Retired Sydney Bishop Geoffrey Robinson is continuing his US tour despite accusations that his positions are "not in keeping with the Church" and that he is spreading "misinformation" about the Church's efforts to combat abuse.
The Los Angeles Times reports four of California's leading Catholic bishops, including Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, have taken the extraordinary step of urging the Australian bishop to cancel a month long tour of the United States to promote his controversial new book about clergy sexual abuse.
But Bishop Robinson, 70, said he has no intention of canceling any part of a trip that began May 16 in Philadelphia and brings him to California this week.
"I'm not looking for any confrontation," Robinson said in a telephone interview. "I'm saying, 'Let's start from abuse and follow that where it leads. If we find that obligatory celibacy has contributed to abuse, we must put that on the table.' "
Robinson's sponsors - led by the Catholic reform group Voice of the Faithful - say his tour will press ahead despite what they believe is a campaign to silence him.
"Is this the way American bishops respond to Pope Benedict's call to do everything possible to heal the Church?" asked Dan Bartley, president of Voice of the Faithful, which pushes for doctrinal change in the Church.
"In light of the pope's comments, we believe that blocking an open and honest discussion about what caused the crisis is appalling."
Robinson said he came to the "unshakable conviction" that the Church needed to undergo "profound and enduring change," particularly as it related to issues of power and sex.
He openly questioned its monopoly on definitive truth. And he criticised Benedict and his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, saying their unwillingness to reexamine obligatory celibacy for priests has undercut the Church's credibility.
Robinson said he ultimately concluded that he could not continue to serve as a bishop of a Church that left him with such "profound reservations." He resigned and began to write his book, which was published last year.
Spokesmen for the California dioceses said the Church cannot stop Robinson from speaking, particularly at secular sites. In California, he will give talks at two universities, a hotel and a community centre.
The dioceses said they are not trying to silence Robinson, who notified each of his plans, but to guard against what they believe is his misinformation.
"It's not circle the wagons," said Tod M. Tamberg, a spokesman for Cardinal Mahony.
"If Bishop Robinson knew what we were doing to protect kids in this archdiocese, he would probably say that's great. The controversy over his theological positions should not be allowed to obscure the lay oversight and openness that are cornerstones of our child-protection efforts."
But Robinson remains undaunted.
"I was invited to speak. I said I would," he replied. "I intend to keep to that. There are questions on people's minds that will not simply go away."
Meanwhile, the Seattle Times reports Seattle Archbishop Alex Brunett was among several American bishops who sent a letter asking Robinson not to appear. A cardinal at the Vatican requested he cancel his trip.
In Seattle, Robinson's public appearance last week at Roosevelt High School was hosted by Call to Action Western Washington, an organisation of lay Catholics advocating reforms such as ordaining women and married people.
Robinson's book, "Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaiming the Spirit of Jesus," fit into many of the group's goals, said co-chair Betty Hill.
Call to Action had requested an ad in the Catholic Northwest Progress, the archdiocesan newspaper, to publicise Robinson's visit. That request was denied.
"I think it's a shame that [a bishop] of the Catholic Church cannot be welcomed into our diocese simply because the message he has to give is one that they don't want to hear," said retired King County Superior Court Judge Terrence Carroll.
Carroll served as chairman of a Seattle Archdiocese board that reviewed the cases of 13 priests accused of sexual abuse, and has subsequently been critical of the archdiocese for not releasing files related to abuse, among other things.
Carroll, who is not a member of Call to Action, hosted a lunch for Robinson.
"The clergy abuse issue brought front and centre for many Catholics the whole issue of the structure of the Church hierarchy and the various parts of the faith that need to be open for discussion beyond the handling of this specific issue," Carroll said. "All of these things need to be talked about. That's all [Robinson] is asking to do."
Seattle Archdiocese spokesman Greg Magnoni said he was unaware of letters between Call to Action and Brunett about a meeting of the two bishops. He said the archdiocesan newspaper turned down the group's request for an ad because there was no official church agency that sponsored the event.
"I don't think anybody's opposed to open discussion," Magnoni said. But Robinson has "assumed positions that are problematic" because they are not in keeping with the Church.
Leading California Catholics urge Australian bishop to cancel tour promoting book on clergy sexual abuse (Los Angeles Times, 7/6/08)
Australian bishop calls on Catholic Church to take a serious look at sensitive issues (Seattle Times, 7/6/08)
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