With the sheer number of episcopal appointments that the Holy See has to make, month after relentless month, it is wholly unremarkable that on occasion there is a major foul up.
One thinks of the most important appointment in one of the most Catholic countries in the world. In December 2006, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Stanisław Wielgus the Archbishop of Warsaw. An uproar ensued over accusations that Wielgus had collaborated with the secret police during the communist era. He was thus installed in a private ceremony early in January, and resigned the following morning, the day before his installation had been originally scheduled.
Dramatic and embarrassing? Certainly, but a new archbishop was found and the unpleasantness passed.
Benedict had another case of lesser importance. In 2009 he appointed Fr Gerhard Maria Wagner to be the new auxiliary bishop of the Austrian diocese of Linz. Many priests and lay people vigorously protested that Wagner was pastorally unsuitable. After two weeks he asked the Holy Father to rescind the nomination, and the pope did so.
So it is possible to make a mistake, realise it and correct it with a timely resignation – offered or invited – from the man appointed.
Why then did Pope Francis not accept the twice-offered resignation of Bishop Juan Barros in Chile? The abuse cover-up controversy around him was so bad as to mar his installation with violence in the cathedral. He could easily have insisted on his innocence, but offered to go quietly for the peace of the diocese.
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