Who tries Whom?

There are two high profile cases – both cardinals – who are due to come before the Vatican disciplinary procedures. Both of them (Cardinal Pell and Cardinal Philippe Barbarin) have already undergone two trials in the secular courts, and continue to proclaim their innocence. How will they be treated in the Church’s own courts, and who will try them? Frankly, despite the recent synod, this whole area is a mess.

The American Bishops, goaded by secular reports and press coverage, proposed a radical system whereby bishops (and archbishops) would be examined by a panel of professional lay people. But Francis put an abrupt stop to that. He deputed Blase Cupich to voice a papal alternative, whereby bishops would appear before a tribunal appointed by their archbishop, and archbishops be tried by those appointed by a neighbouring archbishop. (An identical proposal was made at the Abuse Synod in Rome, by Cupich again)

With raised awareness of the dangers of ‘clericalism’, this seemed a little too cosy to some. And in any case the directives setting it up have not emerged. True to his policy of silence and inactivity (‘on this I will say not a word’), Francis is dragging his feet. Worse still, he has shown a preference for dealing with matters himself.

In the cases of Barbarin and Pell things are urgent. There are widely voiced opinions to the effect that both have been condemned unjustly by the secular courts. The Church must be seen to do better! But how to do that, when the mechanism for doing so is not in place, and the chief magistrate is an absolute monarch reserving the right to be involved himself?

All these questions, of course, resolve themselves into another: if archbishops try bishops and other archbishops try archbishops, who tries the Pope? The chief magistrate must surely be accountable himself. Especially so when (as with Archbishop Vigano) detailed accusations have been made against him.

Francis’s suggestion – thrown off in the heat of the moment in an aeroplane interview – that he will be tried and vindicated by the power of the media, simply will not do.

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