Archbishop-Role Mar-18-2004 710 WORDS xxxi
In Wake of Scandal, Vatican Enhancing Monitoring Role of Archbishops

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service
Downloaded March 18, 2004

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- In the wake of the clergy sex abuse crisis, the Vatican is enhancing and emphasizing the role of the metropolitan archbishop as a vigilant monitor of "suffragan" -- or dependent -- dioceses.

Under the policy, each archbishop is being asked to watch carefully for "abuses and errors" in episcopal ministry in the dioceses of his province, to confront the bishop as an "elder brother" when necessary, and to inform the Vatican in serious cases.

The move is significant for several reasons, Vatican sources said in mid-March.

It promotes "fraternal correction" when a local bishop mismanages an area of pastoral administration. It relies on a fellow bishop instead of a lay board for episcopal oversight. It establishes the archbishop as a link between smaller dioceses and the Vatican in some situations of controversy.

The policy was detailed in the Vatican's 301-page "Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops" in early March, under a new section titled "Tasks of the Metropolitan Archbishop."

The new role for archbishops also has been emphasized recently in talks to visiting groups of bishops by Vatican officials, including Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, head of the Congregation for Bishops, and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The clerical sex abuse crisis was not the only reason for bolstering the responsibilities of archbishops, but it was a major factor, several Vatican sources said.

For months, Vatican officials have been quietly debating how to increase oversight so that individual bishops can be confronted and corrected if necessary when they mismanage cases such as sex abuse accusations against priests.

One suggestion has been to establish a "panel of episcopal peers," a group of bishops that would monitor bishops' compliance with sex abuse procedures.

Others in the Vatican have argued that setting up new oversight structures may be unnecessary, especially when church law already envisages similar responsibilities by metropolitan archbishops.

The role of the metropolitan archbishop hinges on a hierarchical substructure of which most Catholics are unaware. A metropolitan archdiocese is the chief diocese of an ecclesiastical province, and a metropolitan archbishop is the head of the province. Only a few archdioceses are not metropolitan sees.

In the United States, there are 33 metropolitan sees and about 150 suffragan dioceses.

But the archbishop's traditional role of "first among equals" in his province has been rarely implemented in the past. The Vatican is now making it more explicit and more detailed.

"It's in canon law, but we need to highlight it," said one Vatican official.

"It's not that the metropolitan is the superior of a local bishop. It's more a question of vigilance. If a local bishop isn't responding to some problems in his diocese, the metropolitan should inform the pope," he said.

The Vatican sources said enhancing the metropolitan's role was considered one layer of protection against mismanagement, not a magic bullet. They noted, for example, that the Archdiocese of Boston, the epicenter of the sex abuse scandal in the United States, is a metropolitan see.

In the past, metropolitan archbishops occasionally have been called upon to manage specific crises in suffragan dioceses. The new policy calls on archbishops to monitor provincewide governance in a more regular and preventive fashion.

The "Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops," which is currently being translated into English, said the metropolitan archbishop has the responsibility to "watch carefully so that throughout the entire province the faith and church discipline are diligently maintained, and so the episcopal ministry is exercised in conformity with canon law."

"If he should notice abuses or errors, the metropolitan ... should report thoroughly to the pontifical representative in that country so the Apostolic See can take the necessary steps," it said.

Before taking it to the Vatican, the metropolitan should generally discuss the problems with the local bishop, it said.

The directory said the metropolitan archbishop's role is not limited to disciplinary aspects. He can promote common initiatives to respond to the needs of the province, such as formation programs for clergy or pastoral conferences on various topics, it said.

If the metropolitan archbishop needs special powers in order to implement these provincewide pastoral programs, he can request them from the Vatican, it said.


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