Sunday, December 28, 2008

Monsignor Cappo, Fisher of Votes

Recently, Joshua of Psallite Sapienter made the following comment on Australia Incognita:
However - it is notorious that Adelaide is planning for a near-priestless future, with only FIVE parishes by 2020 could you believe it, and Mgr Cappo, that full-time politician but part-time minister of religion, actively discouraging priests once retired (even if hale and hearty) from even trying to celebrate public Masses: since the sooner people get used to far fewer opportunities to get to church the better!

My spies report all this, and that many good priests are at the least underutilized in that Archdiocese because they do not fit with its dominant liberal paradigm.

There is no doubt about it; the vocations crisis in this town is grave indeed, and its causes and potential remedies is a topic which I shall be examining in some depth over the coming days.

However, Joshua’s comment made me think about the strange situation of our Vicar General and Cathedral Administrator, Monsignor David Cappo.

Adelaide Central Markets, a stone’s throw from St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral, is one of the homes of Cappo Bros Seafood from whence hails, originally, the Vicar General. Small wonder then, that this man should heed the call to become a fisher of men. The Archdiocese of Adelaide provides an interesting biographical sketch:

Monsignor David Cappo AO was appointed Vicar-General in 2000 and is also the administrator of St Francis Xavier's Cathedral. Parish priest of Hectorville from 1996-2000, he is a former director of Pastoral Formation at St Francis Xavier Seminary and was appointed a Prelate of Honour with the title of Monsignor by Pope John Paul II in 2002. He was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Adelaide by Archbishop James Gleeson on March 3, 1984. A director of the national depression initiative beyondblue, Monsignor Cappo is Vice-Chair of the Australian Social Inclusion Board and Independent Commissioner for Social Inclusion Board SA and an Independent Adviser for the Executive Committee of State Cabinet. He is a former Executive Officer of the National Committee for Professional Standards of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference and a former national director of the Australian Catholic Social Welfare Commission in Canberra.

The emphases are mine. The first point I would like to make (and which I will follow up over the next few days) is that as a former staff member of Adelaide’s now-defunct seminary, Monsignor Cappo seems to have some experience in the “graceful management of decline”.

Secondly, as Joshua noted, Mgr Cappo, as well as being the Vicar General, and Administrator of the Cathedral, has a large number of extra-curricular activities on his resume. The Social Inclusion Board's website elaborates on his activities in the secular realm:

A qualified social worker, Monsignor Cappo is Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Adelaide – a role that also makes him deputy to the Archbishop. When Premier Mike Rann came to power in 2002, he established the State’s first Social Inclusion Board and appointed Monsignor Cappo as Chair – a role he continues to hold. In May 2006, Monsignor was appointed Commissioner for Social Inclusion to further strengthen his ability to influence and implement social policy across the South Australian Government. Through these roles, he has spearheaded social policy reform for the State to address a range of pressing social issues including school retention, homelessness, youth offending and mental health.

Monsignor Cappo was made an Officer in the Order of Australia – the nation’s second-highest honour – in the 2007 Australia Day Honours. He also has recently been appointed vice-Chair of the Australian Social Inclusion Board set up by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Monsignor Cappo is an Independent Adviser for the Executive Committee of State Cabinet and also is a member of the Economic Development Board of South Australia. A former National Director of the Australian Catholic Social Welfare Commission, he has – and continues to make – major contributions to national social policy development.

Again, the emphases are mine. The SA Department of Premier and Cabinet and the Social Inclusion Board both have further details of Monsignor Cappo’s role, and I do not intend to recite them here. Suffice it to say that:

  • Monsignor Cappo sits as an advisor in the highest councils of the South Australian government;
  • this is specifically intended to strengthen his “ability to influence and implement social policy” (see the SIB biographical note reproduced above), and
  • this was the subject of comment from the very beginning by Catholic members of the opposition and political and legal academics.

Why does all this matter?

It matters for several reasons.

First, because of Canon 285 of the Codex Iuris Canonici:

§ 3. Officia publica, quae participationem in exercitio civilis potestatis secumferunt, clerici asssumere vetantur.

§ 3. Clerics are forbidden to assume public offices which entail a participation in the exercise of civil power.

The canonical sources that I have consulted are unanimous; the Bishop cannot dispense from the requirements of this Canon, and assumption of public offices which entail a participation in the exercise of civil power requires dispensation from the Holy Father himself. Dr Edward N Peters, JD, JCD, is quite clear on the point, drawing the following conclusions:

  • The legislative history of this norm makes obvious the Legislator's intent to eliminiate any exceptions to this rule. See Peters, Incrementa in Progressu at 234
  • Unlike those situations where a priest might be given permission to serve as an agent for lay persons or as co-signer of a loan, or to hold office in unions or political parties (see 1983 CIC 285.4 and 287.2), there is no provision in Canon 285 for bishops to grant a priest permission to hold governmental office.
  • the only theory by which [Monsignor Cappo] might have been given episcopal permission to seek … office would be in virtue of a dispensation from disciplinary law under 1983 CIC 87 and 90. The standard canonical authors recognize such a possibility, but when commenting specifically on the prohibition against priests holding major governmental office, they stress how low is the likelihood that such permission would ever "contribute to the spiritual good" of those under a bishop's care.

