Now it is not the time to “turn down the temperature”

Sometimes even allies offer advice that is ill-conceived, and I think that applies to some of what Fr. Raymond de Souza wrote recently for the National Catholic Register.

(Image: Pascal Müller |

Apologies for a long post; I don’t have time to write a short one.

I don’t mean to single out Fr. Raymond de Souza, whom I have read with profit many times, but his essay over at National Catholic Register, “It’s time to turn down the temperature”, touches on several issues related to the clergy sexual abuse crisis and its recent, very grave Roman ramifications that need airing. So, first some canonical matters, then some rhetorical ones.

Resignation in general.

Canon law provides for resignation from ecclesiastical office. 1983 CIC 187-189. The threshold for any resignation is pretty low (namely, “a just cause”) so resignation from office for a good cause would bemore than acceptable. Indeed it would be preferable, I think, to an unfit (or worse) occupant continuing to hold a Church office.

Canon law encourages, and frankly pressures, a pastor to resign from office when his ministry becomes “ineffective … even through no grave personal negligence”. 1983 CIC 1740, etc. That norm and others imply that pastors who have acted in ways that actually render themselves unfit to stay in office should resign.

Finally, canon law, albeit in more nuanced terms (given the ecclesiological issues involved), encourages a bishop to resign his see when he “become[s] less able to fulfill his office because of … some other grave cause…” 1983 CIC 401 § 2. The allegations swirling around several bishops and cardinals in various countries and in Rome itself would, if true, surely suffice as “grave cause” for such prelates to tender their resignations immediately. The world must await evidence of wrong-doing before making demands in this area but prelates who know the truth of their own situations should act accordingly. Now.

By the way, resignation from Church office motivated by one’s own, or the community’s, awareness of malfeasance in no way renders a resignation invalid (see Canon 188) or prevents ecclesiastical authority from later prosecuting and punishing said resignee for those misdeeds. One who resigns Church office under such circumstances has not ‘picked his own punishment’, rather, he has performed a good act by ending one aspect of his scandal. After that, let justice take its normal course.

Papal resignation, Francis.

De Souza writes: “It was a mistake for Archbishop Viganò to call for the resignation of Pope Francis.” Oh?

Of what was said above concerning resignation from Church office in general, what would not apply to a pope, of all office holders, if he, as alleged by Viganò, from the first months of his papacy knowingly protected and favored a cardinal who was [pick a disgusting verb]-ing seminarians? By what possible stretch of the imagination would such an occupant be suited for the Chair of Peter? Does the historical fact that some pretty bad popes held on to office despite committing various offenses justify other popes acting badly in shirking even the minimal gesture of resigning?

Viganò is unquestionably in a position to know, and claims to know, whether his central allegation that Francis’ was covering for McCarrick, big time, for years, is correct. Believing, as he does, that his claims are correct, Viganò, in calling for Francis’ resignation, has done nothing more or less than exercise his right under canon law “to manifest to the sacred pastors [his] opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make [his] opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful…” 1983 CIC 212 § 3.

I have not called for Francis’ resignation because I do not know (with the degree of certitude that a lawyer seeks) whether Viganò’s key allegations against Francis are substantially true; most assuredly, however, if I reach the conclusion that they are true, I would say, without hesitation, that Francis should resign. Such a resignation would, I think, result in the very opposite of what De Souza fears when he worries that a papal resignation “under a cloud would be a catastrophe for Catholic credibility and unity.” Balderdash. If Viganò’s allegations are proven, I think a papal refusal to resign would be a catastrophe for Catholic credibility and unity.

Papal resignation, Benedict.

De Souza writes: “The mistake that Benedict XVI made by abdicating in 2013 need not be compounded by people — especially high-ranking prelates — treating the papal office as something worldly that can be relinquished under adverse circumstances.” Others, such as Raymond Arroyo, have expressed ‘squeamishness’ over the prospect of a Francis resignation, lest ‘there be three popes’ sitting in Rome. Nonsense. A Francis resignation would no more result in three popes than Benedict’s resignation resulted in two.

Time does not permit me the luxury of squeamishness so let me say a few things directly.

