The Holy See has accepted the resignations of the Irish bishops Francis Lagan, auxiliary of Derry, and Joseph Duffy of the Diocese of Clogher in line with traditional canon law procedure upon having reached the age of retirement. The resignations come as buzz about a restructuring of the Catholic Church of Ireland is becoming ever more audible.
The Pope accepted the Irish bishops’ resignations along with that of the Bishop Francis Folorunsho Clement Alonge of the Diocese of Ondo, Nigeria, according to a statement from the Holy See’s Press Office on Thursday.
Bishops are requested under canon law to offer their resignations to the Holy Father upon turning 75 years old. According to Canon 401,1 the Pope takes the circumstances of the resignation into consideration and makes a decision on whether or not to accept the resignation in due course.
For Bishop Duffy, the process took over a year, while Bishop Lagan’s papers were processed after just six months. Two other Irish bishops have reached the age limit and are waiting for the Pope to give them the final word.
The resignations follow those of three fellow bishops in Ireland since December, but those took place according to Canon 401, 2. That canon allows resignation to be requested because the bishop is seen as being impeded in the fulfilment of his office due to health reasons or other “grave” causes.
All three of the recently resigned Irish bishops were tied to reports that cases of sex abuse by priests were mishandled in their dioceses, and none of them has been replaced to date. Two others, auxiliaries of the Archdiocese of Dublin, Bishops Eamonn Walsh and Ray Field, submitted their resignation papers last December due also to their implication in official reports and have still not heard from Rome.
On Thursday, the Vatican simultaneously announced the nomination of Msgr. Liam MacDaid as the successor to Bishop Duffy in the Diocese of Clogher. There was no word on a replacement for the auxiliary in Derry.
Patsy McGarry, correspondent to the Vatican for the Irish Times, wrote Tuesday of “ongoing, behind the scenes” discussions about a possible restructuring within the Catholic Church of Ireland. He suggested that there is talk of merging dioceses across the country, including those of Derry and Clogher, to bring the current number of 26 dioceses down to 11 in the country.
This, he wrote, would create a “more flexible and effective” bishops’ conference, thus facilitating “better quality decision-making as well as greater speed in arriving at decisions.”
The Catholic population of Ireland is currently served by four archbishops and 25 bishops, McGarry noted, while the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in the U.S., at a similar size, “makes do” with a single archbishop and six auxiliaries.
Pope Benedict XVI did not breach the subject in his Letter to Irish Catholics on March 19, but he did tell bishops that “Only decisive action carried out with complete honesty and transparency will restore the respect and good will of the Irish people towards the Church to which we have consecrated our lives.”
Asked if restructuring the dioceses was a possibility, Brenda Drumm, a communications officer for the Irish Bishops' Conference, told CNA "I've no information on that I'm afraid."