News analysis: Pope Francis exercises power of the keys.
— Rome — The big news out of the Vatican on Saturday was the announcement that Robert Schumann — who, along with Konrad Adenauer and Alcide de Gasparri, is recognised as one of the founding fathers of modern European unity — is on the path to canonisation, as his heroic virtues were recognised in a decree of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints.
The announcement of the resignation of two bishops, also on Saturday, was always likely to go unremarked, if unnoticed. But there are resignations and resignations, and these two were not without interest.
Diocese of Grosseto united to Pitigliano-Sovana-Orbetello
In Italy, the resignation of Bishop Rodolfo Cetolini, OFM, meant the diocese of Grosseto was without a pastor. Pope Francis named as his successor Bishop Gianni Roncari, OFM Cap., already Bishop of Pitigliano-Sovana-Orbetello, thereby uniting Grosseto to the three other (former?) dioceses in persona episcopi, i.e., in the person of the bishop.
The move is part of an ongoing campaign to reduce the number of Italian dioceses de facto, if not de iure: an effort that has faced a certain amount of resistance from the Italian bishops, despite the call of the Second Vatican Council for a “fitting revision of diocesan boundaries” even by “dividing, dismembering, or uniting them, changing their boundaries, or determining a better place for the episcopal see.”
Although common at certain periods of church history — especially when being the bishop of a diocese could be very profitable — the union of multiple dioceses under a single bishop has historically been frowned upon by the Church.
The newly united diocese of Pitigliano-Sovana-Orbetello-Grossetto is not the only multiple diocese in Italy. There are many dioceses composed of two or three previously independent sees, and at least two other four-diocese groupings. The diocese of Macerata-Tolentino-Recanati-Cingoli-Treia, for example, is composed of five formerly independent dioceses. It will be interesting to see what will happen upon the death or resignation of the bishop in whose person multiple dioceses are united.
Taiwanese bishop resigns
Also on Saturday, the press bulletin of the Holy See carried news of the resignation of the bishop of Tainan, a small diocese in Taiwan with fewer than 10,000 Catholics out of a total population of almost two million.
The Vatican announcement, as usual, was sparse, noting only that Pope Francis had accepted the resignation of Bishop John Lee Juo-Wang, and appointed his predecessor, Bishop Bosco Lin Chi-nan as apostolic administrator of his former diocese.
Veteran Vatican watchers know that the first thing to do when a bishop resigns is to check the immensely useful Catholic Hierarchy website to determine the bishop’s age. A quick check yielded more than one surprise: Bishop Juo-Wang only 54 years old (more than two decades younger than the normal retirement age); and he had been bishop of Tainan for less than six months, having been named in November 2020, and installed in his diocese in January of this year. A little further investigation revealed that Bishop Jun-Wang was the first ordinary of Tainan to be born and raised in Taiwan in more than three decades.
With no immediate information forthcoming from the Vatican, it remained to do a quick search of the internet to see if any recent news stories might give a clue to his sudden resignation.
Shortly after the announcement from Rome, the diocese of Tainan issued a statement from the bishop, in which he explained that “psychological and physical problems” had suddenly and unexpectedly appeared, shortly after he had taken possession of his see.
“In praying and discerning,” the Salesian-educated Bishop Juo-Wang wrote, “the Holy Spirit led me to be aware of and to humbly admit that there was a real health problem” that affected the future of the diocese.
He went to the nunciature to explain the situation, and on May 7 submitted his resignation, in accordance with 401, paragraph 2 of the CIC. (In the past, the Vatican routinely noted the applicable canon when a bishop resigned: 401 paragraph 1 requests bishops to offer their resignations upon reaching the age of 75; while paragraph 2 “earnestly” requests the same when a bishop “because of illness or some other grave reason, has become unsuited for the fulfilment of his office.”)
Without further clarification from Rome or the local diocese, speculation will undoubtedly continue as to the nature of Bishop Juo-Wang’s illness – and whether there were “other grave reasons” that rendered him unsuitable to carry out his ministry.
It is to its credit that the diocese offered some explanation for the bishop’s resignation. A more complete and transparent explanation would serve the reputation of both Bishop Juo-Wang, and that of the Church.