Monday, January 4, 2010

Search for a new bishop shrouded in secrecy

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There have been quite a few episcopal appointments in the area in recent years.


2002 -- Fr. Donald Kettler of Sioux Falls became Bishop of Fairbanks, Alaska.
2004 -- Bishop Raymond Burke of La Crosse became Archbishop of St. Louis and then in 2008 went to Rome
2004 -- Bishop Robert Carlson (formerly an Auxiliary in St. Paul-Minneapolis) left Sioux Falls for Saginaw and then went as Archbishop to St. Louis in 2008
2004 -- Auxiliary Bishop Jerome Listecki replaced Bishop Burke in La Crosse, coming from Chicago, and then today replaced Archbishop Tim Dolan, now in New York, in Milwaukee
2004 -- Bishop Daniel Di Nardo of Sioux City headed off to Galveston-Houston as Archbishop and soon thereafter as Cardinal
2006 -- Fr. Ralph Nickless came from Denver to fill the vacancy in Sioux City as Bishop
2006 -- Fr. Paul Swain came from Madison to fill the vacancy as Bishop of Sioux Falls that had been overlooked because of the simliarity of names, it is thought.
2007 -- Fr. Michael Hoeppner went from Winona to Crookston to fill the vacancy caused by the retirement of Bishop Victor Balke.
2007 -- Fr. Peter Christensen went from Nativity Parish in St. Paul to Superior to fill the vacancy caused by the retirement of Bishop Raphael Fliss.

2008 -- Bishop John Nienstedt, originally from Detroit, came to St. Paul Minneapolis from New Ulm as Coadjutor Archbishop. He succeeded in 2009
2008 -- Fr. John LeVoir went from St Paul Minneapolis to New Ulm to fill the vacancy caused by the departure of Archbishop Nienstedt.
2008 --Auxiliary Bishop Richard Pates in St. Paul Minneapolis went to Des Moines as Bishop
2008 --Auxiliary Bishop John Quinn came from Detroit to Winona to fill the vacancy caused by the retirement of Bishop Bernard Harrington.
2009 -- Fr. Lee Piche' became the Auxiliary Bishop in St. Paul Minneapolis
2009 -- Bishop Dennis Schnurr of Duluth went to Cincinnati as Coadjutor Archbishop and just recently succeeded.
2009 -- Fr. Paul Sirba just became Bishop of Duluth.

So where do all these bishops come from? How do they decide in Rome who gets to be a bishop and who gets moved or promoted? The Diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania, is now awaiting the appointment of a successor to their bishop who retired for health reasons. The newspaper there has printed an informative article on the appointment process.


Four months after Bishop Joseph F. Martino resigned as head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Scranton, the search for his successor is well under way. But the exact progress of the search is unclear because the timeline for selecting a bishop is not fixed and the process is largely kept secret.

A spokesman for the diocese declined to specify the status of the process or to say whether the diocese's administrators have submitted a report on the condition and needs of the diocese to the Vatican's ambassador, or apostolic nuncio, in Washington, D.C. - an early step in the process of appointing any diocesan bishop.

In a written statement, spokesman William Genello said, "The process to select a new bishop typically includes inquiries by the papal nuncio to people in the diocese, regarding conditions in the diocese and potential candidates. This is confidential. It is not known who might have been contacted."

The clearest timeline for the selection process was outlined by Cardinal Justin Rigali, the apostolic administrator of the diocese who also sits on a key Vatican council that helps select bishops, on the day that Bishop Martino's resignation was accepted by the Vatican.

"I would hope - and it is only my hope - I would hope that within six months we would have a bishop," he said during an Aug. 31 press conference. "Maybe sooner, maybe it will take longer."

If the selection process takes six months, which would fall around the end of February, the appointment of Martino's successor will have taken far less time than many appointments of U.S. bishops. The four vacant sees most recently filled in the U.S. waited an average of a year to receive a new leader.

The process for selecting a bishop begins before a see is vacant. During periodic meetings, the bishops in each province vote on well-regarded priests to add to a list of potential bishops to be sent to the nuncio. Scranton is part of a statewide province whose metropolitan is Rigali, the head of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

Once a bishop resigns, is appointed elsewhere, or reaches the retirement age of 75, the nuncio, currently Archbishop Pietro Sambi, requests a report from the leader of the diocese about its condition, needs and challenges. The nuncio also does his own investigation into the needs of the diocese and suitable candidates to lead it. He consults past bishops of the diocese, other bishops in the province and around the country, and the metropolitan. He may also consult priests and lay members of the diocese.

Once he narrows the list to a handful of candidates, the nuncio sends confidential questionnaires to people who know the candidates, including priests, religious and well-respected laity. Those who receive the questionnaire are bound by the code of papal secrecy: they cannot tell anyone that they have received the letters or what they write in response.

The nuncio then gathers the information and writes a report including a list of three candidates, a terna, and notes his preference, which he sends to the Congregation for Bishops at the Vatican, the body of about 30 cardinals, including Rigali, that oversees the selection process.

An English-speaking cardinal assigned to review the Scranton position studies the file and makes a recommendation to the body of cardinals at one of its twice-monthly meetings. The congregation then votes for its preferred choice, which may not be the same as that selected by the nuncio or the presenting cardinal, or it may ask for more information or to be given a new terna.

Once the congregation agrees on its choice, that information is passed on to the pope during a Saturday meeting with the head, or prefect, of the congregation. The pope can follow the council's recommendation or, in a rare case, make a different decision. He is ultimately responsible for selecting the bishop. The Citizens' Voice


In further musing on the subject of the appointment of bishops, I am struck by the fact that there is indeed another factor in the nominations. Some cardinals, understandably with lots of connections in Rome, have a reputation as heads of "bishop factories" and are able to get deserving priests and bishops from their archdiocese or province (group of dioceses which they head) appointed as bishops in other parts of the country. Right now Cardinals Mahony of Los Angeles, Rigali of Philadelphia and Retired Cardinal Maida of Detroit are known for this. Cardinal Law of Boston was known for it also.


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