Bishop Kizito Bahujimihigo resigned his diocesan seat last week reportedly due to massive debts his diocese owed. This is the first time we are seeing a senior cleric resign because of an alleged mistake . This would mean acceptance of moral responsibility for a wrong done on his watch. The resignation is highly unusual.
The unsaid practice in the church seems to be: say nothing, accept no wrong, reject all responsibility, stay put and wait for the storm to pass. And very often it does.
Voluntary resignations in the church are very rare. If Bishop Kizito did it , he must be one of a very species among the top clergy. And if the Vatican accepted his resignation so quickly, then the reason must have been very grave indeed.
There are usually two ways of handling situations similar to Bishop Kizito’s (whatever it was), or serious crime, dissidence or deviation from the doctrine.
One is either pushed to resign because he has lost credibility with the faithful and is therefore a liability to the church. And this is the important thing: it is liability to the church that is the motive, not the enormity of the transgression.
Or he is called to Rome to be placed under close observation. In plain language this means putting the offending cleric under house arrest and muzzling him so that he does not cause any further “embarrassment”.
The most celebrated example of this method is the maverick former Archbishop of Lusaka, Milingo. His popular healing sessions in Zambia in the 1980s caused so much unease in the Vatican that he had to be quickly recalled to Rome. Milingo was quite a handful, even at the Vatican.
As is common knowledge, the good bishop escaped from his handlers, married a Korean woman, then renounced the marriage and returned to Rome, and was recently defrocked.
In the case of Bishop Kizito, what is the real reason for his resignation? Is it the mismanagement of the church’s finances as has been reported? If this is the case, are the things that belong to Caesar that important that the church, famous for its secretive decion-making , can come out quickly and openly to announce that it had accepted the resignation of the bishop and give the reason for the decision? Did he perhaps find serving the church in such senior capacity incompatible with his own moral code? Or was he pushed for a reason we don’t know?
Any of this is, of course, possible. But it is difficult to say because of the cloak of secrecy that usually surrounds such actions.
But even assuming that the bishop resigned because of mismanagement, there is something unacceptable about it, especially here in Rwanda.
Senior clergy in this country have been accused of serious crimes, including genocide. Some have been put on trial. Others have been mentioned but never been tried.
But none of these has had the moral courage to do the honourable thing - step down. None has been asked or forced to resign. Not a single one has been called to Rome to protect the good name of the church.
Instead the church has kept a studious public silence, while furiously pulling its strings of influence behind the scenes. And so this enormous influence was brought to bear and Rwandans know that a bishop charged with genocide was released and returned to his see and resumed his pastoral duties as if he had only returned from vacation.
Others remain unindicted despite heavy suspicions that hang over them.
And now it appears that alleged financial losses to the church are stronger reasons for resignation than multiple capital offences, or repeatedly going against God’s commandments which the bishops have sworn to safeguard.
We have, of course, seen resignations in the church lately. The Irish Church, in particular, has been rocked by resignations. But even these have not been because of the accptance of moral responsibility, or abhorrence of the crimes that priests committed against young children who placed so much trust in them.
The bishops knew of the crimes for a long time and sought to wish them away the usual way – remaining silent and moving the offending priests around. Rather they were pushed to quit so as to limit the embarrassment to the church.
It has been an attempt by the church to reclaim the moral high ground.
In the United States of America, dioceses have had to pay out huge sums of money to victims of priests’ abuses in a bid to keep a lid on the crimes – and, yes, save the church the moral embarrassment of open disclosure. Some dioceses, like the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, were nearly bankrupted by such payments.
We see in all these actions a sort of institutional selfishness rather than a spirited defence of what is morally right, or a rejection of the morally abhorrent. Even this institutional defence is done in so much secrecey that it can hardly inspire confidence.
There is supreme irony in the reported reasons for Bishop Kizito’s resignation. He has fallen because of not paying high regard to the things that belong to Caesar. It is not clear whether by not doing so he paid closer attention to what belongs to God.
That he was not accused of neglecting these probably means that he cannot be faulted on that score. There are other clergy, however, who are gravely wanting in this respect.
The inevitable conclusion is that Caesar’s things are after all more glittering, solid and very, very irresistible, certainly more so than the more illusory, nebulous, formless, if nobler, moral concerns.