BY STAFF REPORTER
A RETIRED Australian bishop has been forced to cancel most of his book tour of America after 11 bishops refused to give him permission to speak in their dioceses.
Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, retired auxiliary bishop of Sydney and former head of the Australian bishops' panel investigating clerical sexual abuse, said he stood by his book — a critique of authoritarian and sexual abuses in the Church — but did not want a battle with America's bishops.
He said: "A fight between me and the [American] bishops is really something I'm not interested in."
But he questioned whether the American bishops had read his book, Confronting Power and Sex in the Catholic Church: Reclaim ing the Spirit of Jesus, adding: "I've written about what I believe."
In a telephone interview from New Jersey, a stop on his book tour of America and Canada, he also commented on a statement from the Australian bishops' conference expressing concern about doctrinal problems in the book.
Bishop Robinson said the Australian bishops "did what they felt they had to do and I have no problem with that".
Before he left Australia Bishop Robinson sent a letter notifying several American bishops of his speaking engagements in their dioceses. His tour was to run from May 16 to June 12 and was to include stops in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Ontario, Ohio, Washington and California.
In response to Bishop Robinson's letter Bishop Tod Brown of Orange diocese, California, asked Bishop Robinson to cancel his visit.
He said: "Lest your visit be a source of disunity and a cause for confusion among the faithful of our local Church of Orange, I want you to know that you do not have my permission to speak in the Diocese of Orange, and I ask you to cancel your speaking engagement here."
Bishop Brown said the reason he was unable to accept Bishop Robinson was that Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, and 10 other American bishops, including Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, had asked Bishop Robinson to cancel his tour. Bishop Brown also mentioned the Australian bishops' "notice of concern" about the book.
Cardinal Mahony's letter, as well as the letter from the 10 other bishops, was dated May 9 and reflected concerns similar to those listed in Bishop Brown's letter.
Meanwhile, the Australian bishops' statement lauded Bishop Robinson's "help and healing" for victims of clerical sexual abuse and his work in forging strong protocols of professional standards for the Australian Church.
However, the bishops said there were "doctrinal difficulties" that undermined the ability of the Catholic Church to teach the truth "authoritatively", casting doubt on Bishop Robinson's certainty about the "knowledge and authority of Christ himself'. Responding to the Australian bishops, Marist Fr Michael Whelan, director of the Aquinas Academy in Sydney, Australia, said: "We have a right to know precisely what is doctrinally unsound with what Bishop Robinson has written and why it is unsound.
"It is a serious book and it demands a serious response," Fr Whelan added in a statement posted on the Aquinas Academy website.
The "imprecision and vagueness" in the bishops' "bland and defensive" statement, Fr Whelan said, is a "sad and discouraging reflection on the leadership of the Catholic Church in Australia, likely to confirm those who are unlikely to read Bishop Robinson's book and alienate those who fmd it worth reading".