In my view, first, Pope John Paul II should have resigned at least five years before his death; he was effectively ignored by the corrupt elements in his curia for at least that long and the Church has suffered sorely for it. Second, and despite my professional misgiving about how Ratzinger/Benedict understood and used canon law, I think it was a grave error for him to have resigned, and, if his resignation gave the impression that the papacy was essentially “something worldly that can be relinquished under adverse circumstances”, well, that’s on Benedict, no one else. Third, Benedict’s unjustified resignation and its disastrous aftermath does nothing to answer whether Francis should, upon his own knowledge and/or in the face of public proof of malfeasance, resign. That is an entirely separate question to be answered on its own merits.

What really gets me irked.

Most of De Souza’s essay urging disputants “to turn down the temperature” savors of that rhetorical style, now wearing very thin, wherein paternalistic, above-the-fray advice comes down from a supposedly calm and objective observer to squabbling children who are letting emotions get in the way of problem solving, a la, ‘Now, now boys and girls, play nicely.” For crying out loud.

If, even today, a priest still does not see that the last thing in the world that lay faithful—who represent 99% of the victims of clergy sexual abuse and who make up 98% of the voices demanding accounting, cleansing, and deep ecclesiastical reform—need to hear is yet another cleric telling them to quiet down about clergy sexual abuse and/or weighty allegations that abuse was being covered up at the highest levels of the Church, well, I don’t know what to say in the face of such chronic cluelessness.

It certainly does not suffice to excuse the proffering of such advice by pointing to the obvious fact that some laity (among the millions wounded directly or indirectly by decades of clerical indifference in this area) are hot heads forsaking love for fury. We all know that! Such persons are, in fact, a bonus for the devil, for he gets these sad souls to violate charity in their desire for justice! Good priests who want to lend a special hand in repairing the damages wrought by some of their evil brothers and superiors could well reach out in a special way to such persons, to these victims in their own way of clergy sexual abuse and cover-up.

Moreover, this ‘everybody-calm-down’ advice supposedly aimed at ‘both sides’ of this matter is frankly insulting to that one side which, beyond any question, has been severely betrayed by the other. Even the idea that ‘both sides’ are engaged in roughly equal exchanges is groundless. Francis, for example, sees himself as choosing the high road of silence and, after taking some digs at “people lacking good will, … people who only seek scandal, who seek only division, who seek only destruction, even within the family”, seems intent on saying nothing more. Sure, a few mouth-pieces such as the papolatrous Fr. Rosica, and few prelates who, it seems, owe their current offices in some measure to the great influence that Francis is alleged to have accorded the disgraceful and disgraced McCarrick, have spoken out intemperately, but for the most part these voices are very, very few.

No, the shouting in this mess is coming overwhelmingly from one side, the side that has been wronged! To call on ‘both sides’, then, “to turn down the temperature” is, therefore, effectively aimed at squelching one side here, the victims!

Deep breath time…

As for some other points in De Souza’s essay, such as his minimizing the personal attacks on Viganò as a “tactical mistake” that “muddied the waters for a few days”, or his concession that “it would [be] very damaging to the Holy Father personally and to the Church generally if Archbishop Viganò’s charges are true” (just “very damaging”?), or his generous interpretation of Francis’ “dramatic and heartfelt admission of error and expression of contrition” in the Chilean debacle—well, to borrow a phrase, who am I to judge? Maybe it was “heartfelt”. I hope it was. But that being granted, may I ask, who is De Souza to judge the pope’s heart? I pray the pope’s conversion was as De Souza sees it, heartfelt. I only know it was the right thing to do, and got done it did, regardless of whether the pope’s motives were heartfelt, self-serving, both, or neither. Fine.

Let me close with this observation: De Souza and I are on the same side of this crisis; I have not the slightest doubt that he detests what has happened to the victims of clergy sexual abuse and is in palpable pain over the very prospect that cover for such abuse was extended even by those in the highest ranks of Church authority. We each, in our respective spheres, have dealt with the aftermath of problems for which neither of us are to blame. We both want the truth to come out. And we each wince when others equally appalled at what has happened purport to speak for all of us with hatred, exploitation, or vengeance in their voices. What can I say, that’s not me and it’s not Fr. De Souza.

