This is a quote from Sean Murphy. It comes at the end of an article entitled A Response to Christopher Hitchens’ The Great Catholic Coverup, and it makes a good place to pick up from the discussion that has spilled over from Being Frank:
What will the Catholic Church do with bishops who have failed in their duty to protect the faithful from sexual predators?
The question demands answers, but answers require necessary distinctions. Four come to mind, and the answers depend upon them.
Errors in good faith: Bishops who are vigilant, diligent and prudent may, nonetheless, make mistakes. Such mistakes do not warrant censure. For example, a bishop may, in good faith, follow the advice of acknowledged experts or specialists. That advice may prove to be erroneous, with disastrous results for the innocent. The error must be corrected and the victims assisted, but the bishop does not deserve punishment.
Incompetence: Bishops who are well-intentioned may make mistakes because they are careless or lack administrative ability or sound judgement. When people (especially the young or vulnerable), are endangered or harmed by their mistakes, or are likely to be harmed, the bishops should be removed from office.
Gross negligence: Bishops who fail to act when a reasonable man would act, who fail to make enquiries that a reasonable man would make, or who otherwise demonstrate reckless disregard for the safety of others should be removed from office. If people or the common good are harmed as a result of their negligence, additional penalties, not excluding laicization, should be imposed.
Deliberate concealment: Except in cases involving the seal of confession, bishops who, to protect a wrongdoer from just punishment, to prevent scandal, or for any other reason, deliberately conceal wrongdoing or attempted wrongdoing, or fail to disclose wrongdoing when a just and reasonable man would do so, should be removed from office and laicized. If people or the common good are harmed as a result of their deliberate concealment, additional penalties should be imposed.
The distinctions might be further qualified or refined, and, in practice, overlapping probably cannot be avoided. When there is doubt about the classification of a case, it should be assigned to the less serious category. For the sake of brevity, only bishops are identified here, but the policy should be applied to all lay Church officials, religious and clergy: deacons, priests, bishops, archbishops, cardinals – and the Pope.
With respect to “additional penalties,” it is instructive to recall that, Crimen Sollicitationis, consistent with the teaching of the Church, while it offered forgiveness to the repentant, required penalties as a matter of justice, and also the imposition of penance.
What penalty or penance might be appropriate for a bishop who, through gross negligence or deliberate concealment, has been morally responsible for sexual assaults or other grave crimes, especially against children?
Having been deprived of his office and income and pension, and his possessions sold to help satisfy claims for damages, he should spend the rest of his life, while his health lasts, serving the poorest of the poor in mission territories, or begging from door to door for food and shelter in the diocese where he betrayed his trust.
If this seems harsh, there is an alternative. It is described in Mat 18:6, Mark 9:42 and Luke 17:2.