A New Day Dawning for Retired Bishops

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National Catholic Register, 6 September 2018

Will Los Angeles revisit the Cardinal Mahony file in light of Bishop Bambera’s action in Scranton?

In the maelstrom of news on sexual abuse, it may not be immediately noted for the significant step that it is, but the decision of Bishop Joseph Bambera of Scranton, Pennsylvania, to “permanently restrict” his predecessor, Bishop James Timlin, “from representing the Diocese of Scranton at all public events, liturgical or otherwise,” will have repercussions, ones that might echo loudly on the West Coast.

After the Pennsylvania grand jury report, some particularly egregious cases that happened on Bishop Timlin’s watch (1984 to 2003) came to light, including one of a priest who impregnated a teenage girl and then paid for an abortion. The priest resigned in 1986, but then was returned to ministry in 1987, with Bishop Timlin advocating for him. The priest remained in ministry until 2002, when he was removed.

While Bishop Bambera noted that “it is unfair to judge past actions against present-day standards,” he applied the maximum restriction a bishop can apply to his retired predecessor, namely to restrict his ability to “represent” the diocese. Any further restriction of a bishop’s ministry can only be taken by the Vatican; Bishop Bambera has referred the Bishop Timlin case to the Congregation for Bishops to see if any further action should be taken.

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