But that said, sometimes even allies offer advice that is ill-conceived, and in the respects outlined above, I think that applies to some of what Fr. De Souza wrote for the Register. And I have no doubt, of course, that others might disagree with my disagreements. That’s fine, too.

As I have said from the outset, the cleansing of the Church from the defilements she has suffered of late will come and true reforms will be put into place, but it’s not going to be a smooth process and it’s not going to be a pretty one.

It’s just going to be.

(This post originally appeared on the In the Light of the Law site and is reposted here by kind permission of Dr. Peters. The opinions expressed in this post are Dr. Peters and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of CWR’s editors and other contributors.)

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About Edward N. Peters 120 Articles
Edward N. Peters, JD, JCD has doctoral degrees in canon and common law. Since 2005 he has held the Edmund Cardinal Szoka Chair at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. His personal blog on canon law issues in the news may be accessed at the "In the Light of the Law" site.


  1. Moral theologians and the wise should tell Catholics what is permissible for them to do in order to persuade errant bishops to resign. How about protesting the next meeting of the USCCB?

    • @SOL — Serious question here: What good, exactly, are protests? You’re not really talking about either giving the bishops information they don’t have, nor are you talking about providing them with logical arguments. A politician who relies on votes or a company that relies on sales might be *intimidated* by protests — is that what you suggest, intimidation? If neither information, nor analysis, nor intimidation is the goal, about the only thing left is an appeal to irrational emotions. Is that a worthy goal?

    • I appreciate Dr. Peters’ analysis here, but I also found it a bit amusing when he writes “Most of De Souza’s essay urging disputants ‘to turn down the temperature’ savors of that rhetorical style, now wearing very thin, wherein paternalistic, above-the-fray advice comes down from a supposedly calm and objective observer to squabbling children who are letting emotions get in the way of problem solving, a la, ‘Now, now boys and girls, play nicely.’ For crying out loud.”

      Dr. Peters has not been immune from taking this same kind of paternalistic, “I am the superior canon lawyer” approach to some issues in the manner of “calm down boys and girls and listen only to me. Other canon lawyers and theologians are wrong, end of story.” I remember quite well that there were enough canon lawyers and theologians of solid background who disagreed vigorously with Dr. Peters’ attack on the courageous Fr. Guarnizo a few years ago when he withheld Communion from a person openly defying Church teaching and flouting her homosexuality/lesbianism, but Dr. Peters would have none of this because of his attitude that he was above it all and should be listened to alone (or those who agreed with him) because according to him, he is the sole authority on such things and only his interpretations of canon law are sound, even though he will not blatantly make this claim. He will, of course, proudly flash his credentials whenever in debate in order to advise others to not even bother disputing with him.

      Hopefully, the disgust Dr. Peters expressed with DeSouza’s approach will result in a look-in-the-mirror moment for Dr. Peters so he drops his paternalistic style that manifests itself from time-to-time, especially when he finds people disagreeing with his application of canon law that can indeed be disputed in various cases despite Dr. Peters’ attitude of believing he possesses a virtual infallibility in these matters that of course he does not possess.

  2. Turn down the heat? I guess these clerics didn’t get the memo.
    Tuesday, September 04, 2018:
    No. It is not time to turn down the heat. We are long past that time. We did that and the problem continued to fester. Now they are scaring the citizenry with public displays, not merely widely reported cocaine fueled homosexual orgies in Capozzi’s Vatican apartment.
    This catastrophe has taken on the character of “ludicrous.” That it has reached this pitch bespeaks the absolute unsuitability of Bergoglio for his office and of the utter decomposition of the episcopate. It can be fixed we know, but not by this crowd.

  3. Dr. Peters showed a great deal of concern and effort to set the record straight, and enlighten Catholics about the true Church-wide governing policies of Canon Law and how they apply to cleaning house as necessary regards BY-THE-BOOK resignations. I hope many, many members of the Church leadership, especially those to womb possible resignations may apply and those who are not afraid to continue to push for accountability and sooner-rather-than-later investigations will benefit from Dr. Peter’s knowledge, experience, and clean up the homosexual and cover-up mess ONCE AND FOR ALL.

