse Call to Action. The record speaks for itself."

Nicole Sotelo, a Phoenix native who is one of the leaders in Call to Action's Chicago headquarters, said the meetings would proceed at other churches with Bishop Gumbleton on video.

Paraguay bishop suspended over presidential ambitions

Meanwhile, Ekklesia reports that retired Bishop Fernando Armindo Lugo Mendez, 57, of San Pedro, who last December declared his intention to run for the 2008 Paraguay presidency, has been suspended by the Vatican.

Lugo Mendez is currently leading in the opinion polls and many believe he is the only figure who can unite the opposition to defeat the conservative Colorado Party, which has been in power for about 60 years.

The Vatican decision to suspend him was conveyed by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, after the Paraguayan prelate rejected Rome's directive that he must end his presidential race.

"With sincere regret," Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re stated in the decree that he had to inflict on the bishop "the punishment of suspension 'a divinis' in keeping with Canon 1333, Paragraph 1" of the Code of Canon Law.

Appointed bishop by Pope John Paul II in 1994, the prelate had recently asked Benedict XVI to accept his "resignation from ecclesial ministry," so that he could "return to the condition of a layman in the Church."

The request was not accepted because being a bishop is considered by the Church, something that is "accepted freely forever."

The Paraguayan Constitution also does not allow ministers of any religion to hold the post of president.

The Pope "can either accept my decision or punish me. But I am in politics already," the bishop was quoted as saying.

Known for his work among the poor, Mr Lugo was appointed bishop of San Pedro by Pope John Paul II in 1994. He retired as bishop 10 years later.

Controversial bishop forced by church to cancel Arizona appearances (Arizona Republic, /2/07)
Bishop suspended over candidacy for Presidential election (Ekklesia, 6/2/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Call to Action USA
The Peace Pulpit (Bishop Thomas Gumbleton Column on NCR)
Bishop Thomas Gumbleton (Wikipedia)
Bishop Fernando Armindo Lugo Mendez (Catholic Hierarchy)

Pope accepts resignation of US peace bishop (CathNews, 3/2/06)
Bishop reveals he was sexually abused by a priest (CathNews, 12/1/06)
Bishop stands up to Vatican on retirement requirement (CathNews, 28/1/05)
Group says US Catholics have not lost faith in Church (CathNews, 4/11/02)
Vatican affirms US bishop's excommunication of lay group (CathNews, 4/11/02)

7 Feb 2007