Bishops are free to publish their reports; but they prefer to keep them secret

Bishops Prefer Secrecy Ireland

Title: Bishops are free to publish their reports; but they prefer to keep them secret

Author: Soline Humbert

Publisher: We are Church Ireland

Date: 18JUN2020

Three years ago the Association of Catholic Priests, the Association of Catholics in Ireland and We Are Church Ireland, wrote a joint letter to all the Irish bishops requesting them to make public their quinquennial reports to the Vatican. These reports are sent to the Vatican a few months before diocesan bishops go to Rome for their meetings with the pope every five years (ad limina visits). They provide a detailed state of affairs of each diocese, according to a template supplied by the Vatican. This request was made jointly by the three groups to increase transparency and a greater involvement of all the People of God in every aspect of the church.

The result was extremely disappointing, but not surprising, as the response rate from bishops has always been very low. Out of twenty-six dioceses, only six bishops/administrators replied. None of the four archbishops acknowledged the request.

The few who responded said they would not publish their reports, claiming that it was personal, confidential and for Pope Francis only. However, none were able to cite church law to back up their claim that confidentiality prohibited them from publishing, as indeed there exists no such prohibition in canon law. Bishops are quite free to make their reports public. It is just that they choose not to.

Reports by bishops are meant to give an honest, transparent and detailed account of the current state of their diocese. They cover everything from basic statistics (Catholic population, baptisms, marriages, funerals, etc.) to financial status, relations with other religious communities, civil society and public authorities as well as responses to child sexual abuse, pastoral challenges and prospects for the future of the Church. They are comprised of twenty-two sections, roughly corresponding to each office of the Roman curia who will examine them, and can run to several hundred pages for the very large dioceses.

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