    Thank You Dr. Peters

  4. As Catholics we need to dig deep into this filth pit of homosexual priests and abuse of power. I don’t know what the outcome will be however my faith in Christ and His Church which I belong to will be strengthened in the end. We don’t need to go looking for predators, they are emboldened by the past and what they believe is a free pass for their future.

  5. Totally agree, and I thank you for writing this rebuttal to Fr de Souza’s article, which I read earlier this morning with distaste and disappointment. I thought, “Why isn’t he getting this situation?” We MUST keep the temperature rather high until things start changing and the truth is revealed. Otherwise, not one thing will change.

  6. While the argument about Pope Francis’s credibility is manifest around Vigano’s testimony, there are other significant cases apart from McCarrick that are indisputable.

    When will he be challenged? How can we evangelise the truth about the human person in Christ?

    As long as the Church keeps hitching its wagon to cultural moralism which is a return to paganism, as Benjamin Wiker says, and I fear worse than that as Elizabeth Anscombe could argue, then that ‘church’ is not the Church.

    This has to change it cannot go on.

  7. We have to face the facts – if Francis keeps quiet and lets his minions attack Vigano’s credibility – the story will leave the front page in a few weeks. But there’s a good reason for Catholic journalists to keep working on this story, and even move away from Vigano specifically. Think of the men Francis has been closely associated that carry heavy clouds of abuse: Danneels, Maradieaga, (have we forgotten about Bishop Pineda whose resignation was accepted without comment?), Errázuriz and Ezzati: they’re all cardinals, and two are on the Council of Nine. No reason to look at every unusual appointments I suppose – maybe the Church needs bishops like Jose Tolentino de Mendonca: a long advocate for LGBTQ Catholics and a fan of “Queer Theologian” Teresa Forcades whom he has compared to Hildegard van Bingen. And there are gay bashes inside the Vatican apartments. And the “buff” naked man in this year’s Vatican creche (clothe the naked you know). Check out the “gym Jesus” Vatican Easter stamp – I suppose he worked on his abs before his ministry. I’m not gay bashing here. But I don’t want anyone to forget this topic – central to the abuse crisis – because we’re going to hear a lot more about it soon when the Youth Synod begins. But if Francis continues to hear from those who fear for the Church, perhaps even he will show some caution and give Father Martin a little time off. Resignation? I don’t know. I do know that believers should remind each other that we are living under the worst pope since the Renaissance. And he’s bad for the same reason that Popes Leo and Clement – who between the two allowed earthly political calculations to cripple the Church and watch northern Europe and England drift away without a meaningful reaction from Rome. We must not allow Francis and his minions to make a mockery of Church tradition in exchange for Church support of a lower carbon footprint or some kind of global Personism.

    • “We have to face the facts – if Francis keeps quiet and lets his minions attack Vigano’s credibility – the story will leave the front page in a few weeks.” Only for a while. It will be saved for use at a more opportune time.

  8. If Father D’Souza objects to harsh-sounding words being expressed in the context of the homoheresy and sodomizing the flock now afflicting the Catholic Church, then he should consider two things:
    #1. It is the Pope who, for the past 5 years, has been using inflammatory language and calling members of Christ’s Church derogatory names. His name-calling is relentless.
    #2. He should be less concerned that the faithful are using harsh language in calling for the resignation of the pope and other bishop’s than what they otherwise might be inclined to do. Fr. D’Souza should rejoice that angry mobs of Catholics have not entered Casa Santa Martha and the chanceries of certain bishops, removed them from from their safe havens and publicly tarred and feathered them for their crimes.

  9. From the first greeting from the balcony of St. Peter’s (Danneels). Starting with the place where the Bergoglio lives (Casa Santa Marta, managed by the famed Msgr. Battista Ricca). From that first sound bite” “Who am I to judge?” Chile. Maradiaga. James Martin, Inc. Mahony to the Youth Meeting and then not. McCarrick. Wuerl. Rosica’s fondness for what appears to be the definition of a heretic. Bergoglio’s sudden fondness for “silence.” Just “calm down?”

