|One can't help wonder why Archbishop Bezac was fired. Could it be because he knows too much about his predecessor?|
A story which has really intrigued me the last couple of weeks is the one concerning the removal of Archbishop Bezak from his Archdiocesan See of Trnava, Slovakia. It is eerily reminiscent of the removal of Bishop Morris of Toowoomba, AU, and is causing a great deal of angst in the Archdiocese. Although the Vatican process in both firings are identical, the reasons may not be at all identical. In Morris's case the issues were all doctrinal, and involved deviations in his thinking on the nature of the priesthood, and deviations in practice with regards to the third rite of penance. In the case of Bezak, the major issue is rumored to be his audacity in investigating the alleged criminal financial accounting practices of his reactionary predecessor, Archbishop Sokol. Just like with Bishop Morris, the Vatican came under a great deal of criticism for the way the firing of Arcbishop Bezak was handled...as in no explanation. In response to the heat, the Vatican released the following statement as reported on Vatican Insider:
The Nunciature of the Holy See in Slovakia has sent a communiqué clarifying the phases which formally led the Holy See to remove the prelate from his postVatican Insider staff - Rome - 7/11/2012 “After the numerous reports sent by priests and faithful to the Holy See regarding the pastoral situation in the Archdiocese of Trnava, the Vatican Secretary of State authorised the Congregation for the clergy to carry out an apostolic visit to the Church to verify the complaints,” the communiqué states. (Like with Bishop Morris the Vatican doesn't define the nature of the complaints, nor identify any accusers.)
The visit took place between 22 January and 1 February 2012, under the guidance of the Bishop of Litoměřice (Czech Republic), Mgr. Jan Baxant and the results sent to the Congregation for the clergy to be examined by the relevant authorities. The Congregation for Bishops then informed Mgr. Bezak of the main issues that brought to light in relation to him and his pastoral work. It also asked the bishop to look into what was said about him and explain his position. (Again, neither the original complaints nor complainants were ever made available to Archbishop Bezak. For all he knows, like in the Morris case this investigation may be nothing more than a charade designed to provide cover for a decision already taken.)
Upon careful reflection, the Holy Father decided to ask Bezak to resign from his post in the Archdiocese of Trnava. When the bishop refused to leave, the Holy Father dismissed him and published the decision on 2 July 2012. (This is precisely the Bishop Morris story. No appeal, no process for defending himself, no real information given for his dismissal.)
The Holy See was “deeply saddened” by the fact that Mgr. Bezak spread the news prematurely, breaking “papal secrecy”. The Apostolic Nunciature invited faithful in Slovakia to “accept the Holy Father’s decision in good will and in the spirit of faith,” expressing the hope that “the unity of the Church in the country would be strengthened.” (Once again we see the verbal inversion of the Holy See as the victim, not the dictatorial no defense allowed enforcer. And once again papal secrecy is presented as a more important value than transparency.)
This story is important enough that John Allen felt compelled to use his column to add his own particular warning to the Vatican. Here is the pertinent part of his piece:
Bezák was appointed in April 2009 to replace longtime Archbishop Ján Sokol, who had reigned in Trnava for 20 years. Sokol was a strong but controversial leader, known for his deeply traditional theological and political views. Among other things, Sokol was a vigorous defender of Jozef Tiso, a Catholic priest and Slovakia's president during World War II, when the country was a satellite state of Nazi Germany. (Under the Soviets, Tiso was convicted of war crimes and executed.) (Tiso was actually executed by Czechoslovakia under President Edvard Benes for state treason and collaboration with the Nazis.)
Friends of Bezák, who's generally seen as a more moderate figure, say Sokol continued to be a major presence in the archdiocese after his resignation, reportedly maintaining a residence in the archbishop's palace. They also say that when Bezák started going over the books from the Sokol era, he discovered serious financial irregularities.
On July 6, civil prosecutors announced an investigation into alleged misappropriation of church funds under Sokol. Media reports say that decision was based in part on Bezák's findings.
The suspicion among Bezák's allies is that Sokol wanted to shut down this review by undercutting his successor, and that Sokol successfully enlisted friends in the Vatican's Congregation for Bishops to get it done.
At a distance, I have no way of knowing how much merit there may be to those charges, though some veteran church observers seem to take them seriously.
Should this theory be confirmed, it would obviously be bad news for the Vatican under any circumstances. At the moment, however, the timing could scarcely be worse.
John Allen minimizes Archbishop Sokol's reactionary bent by calling him traditional in his theology and politics. Allen doesn't explain that traditional in this case is includes reactionary anti Semitic theology and fascist politics. That makes me wonder if John is warning the Vatican that this mess in Slovakia could expose more about the motivations of some members of the Vatican curia, and that it has more to do with fascist politics than alleged criminal mismanagement of Archdiocesan funds. (I am not leaving out the possibility the two are related.)
My intuition tells me the Bezak firing, while appearing much the same as the Morris firing on the surface, is actually a horse of a very different color. This time the fired bishop didn't say the wrong thing, he found the wrong thing. I really think when this story is all said and done it will be another sordid tale about the Vatican's need to play dirty politics in secular countries. In that sense John Allen is correct. This could be really damaging to the Vatican. I also think Allen's warning is too late. This may indeed turn out to be another flaming log on the Vatican's march to self immolation.