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Pope fires Slovak bishop in rare show of authority

VATICAN CITY — The pope fired a 52-year-old Slovak bishop on Monday for apparently mismanaging his diocese, in a rare show of papal power.

Usually when bishops run into trouble — either for alleged moral lapses or management problems — they are persuaded by the Vatican to resign. But Pope Benedict XVI has become increasingly willing to forcibly remove bishops who refuse to step down, sacking three others in the last year alone.

In the most notable case, Benedict fired Bishop William Morris of Toowoomba, Australia last year after he called for the church to consider ordaining women and married men. He also removed a Congolese bishop for management problems in his diocese and an Italian one in May for similar reasons.

On Monday, the Vatican said Benedict had “relieved from pastoral care” Bishop Robert Bezak of Trnava, Slovakia. No reason was given, but Italian news reports said administrative problems in the diocese were to blame.

Bishops normally hand in their resignation when they turn 75 years old, their customary retirement age.

The exercise of this ability to fire a bishop has important implications, particularly concerning bishops who mishandle cases of sexually abusive priests.

In the face of U.S. lawsuits seeking to hold the pope ultimately responsible for pedophile priests, the Holy See has argued that bishops are largely masters of their dioceses and that the pope doesn’t really control them. The Vatican has thus sought to limit any liability to the bishops themselves, arguing that the pope doesn’t exercise sufficient control over them to be held responsible for their bungled response to priests who rape children.

The ability of the pope to actively fire bishops, and not just passively accept their resignations, would seem to undercut the Vatican’s argument. Still, no bishop in recent memory has been forcibly removed for mishandling an abuse case.

Even the most well-known case, that of Cardinal Bernard Law, ended when Law offered his resignation after the sex abuse scandal exploded in his Boston archdiocese 2002. Law subsequently was named archpriest of one of the Vatican’s basilicas in Rome, St. Mary Major.

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Follow Nicole Winfield at www.twitter.com/nwinfield



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