US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Firing a bishop

Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Unless you live in Germany, you probably didn't know that the head bishop of the Protestant Church in Germany resigned last month under a cloud. Bishop Margot Kaessmann, elected last October to lead the Evangelical Church in Germany, an umbrella organiation that covers most of Germany's Protestants, stepped aside almost immediately after she was stopped for running a traffic light while driving under the inflence. Her blood-alcohol level was three times the legal limit, which in Germany is .08.

I read Bishop Kaessmann's story with more than a raised eyebrow, especially in light of the sex-abuse crisis in both the U.S. and Europe. Kaessmann gave up her job--despite the full support of her leadership council--because of an infraction that I think many adults would have to admit they have committed (though that does not take anything way from the gravity of drunk driving).

Yet Catholic bishops the world over, and most recently in Ireland, who knowingly transferred clergy who sexually abused and even raped children remain in their jobs. I still find it breathtaking that, after hundreds of victims and perpetrators and more than $2 billion in damages in the U.S., a mere two U.S. bishops lost their jobs, and one of them was himself a perpetrator. Four bishops have resigned in Ireland. What's wrong with this picture?

One big difference, of course, is that in Protestant churches, both here and abroad, churches are run much more democratically, and church leaders are more answerable to their constituents. Sounds like another argument for true lay participation in church governance to me.