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The dismissal of Bishop Strickland on 11 November has attracted attention far beyond the Catholic milieu. Reading between the lines, one can see that it was less about the belligerent bishop's criticism of the Pope and more about the internal management of his diocese. In recent years, there have been a number of such interventions in dioceses, with strong interventions and even the semi-voluntary resignation of bishops. With a staff of over 3,000 active bishops, it is not surprising that things occasionally go wrong. What is more surprising is that it always requires an extraordinary apostolic visitation, with all the drama that comes with such an intervention.
The day-to-day supervision of the dioceses is exercised through the ad limina visits. The format emphasises the role of the bishops and the Roman Curia in a very one-sided way. Subordinates and the people hardly get a chance to speak, most likely through denunciatory letters. The whole thing comes from the tradition of a monarchical court and seems to have fallen out of time.
The synod that has just ended in Rome has also recognised this. No. 12 of the final paper states: "Structures and procedures for the regular review of the bishop's work should be developed in forms to be legally defined. These should deal with the style of his exercise of authority, the economic management of the diocese's assets, the functioning of the participatory bodies and the protection against all forms of abuse. A culture of accountability is an integral part of a synodal church that promotes co-responsibility. It protects against abuse." (Author's own translation)
Religious communities have a functioning counter-model, the canonical visitation. Every few years, visitators and experts come and put the province or monastery through its paces in all the areas mentioned in the synodal text. Satisfaction with the people in charge is also assessed. The superior and the community are offered concrete assistance. And all this before it comes to the Texan pistol duel.
The authorJeremias Schröder OSB is Abbot President of the Benedictine Congregation of St Ottilien.
The views expressed are solely those of the author.