By Bill Heaney
The Vatican has announced that Pope Francis, pictured above, has accepted a request from Bishop Stephen Robson, the Bishop of Dunkeld, to be able to retire early on health grounds.
From today, the Diocese of Dunkeld is now vacant (sede vacante), and Bishop Robson is now the Emeritus Bishop of Dunkeld.
Since the Holy See is not yet at the point of being able to nominate and appoint a new diocesan Bishop, the task now falls to the College of Consultors, a sub-set of the Council of Priests of the Diocese of Dunkeld, to elect a Diocesan Administrator from among the priests of the diocese who will have responsibility for the day to day running of the diocese. The Consultors have eight days in which to fulfil this requirement.
Bishop Robson said: ““Since I came to the diocese in 2013, priests, people, religious and deacons have all been very good to me, and I have tried to serve them as best I can. However, I am now almost 72 years of age and although three years short of the normal retirement age I am, as you might expect, sad to have come to the conclusion that I no longer have the strength necessary to carry on effectively shepherding the diocese.”
Bishop Robson added: “However, I am happy to say that the diocese is in relatively good shape, and I have every confidence that a good, younger, and fitter priest will be selected by the Pope to carry on the work of pastoring and feeding the People of God by means of the Word of God and the Sacraments. I thank the Holy Father for allowing me to retire, and I wish every blessing and grace on the good priests, deacons, religious and people of Dunkeld.”
Many Scottish Catholics will see Bishop Robson’s resignation as an opportunity to scale down the number of dioceses in Scotland and reduce the number of bishops, especially at this time when the number of practising Catholics has fallen dramatically from 800,000 to a number not recently revealed by the hierarchy.
The Covid pandemic reduced the number of Mass-going Catholics in Scotland even further and there could now be a merger between the diocese of Dunkeld and the Archdiocese of St Andrew’s and Edinburgh just across the Tay, bringing with it economies of scale and access to a wider pool of priests to celebrate Mass.
Scotland’s bishops: This photograph includes Bishop Robson, second right back row.