The second reason is alluded to in the immediately preceding paragraph. Advising the government in relation to social inclusion / justice issues is particularly suited to the lay state, and to the expertise of laymen. Yet again, liberals clericalize the laity and laicize the clergy.

Is there no qualitfied Catholic layman in South Australia competent to do this job (bearing in mind it is specifically intended by the government that Monsignor Cappo “influence and implement” social policy [that sounds like “being a politician” to me]. Perhaps the ALP could have pre-selected a competent social worker, rather than a heap of superannuated time-serving union flunkies.

As we have an undoubted vocations crisis, would not Monsignor Cappo’s undoubted talents be better employed in the Confessional and at the Altar, and as (say) part time Chaplain to the Catholic day and emergency accommodation centres in the city, and the prisons (roles which are the undoubted preserve of the Sacred Priesthood)?

Third, unlike Woolongong (from whence hails Archbishop Wilson), where the ALP is the only show in town, it is conceivable that the Liberal Party will return to government in South Australia in either 2010 or 2014. One can only pray that the whole episode has not given the conservatives a taste for old-time “no popery” politics and legislation.

Fourth, with Monsignor Cappo at the helm, the government’s failings in social inclusion become the failings of the Church, without the teachings of the Church becoming, or even necessarily influencing, the values of the government. Enough said.

Fifth, as is distinctly possible, if the SA Labor Party (either institutionally, or by a majority of its elected members) decides to follow their Victorian bretheren down the path of abortion law “reform” the Church is placed in an invidious position indeed. One prays that Monsignor Cappo will have the courage to stand in the Cathedral pulpit, TV cameras rolling and state with the necessary thunderous firmness, that the following list of his cabinet colleagues are supporting an intrinsic evil, and to vote for them is gravely sinful?

So, over the last few years, a situation has been allowed to develop which:

  • is gravely contrary to the law of the Church;
  • contributes to the vocations crisis and the lack of leadership in the Archdiocese (quite frankly, a certain bald man is wearing too many hats);
  • is prudentially foolish, in that it has laid a minefield of potential pitfalls for the Church.

At what price has this been bought from the Church? That is not to imply corruption or dishonesty; it is simply to ask what benefit Holy Mother Church has received for its sacrifice of its law and better judgment.

I am serious. If anyone at Wakefield Street (or West Terrace, for that matter) is reading this, please enlighten me. Do it anonymously if you want. I would like to know.

Sunday in the Octave of the Nativity, 2008.
Commemmoration of the Holy Innocents.


  1. I've met Fr Cappo a few times. He seems to be a nice guy. I've often wondered though, what he is doing in politics.

    I like how you related that the governments failings become the churches failings with Cappo in charge.

    Lets hope when the abortion issue does come up he speaks forcefully with the mind of the church.

  2. Monsignor Cappo is a nice guy. I just think he should stick to being a priest.

  3. Has any of the powers that be addressed the apparently incongruity of the good priest's unusual position, especially considering the relevant canons? Surely this is a potential or actual cause of scandal.

  4. Rochester,

    You say that the situation

    "is prudentially foolish ..."


    "contributes to the vocations crisis ..."

    Agreed, and your observation about the laicisation of the clergy and vice versa was spot on.

    "is gravely contrary to the law of the Church"

    But Msgr. Cappo will object that his role is independent and advisory and that he has no executive powers(, the big-noting at his Board Member profile notwithstanding.

    Anyway, none of this will be a problem once Australia becomes a Catholic Confessional State!

    The situation is fascinating, though. Has this been in the S.A. media at all? Have the Greens had any outbursts of public hysteria over this?

  5. Your Eminence,

    It's not his position on the Social Inclusion Board that is the problem, it's his position as a quasi-member of the Executive Committee of the Cabinet that poses the difficulties.

    The Governor is "independent"; his role is generally "advisory", but he still "exercises civil power".

    Anyone who sits in on Cabinet, which generally acts on a consensus/solidarity principle, and advises its members, is a party to the exercise of civil power.

    And here, we have all the disadvantages of a confessional state, with none of the advantages (we've still got abortion on demand, but the Church is made to look responsible for the plight of the homeless).

  6. The whole question of the incongruity of Monsignor Cappo's position has been discussed in "Church circles" but there has been almost complete silence in the media.

    There is one Green in State Parliament, and he was elected after Monsignor Cappo's appointment to Cabinet; so he didn't kick up a fuss about the status quo on this one.

    Oh, and to update my last comment, the criterion in Can 285 is "entails participation in the exercise of civil power" - you don't need to actually exercise executive power personally, to particpate in its exercise.