In a clear sign of a harder line being taken inside the Vatican on issues around abuse, there have now been four bishops resigning within four days, in four different countries.
On Thursday, Pope Benedict accepted the resignation of Bishop James Moriarty of Kildare. Thursday. Two other Irish bishops have already resigned since December, and two more have offered resignations. Pope Benedict has yet to decide on these, but is expected to agree. There is also strong public pressure on the head of Ireland's Catholic Church, Cardinal Sean Brady, to step down, but he has not yet agreed to do so. In all of these Irish resignations, the reasons given concern their failure to act decisively against accused abusive priests, rather than any direct misbehaviour of their own.
In the US, the Archbishop of Miami, John Favarola resigned unexpectedly earlier this week, and had his resignation promptly accepted - very unusual in a Vatican bureaucracy where wheels usually move exceedingly slowly. Usually, a bishop tenders his resignation on turning 75 (which he will not do until December), and is routinely asked to stay on further until a replacement has been secured. This resignation was accepted under a special rule that allows for early retirement in cases of ill health, or other matters of pressing importance.No such special considerations have been mentioned. Officially, this has nothing to do with abuse: but behind the scenes, I have come across reports that Miami too saw some protection of abuse offenders under his watch, and that is the reason for the speed of acceptance.
Bishop Walter Mixa of Augsburg, Germany, resigned yesterday following well-publicized allegations of hitting children decades ago when still a priest, and of financial irregularities at an orphanage where he once worked.
The most dramatic announcement came today in Belgium, where up to now there have not been any major reports of abuse. In this case, it was indeed over direct involvement in abuse. Bishop Roger Vangheluwe said in a statement admitted "abusing" a boy in his close entourage when he was still a priest, and when first a bishop.