When a member of the faithful appeal a decision of their diocesan bishop, that appeal is sent to the Eternal City of Rome. Depending on what is appealed determines which congregation, or office, of the Vatican will reply. These offices are filled with bishops, priests and lay people who are the most polite people in Rome, on paper. The person who wants the bishop’s decision changed and the bishop will receive a reply from that office based in law, without regard to episcopal or personal opinion. Here are three examples of letters (made up but very close to the truth) coming from the congregations of the Vatican.
This congregation, having received the appeals of St. Scott, St. Cuthbert and St. Tieoneon parishes of your diocese, congratulates Your Excellency on your novel approach to the issue at hand. Certainly the Holy Father appreciates bishops who tend to their flocks personally and with such vigor. Just a canonical note Your Excellency, the imposition of the penalty of interdiction [banning the parish from sacraments until the interdict is lifted] seems an extreme penalty for the crime alleged. Interdiction is not normally used at all these days, and canon law reminds us that is for graver crimes. We realize Your Excellency that the failure of any parish to meet their diocesan appeal goal is frustrating to you but the banning of sacramental life in these parishes may be a bit extreme.
If we might propose Your Excellency a carrot rather than a stick? A more positive approach to the issue can yield marvelous results. The people of these parishes need their sacraments and need to know that you were jesting about flogging the pastor.
With greatest esteem for your pastoral ministry,
Archbishop Marietto Linguini
This dicastery (office) has received the appeal of the Rev. Claude C. Hammer regarding his suspension. The Holy Father takes such things seriously and commends an open approach to such issues. Unfortunately in canon law there is no mention of suspending a priest for not mentioning the bishop’s name during the Eucharistic Prayer, once. This office notes that you have taken into account Fr. Hammer’s 65 years of faithful ministry and his rather advanced age of 91. While your pastoral sensitivity can never be praised enough and is a wonder to behold, may we mention that his senile dementia diagnosis his doctor gave must preclude him from a canonical penalty?
That being said Excellency, it might be best to restrict his celebration of the Mass to privately only with the assistance of a competent deacon or acolyte. As to your promise of exile to the island of Patmos should he ever forget your name again, may we remind your Excellency of civil law in both the US and Greece. Besides this, it has been 2,000 years since there was an exile there so we cannot determine if the facilities in Patmos will be suitable.
With the greatest esteem for your pastoral ministry,
Amaleto Card. Cicognani
It’s wonderful to hear about your pastoral ministry again this year. The appeal pending before this dicastery is a serious issue and requires some recommendations for your consideration. The Holy Father is not in the habit of sending the Swiss Guard to dioceses to arrest priests. As you may realize that Guard is principally concerned with the safety of the Pope. So don’t expect a cohort to arrive any time soon. Canonically, presbyteral councils are consultative only; just because they vote unanimously against your proposal to plate the Cathedral in gold, you may go ahead with the project provided the Holy See is informed and consents. This Office points out Excellency that not only forbidding the presbyteral council to reside in the diocese a dubious decision since they are allowed to express an opinion, but it might tighten your already alarming shortage of priests.
Your suggestion to reform the Noble Guard (since abolished by St. Paul VI) to handle such matters is noted and will receive the attention it deserves. We recommend that you forgive the presbyteral council their faults and opinions and carry on in the spirit of Our Lord with reconciliation. You may appeal this decision to the Apostolic Signatura within the applicable time lines. We will be sending, again, this appeal against your decision to the Congregation of Bishops; they always enjoy hearing about Your Excellency’s latest decisions and are edified by your noble efforts to save the Church.
With the greatest esteem for your ministry,
Archbishop Bell N. Howell