In 2013, Cardinal Keith O'Brien resigned as Archbishop of St. Andrews & Edinburgh following allegations that he made repeated sexual advances on clergy and seminarians in the archdiocese. The complaint was presented by three priests and a former priest. While the allegations were formally made to the Apostolic Nuncio in London, which appears to be the closest thing there is to an existing procedure in the Church, the speed with which he left office was widely credited to the men informing the nuncio of their intention to speak to the national press.
The allegations against Bishop Juan Barros, whose appointment to a small Chilean diocese marked the beginning of the crisis in that country, were known in Rome at the time of his appointment, and, as local outcry mounted, Cardinal Séan O'Malley is said to have personally delivered a letter from victims to the pope.
Yet it was only the backlash to Pope Francis' apparent dismissal of the victims, despite their persistence and credibility, during a papal visit to Chile which finally prompted action.
In the case of Cardinal McCarrick, his predatory behavior towards seminarians was apparently legendary. But despite what everyone seems to have known, no formal action (apart from the out-of-court settlements) was ever taken by Church authorities until an allegation was made by a former altar server in New York.
In the case of Bishop Pineda, despite the seriousness of the allegations and the considerable local scandal, it seems it was only the publicity arising from his close association with Cardinal Maradiaga which prompted Vatican action.
Pineda's resignation provokes a series of further questions which will test the Holy See's resolve in seeing episcopal allegations through to the end.
Other prominent accused bishops, like Cardinal McCarrick, have been past, or near to retirement age. Given his advanced age and removal from public ministry, there is little to compel Vatican authorities to take further action. Indelicately put, it is not unknown for the Vatican to simply delay action against elderly bishops, counting on death to precede a process. This will not be an option with Pineda.
In a statement released on Friday, Pineda declared "I continue as a son of the Church; I continue forward as consecrated [a bishop]; I continue as minister of the Church; I continue forward at the disposition of my superiors." Aged only 58, an indefinite hiatus from active ministry is not likely to be seen as workable solution. Rome will have to decide how to bring the allegations against him to a resolution, possibly through a canonical trial, and how to formally punish him if necessary.
What form such sanctions could take, and following what process, remains unclear.
Despite creating a new legal mechanism for canonical trials for bishops, officials in Rome have indicated that Pope Francis has reserved all abuse complaints against bishops to himself, personally. There is no obvious pattern for dealing with these cases to follow, and what results can be expected are hard to predict.
While there are understandable calls for abuser-clerics to be laicized, this very unlikely in the case of a bishop.
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While laicization clearly expels a bishop from the hierarchy, it effectively ends any oversight church authorities have over him. Contrary to popular conception, a laicized bishop does not cease being a bishop, sacramentally speaking. Once conferred, sacraments like baptism, ordination, and episcopal consecration cannot be undone. If Pineda were laicized and he went on to seek ministry in unauthorized settings, sacraments he administered, including priestly ordinations, would still be valid. The potential damage and confusion which could be done by a rogue bishop, outside of church control, is enough to make laicization highly unlikely.
Bishop Emmanuel Milingo, for example stepped down from the leadership of a Zambian diocese in 1983, at the age of 53, after which time he illicitly but validly consecrated several married men as bishops. He was eventually laicized in 2009, but by that time he had been conducting unauthorized ministry for decades.
If the allegations against Pineda are proven, the most likely outcome is he would be removed from public ministry and assigned to live somewhere away from public view. There is some precedent for this course.
Perhaps the most likely example that could be followed is that of Kieran Conry, who was forced to resign as bishop of the English diocese of Arundel and Brighton at the age of 63 in 2013. Conry's resignation was prompted by a string of inappropriate relationships with women, which were also common knowledge among the English hierarchy at the time of his appointment. Since then, he has been living in a church-owned house in southern England and out of public ministry. Cardinal O'Brien lived in similar conditions until his death in March of this year; while he resigned the "rights and privileges" of a cardinal, he was allowed to keep the title.
In the meantime, Pineda's situation remains unclear.
There has been no formal announcement that he has been removed from public ministry - only his office as auxiliary of the diocese - and there has been no indication that he has left the diocese. How formally and transparently his situation is resolved will be telling.