  10. At this hour Justice demands a voice. Silence is complicity. Fr de Souza’s appeal for genteel diplomacy hasn’t worked. The reason is well presented by Dr Douglas Farrow in his article on our current Messianic Papacy. Although I agree justice demands we voice accountability and resignation by hierarchy inclusive of the Pope I agree w Dr Peters that Archbishop Viganò’s allegations require by law further confirmation. Added to that if the Pontiff refuses to deny the allegations we have an obligation to justice to demand response or resignation. The intransigence by the Pontiff is messianic and is seemingly motivated by a long standing policy that is traced back to Argentina where new allegations have appeared indicating by credible witness that then Cardinal Bergoglio covered for homosexual clergy and as Pontiff has promoted several including Cardinal Kevin Farrell an openly pro gay cleric to Prefect for the Dicastery on Laity and Family. The policy is paradigmatic change of the Gospels which Dr Farrow, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller, Archbishop Viganò, Prof Roberto de Mattei et al. is an unlawful dereliction of the Pope’s obligation to defend Christ’s revelation. Therein lies justification to demand his resignation.

  11. “One who resigns Church office under such circumstances has not ‘picked his own punishment’, rather, he has performed a good act by ending one aspect of his scandal. After that, let justice take its normal course.” This is a point well-made and should be the primary response to this crisis. For example, Bishop Malone of Buffalo, who admits to failure concerning the care of his sheep still says that he will not resign because “the shepherd does not desert the flock at a difficult time”. But isn’t that what he is being accused of! Further, the best way to serve the flock is to perform an act of humility by taking a lower position in service to Christ and his flock. A bishop who resigns, say, to serve as a dedicated hospital chaplain still has a chance of being called forward later (Lk 14:10)and also a much better chance of becoming a saint.

    • In the case of Malone and all those derelict bishops, the resignation will not be a case of deserting the flock. It will be a case of acknowledging that they HAVE deserted the flock for quite a while now and thus acknowledge that fact and are now therefore doing the decent thing and giving the flock a chance to get a real shepherd for change.

  12. I still don’t see discussion of the following points.

    Allow me to say that none of them are animated by vitriol toward the current Pope. That indeed is a temptation, to be resisted. The questions are broached here theoretically, in abstracto, with no assumption about the culpability of this pontiff. **Innocent until proven guilty.** But, if guilty….

    Here are the points, once again. They need (I think) to be addressed by experts and scholars.


    Just because canon law does not provide for deposition of a Pope for (say) a cover-up,not to mention any number of other possible moral offenses, does not mean that canon law should not be revised appropriately in this respect. Lack of a provision for a papal deposition in such cases arguably feeds into a sort of super-clericalism that may be one contributing factor in the current crisis. Happy to entertain counterarguments to this position. Just haven’t seen any compelling ones broached anywhere yet. Merely citing tradition on this point does not help unless conjoined with very good reasons why traditional approaches need consideration.


    Turning to the distinct question of civil law, civil procedures are in my view fully appropriate against a pontiff who is engaged in cover-ups or other malfeasance that are properly handled in just civil laws. Why should the Pope be any exception? Concretely, is there anything in the civil law of the Vatican City state, the relevant jurisdiction, that provides for civil penalties? Or does the Pope have immunity from its civil laws? Can a Pope (whether or not he has resigned) just hang out with immunity in the City somewhere? Doesn’t seem right.


    Recognizing the distinction between canon and civil law, I think in this context there should be canon law provisions that not only call for the resignation of the Pope (or for that matter high level clerics, or priests), but also call for just civil procedures to take over in tandem with the resignation encouraged or enforced within canon law. How to formulate the meaning of “just” is obviously one challenge here. If a tyrannical state has civil laws that impose penalties out of proportion to a given moral offense (what it might be), canon law needs to address such situations. Natural justice, not the positive laws of a wayward regime, is the reference point. (Lex injust est non lex.)

    The following poses questions about the relationship between Church law (or “norms”) on the one hand, and civil penalties on the other:
    Should these guidelines be explicitly formulated or expressed in a revision of canon law, if canon law does not very explicitly provide for them (and not just via logical inference)?

