Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Just how does a bishop get appointed anyway?

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Someone asked about how bishops get appointed on another Stella Borealis post. I thought the answer was important enough to make it into its own post.

Q. Am I wrong, but I thought that the local Church does have some* input into the selection of bishop and that the Holy Father in consult with the outgoing bishop and nuncio vets the options.

*Not perhaps an election of direct and universal suffrage, but since when has revealed truth been subject to majoritarianism, and given the state of contemporary politics, thank God.


A. I'm no expert, but I think that the local ordinary (bishop) and the provincial archbishop submit names to the papal nuncio, the Pope's diplomatic representative in Washington, D.C. I suspect he gets recommendations from other bishops also. And one of his jobs is to keep tabs on the American Church so the nuncio probably develops his own list through other contacts, too.

The Archbishop of St Paul and Minneapolis is the provincial archbishop of the province that includes Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota). The archbishop has no authority over the other bishops; he is essentially a communications node for the people in the Vatican. He also leads the delegation when the province goes to Rome for their ad limina visits, their every five years personal report to the Pope on the state of their dioceses.

Each individual bishop is responsible directly to the Pope, and to God, of course. I would imagine that if there is a death in a diocese, an auxiliary bishop or a vicar general might also submit names of candidates.

How else would Father Peter Christiansen of Nativity parish in St Paul have been appointed as Bishop of Superior? Or Auxiliary Bishop Frederick Campbell of St Paul-Minneapolis become Bishop of Columbus, OH.

So the nuncio culls the list down to three names and forwards it to the Pope. No doubt this takes a considerable amount of time.

The nuncio's list is referred to the Vatican Congregation for Bishops where they do their own investigations. As they monitor bishops all over world, they probably have their own sources and no doubt promote others or quash some names from the list.

I've heard that "people who know people", i.e. priests who attended the North American College in Rome, the Harvard/M.I.T./Stanford of the Church, and others, get to know people in the Congregation for Bishops and attempt to get their views heard at this point. "You can't want to appoint HIM, can you?" Or, "Father Soandso would make a wonderful bishop!"

They are busy in the Congregation for Bishops. Generally a couple dozen bishops from around the world are appointed each month.

Then it goes to the Pope. Mind you, this "vetting" process may take as long as a year or more. The Vatican is rarely in a hurry.

The Pope probably has suspicions about the recommendations he receives -- especially about appointments in his own country, or countries with which he is familiar. I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't inkle a name or two to trusted sources to get other reactions.

The church has changed. In the past it was almost certain that the Pope's first choice would accept the position when offered to him. An unknown health condition was almost always the reason for a refusal.

Recently, I have been told, it has become more common that priests and bishops are refusing appointments. This is making it much more difficult to fill vacancies. Right now in the U.S. there are seven vacancies, one going back to June of last year.

I speculate that refusals might be related to the size of the diocese offered, the problems facing it, or the possibility of a "nicer opening" becoming available in the near future.

When the candidate has accepted the appointment in the telephone call from the nuncio, then it is announced a week or so later. The Pope still might change his mind at this point. Not a democracy, no suffrage, more like a republic with unelected somewhat democratic representatives at work.

With the Holy Spirit looking over their shoulders all the time. But of course, not all are listening.
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