Bishop John McAreavey's resignation was a `highly unusual' break from convention

Dr John McAreavey is the first northern bishop - and the sixth on the island - to tender a resignation over their handling of clerical sex abuse. Picture by Cliff Donaldson

THE surprise announcement which came on Thursday evening from Bishop John McAreavey was highly unusual and a break from the convention of the Catholic Church.

Usually the resignation is tendered directly to the Pope, with the Vatican making the announcement at noon `Rome time' and a simultaneous statement issued from the priest's own diocese.

However, the Vatican has been silent since the lawyer's statement was issued.

Michael Kelly, Irish Catholic editor, said the break from convention with the bishop issuing a statement through his personal solicitor, Arthur J Downey and Company, was "highly unusual".

"I was surprised not to see it in the Vatican bulletin this morning that the Pope had accepted the resignation," he said.

He said, according to the Vatican, Pope Francis is on Lenten spiritual exercises, and a statement is likely in the "next few days".

In the end, the speed of the resignation caught everybody by surprise.

Bishop McAreavery's resignation was tendered under Canon 401 Paragraph 2: `A diocesan bishop who has become less able to fulfil his office because of ill health or some other grave cause is earnestly requested to present his resignation from office.'

"It's quite unprecedented, particularly given the fact it appeared up until yesterday afternoon he was intent on staying on," Mr Kelly said.

"The sequencing all happened very, very quickly in the end.

"... I think particularly two things led to it, the fact that Bishop McAreavey lost the confidence of the people of the diocese and then of the priests in recent weeks.

"No one can stay on in those circumstances. We have had situation where bishops have tried to stay and it just delays the inevitable."

Mr Kelly said the fall of Bishop McAreavey has been shocking to most observers.

"In some ways it is hugely sad. Few bishops have done more than John McAreavey to reach out to victims to make sure their pastoral needs are taken care of," he said.

"The National Board for Safeguarding Children singled him out for a huge amount of praise for his outreach work in their review of the diocese.

"Ultimately were his failures a resigning matter - debatable, but what's not debatable is when you lose the confidence of the people and the confidence of the priests you can't lead a diocese."

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