Following my last week’s column in the bulletin, several people asked me how is it possible to have “bad” shepherds (bishops) in the Church? Isn’t it the Pope who’s responsible for choosing ‘weak’ shepherds? Does anyone advise him on these matters? How can he avoid repeating the mistakes of the past? Does the laity have any input into the selection of bishops?
It’s not easy to answer in a few short sentences. First, remember that the Evil One always seeks to attack those who are trying their best to do good. His evil-doing invariably can affect any and all members of the Church – even her shepherds – at all levels. Human nature, being what it is, is subject to all sorts of temptations. So, while the ultimate decision in appointing priests (to be bishops) rests with the pope, and he is free to select anyone he chooses, you may wonder how does he know whom to select? It can be a rather lengthy process, and somewhere along the line we know that temptations, such as those to ‘favoritism’ and ‘nepotism’ can come into play, despite rigorous efforts to try to “keep the pot clean.”
The process for selecting candidates for the episcopacy normally begins at the diocesan level and works its way through a series of consultations until it reaches Rome. It is a process bound by strict confidentiality and involves a number of important players – the most influential being (1) the Apostolic Nuncio (the pope’s representative to both the government and to the Church hierarchy of a given nation), (2) the Congregation for Bishops and (3) the Pope.
Every bishop may submit to the archbishop of his province the names of priests he thinks would make good bishops. Florida is just one of 34 U.S. provinces whose bishops are united with the Metropolitan Archbishop (of Miami). Prior to the regular province meeting (usually annually), the archbishop distributes to all the bishops of the province the names and ‘curricula vitae’ of priests which have been submitted to him. Here, certain responsible Catholics among the laity may be consulted privately by the bishop about the worthiness of certain priests. Following a discussion among the bishops at the annual province meeting, a vote is taken on which names to recommend. The number of names on this province list may vary. The vote tally, together with the minutes of the meeting, is then forwarded by the archbishop to the Apostolic Nuncio in Washington. The list is also submitted to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Great weight is given to the nuncio’s own recommendations, but it is important to remember, however, that his “gatekeeper” role does not mean that his recommendations are always followed.
Once all the documentation from the nuncio is complete and in order, and the cardinal-prefect of the Congregation approves, the process moves forward. If the appointment involves a bishop who is being promoted or transferred, the matter may more easily be handled by the prefect and the staff. If, however, the appointment is of a priest to the episcopacy, then the full congregation is ordinarily involved. While there are distinctions between the first appointment of a priest as a bishop and a later transfer of an existing bishop to another diocese or his promotion to archbishop, the basic outlines of the process remain the same. A cardinal ‘relator’ is chosen to summarize the documentation and make a report to the full congregation, which generally meets twice a month on Thursdays. After hearing the cardinal relator’s report, the congregation discusses the appointment and then votes. The Congregation may follow the recommendation of the nuncio, chose another of the candidates on the terna (a list of three candidates for a vacant office, including the office of bishop), or even ask that another terna be prepared.
At a private audience with the pope, usually on a Saturday, the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops presents the recommendations of the Congregation to the Holy Father. A few days later, the pope informs the Congregation of his decision. The Congregation then notifies the nuncio, who in turn contacts the candidate and asks if he will accept. If the answer is “yes,” the Vatican is notified, and a date is set for the announcement. It often takes six to eight months—and sometimes longer—from the time a diocese becomes vacant until a bishop is appointed. So, you can see that it’s not just an overnight decision made by the Pope, and that arriving at a selection must take into account many ‘players’ and many layers in the final outcome. Much prayer is needed for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, especially to offset the potential for any interference by Satan. As we are always called upon to pray for good priests, so also should we also pray for good shepherds to guide the flock along the path to salvation.
“Our loss is your gain.” You may have heard that expression many times in life. It comes into play again for our parish staff. We recently heard that Boca Regional Hospital has undergone a major merger, resulting in a restructuring of its administration. Because of her reputation as a great fund raiser and leadership skills, Julie Ott, our Stewardship and Development Director, has accepted a position with the Hospital as Director of Development. While we share in her joy for her new job, we also express a real sense of loss as we part with a valuable employee and friend and sister in Christ. We know that she will do well in her new assignment and thank her for her years of service to our parish. She and her family will continue as parishioners, and she promised to be involved in parish activities as much as she possibly can. May she continue her good work, sharing her God-given gifts with Boca Regional Hospital and the community at large.