At first blush, most people probably assume that the sexual abuse crisis will result in tighter control from Rome over local bishops. The logic is impeccable: The failure of some bishops to do the right thing is a core element of the crisis, and only the pope can really hold bishops accountable.
Yet at the moment, the ecclesiological fallout from the crisis, especially in the United States, seems to cut in the opposite direction -- promoting the autonomy of individual bishops and of the bishops' conference, if not so much theologically and canonically, then psychologically and culturally.
The latest development in this storyline was a massive filing on Monday in the case of O'Bryan vs. the Holy See by California-based attorney Jeffrey Lena, who represents the Vatican in American litigation. The hundreds of pages contained in these documents make for fascinating reading, with much of it pivoting on perhaps the most contentious issue in Catholic ecclesiology over the century and a half since the First Vatican Council: How to define the nature of the relationship between the pope and the bishops.
Read the full column here: The autonomy of bishops, and suing the Vatican