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A tacit endorsement of a downsized papacy

May 18, 2010 |  8:29 am

There's irony in the decision of the Vatican to fight lawsuits stemming from the allegations of sexual abuse of minors by clergy. In resisting the claims of victims from the United States, the Holy See is arguing that local bishops are not Vatican officials or employees. Whatever its validity in American law, this claim conflicts with the centralization of power in the Roman Catholic Church.

With rare exceptions, bishops are appointed by the pope. What's more, the Vatican bureaucracy keeps a watchful and sometimes censorious eye on policies adopted by national bishops' conferences, including the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People approved by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

There are Catholics who believe that the church is over-centralized, that local bishops should have more autonomy and that bishops should be elected, not chosen by the pope. It is remarkable that the Vatican seems to be endorsing the notion of a downsized papacy -- at least when it suits its litigation strategy.

-- Michael McGough

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