Yesterday, the Holy See announced that the rescript modifying the rules for the resignations of bishops and other curial officials had taken effect. Although early news reports seemed to suggest otherwise, in fact little in the rescript represents a significant change in practice. However, the rescript contains two clarifications that should be of particular interest to those who have been following the ongoing debacle in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.

They are:

    Art. 4: The gesture of a Bishop who, by motives of love or the wish to         offer a better service to the community, considers it necessary to resign     from the role of Pastor before reaching the age of seventy-five on               account of illness or other serious reasons, is to be deemed worthy of         ecclesial appreciation. In such cases, the faithful are requested to             demonstrate solidarity and understanding for their former Pastor,             providing punctual assistance consistent with the principles of charity and     justice, in accordance with canon 402 para. 2 of the Code of Canon Law.


    Art. 5: In some particular circumstances, the competent Authorities may     deem it necessary to request that a Bishop present his resignation from     pastoral office, after informing him of the cause for this request, and         listening closely to his reasons, in fraternal dialogue.

For those who have been anxious to see Archbishop Nienstedt resign (and I consider myself to be a part of this group), Article 4 can be read as a reminder of both 'the carrot' and 'the stick'
found in this approach. The bishop that tenders his resignation prior to age 75 is
offered 'the carrot' of commendation and 'ecclesial appreciation' for his selfless act.  The community of faithful that agitated for it, on the other hand, are menaced with 'the stick' of his ongoing support. Canon 402, para 2, states that the primary obligation for providing for the 'suitable and worthy' upkeep of a bishop who resigned falls on the diocese which he served. Note that in this scenario 'served' is an objective, not subjective, determination.

Article 5 does not outline any particular terms for the financial support of a bishop
who is asked to submit his resignation, therefore one has to assume that the provisions of canon 402, para 2, might still apply.

The obligation of ongoing support for a resigned bishop is not 'much ado about nothing'. In the case of a retired bishop, such support is generally understood to include an appropriate residence, household and administrative staff, a reasonable budget to cover household expenses and the costs of hospitality, medical benefits,
as well as a monthly stipend or pension. It might be argued that a bishop forced to resign due to mismanagement or other 'serious reasons' is due less support than a bishop who retires after years of honorable service, but I doubt such a  determination would result in any significantly diminished cost to the faithful in this Archdiocese.

For, should such be the case for Archbishop Nienstedt, one might assume that his monthly stipend would be covered by his benefit from Detroit and that from the Archdiocesan Pension Plan for Priests which, if I remember correctly, was modified shortly after his appointment, at his direction, to provide a benefit more favorable to him upon his retirement. But, it is useful to remember that the Archdiocese also has a long history of supplementing the income of those clergy removed from active ministry for disciplinary reasons so that they do not suffer financially from their acts of misconduct. During his tenure as Archbishop, Nienstedt approved additional monthly payments of more than $950 to the independently wealthy Robert Kapoun, while a priest who fathered a child with a parishioner (another priest, whose name has not yet been made public) is guaranteed a stipend of nearly $2000 a month plus another $1000 for room and board for life. This is according to the terms of the settlement he agreed to in 2003 in exchange for resigning his pastorate, a settlement that was written so favorably towards the priest in question that it does not prevent him from continuing to provide ministry to parishes or from being compensated accordingly (his daughter is provided for through a separate trust).

In this context, commentators on Church issues might want to rethink at least one aspect of their criticism of the 2004 appointment of Cardinal Bernard Law
as Archpriest of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. Leaving aside the canonical requirements regarding the residences of Cardinals who are not diocesan bishops, the appointment, which included accommodations in the Basilica rectory, relieved the cash-strapped Archdiocese of Boston not only of Law's presence but also of at least a portion of the cost of its former bishop's upkeep. I am not suggesting that we should advocate for a red hat for Archbishop Nienstedt, but merely suggesting that the movement towards removing diocesan bishops is fraught with more complexities than might first appear. One can imagine that Pope Francis's map for reform in this area, if illustrated on parchment, would be littered with images warning hic sunt dracones



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    Jennifer Haselberger is a canon lawyer who served as the Chancellor for Canonical Affairs in the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis until April of 2013, when she resigned in protest of the Archdiocese's handling of sexual misconduct by clergy.

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