    Just asking questions that I think anyone should ask who is concerned about the role law (canon or civil) should play in avoiding future problems. And, possibly in reforming the Church. Again, not claiming any expertise in this arena at all. Just trying to express obvious questions.

  13. It surely doesn’t seem like Fr Richard John Neuhaus would be happy with Fr Raymond de Souza now, especially considering that Fr deSouza was somehow chosen to deliver the main homily at his funeral Mass.

  14. That is the quandary of many explored here by Dr Peters. How do we expel or at least contain the Pontiff? The former Apostolic Signatura Cardinal Burke realizes the Pontiff holds all the cards. He cannot be deposed. Formal heresy is a difficult charge to prove especially with this Pontiff’s side stepping any definitive statement and if apparently heretical never adamantly and consistently stated. Material heresy is evident in the effects of his manipulative suggestive remarks particularly in Amoris. My personal view is the Church is justified as a body to depose him on that basis although there is nothing near a consensus among Hierarchy. That seems to leave the option of ‘forcing’ resignation as studied here. Resignation is a willful act despite the pressure that is said to ‘force’ someone to resign. I don’t perceive this man resigning. The only other option seems a universal return to Apostolic Tradition, which he has seriously undermined. The other is an act of God.

    • Next pontiff has to revise canon law to get rid of this weird immunity of a Pope who does moral wrong, let alone flouting doctrine. Going to happen? Could, with the right person, if he is concerned about preempting future crises.

      Current system is broken. Remedies need to be found by reformulating law.

  15. Q: What do Jake Tapper and DA Shapiro and Archbishop Viganò have in common?

    A: They all agree Cardinal Wuerl is LYING about his coverup of sexual abuse in the Church.

    See Rod Dreher’s site Thursday 6 Sep 2018, story on Wuerl’s appalling lette tp priest’s, and the video report from Tapper, embedded.

  16. It is a great pity to waste anger, for anger is a strong support to the will. Anger is wasted when it becomes a guide to the mind. There is much scope for righteous anger in this terrible crisis, but righteous anger is always guided by supernatural wisdom and “the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.” We must make peace in ourselves first, then we will see clearly in the light of the Holy Spirit what to do and we will have the support of truly righteous anger to do it.
    As a fictional race car driver remarked, “You can’t let your mind rev up with your motor.”

  17. Thomistica has raised a question about the role of Canon law in relation to Pope Francis.
    He asks if Canon law does “…not provide for deposition of a Pope for (say) a cover up…” and so on. In effect, he is asking if the Pope is subject to the Canon law. In other words, can the Pope be tried under the Canon law just like any other member of the clergy?

    This is not likely although I would value Dr Peters’ opinion on the point. There nothing in the 1983 Code to provide for this. In fact, Canon 134 (1) defines the Ordinary (ie bishops and those who are set over a particular church) to exclude the Roman Pontiff. The result of that definition may therefore mean that the Canon law generally does not apply to the Pope. There does not seem to be any other Canon in the Code to provide for this and because of the repeal by Canon 6 of pre-existing Canon law, I assume there is no older surviving authority on the question.

  18. If our outrage does not start on the parish level and ascend this will never end. The dead silence from the pulpit at our parish about all this and our Bishop’s focus in one single letter on “children” is telling and pathetic.

    The Vatican Bank, the sexual scandal, the institutional machine, I cannot even call it “the Church” is being run like a criminal enterprise. Period.

  19. Posted today 9.7. Nat Catholic Register Editors offered a very well thought out editorial addressing the clearly urgent need of the Catholic Body for clarity and assurance from the only person positioned to respond to Archbishop Viganò’s allegations. The editors correctly specify the unprecedented specter of a pontiff forced to resign, which is not possible since resignation is a willful act. The implications of a Pope resigning due to pressure has profound implication for the papacy, whether it can be understood as a viable institution. The solution to that would be a graceful acknowledgment of Pope Francis to admit to mistakes in governing the Church and resigning in a completely free act. The crux beyond that is that which we are all deeply concerned. What direction is the Pontiff taking Catholicism and the revelation of Christ? If he remains on the same path we rightly assume that direction is wrong.

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