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How a bishop is named to a diocese PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 11 June 2007 10:57
As the people of the Diocese of Pembroke learned that their bishop had been appointed Archbishop of Edmonton, Alberta, many wondered how a new bishop would be chosen.

Who chooses a new bishop? The short answer is “The Holy Spirit.” Christ has not abandoned his Church, and continues to guide and govern her through the Holy Spirit. However, the Holy Spirit uses human beings to accomplish this. Another correct answer is, “the Pope.”

While it is true that the Pope can appoint any Catholic priest to be a bishop, the actual process usually involves many people. The process consists of two parts, first identifying priests with the necessary qualities, and, secondly, selecting the one who best fills a specific vacancy. “We try to find the saint who fits the niche,” quipped Archbishop Pio Laghi, who once served as the Apostolic Delegate to the United States.

Identifying the right priests

The process of identifying priests with the qualities desired in a bishop is an ongoing process, even when there are no vacancies. The bishops of a conference (the Catholic Church in Canada is divided into four conferences, West, Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic) give their archbishop the names of priests they think would make good bishops. The Diocese of Pembroke belongs to the Ontario Conference. There are three archbishops in the Ontario Conference, Ottawa, Toronto and Kingston. Our archbishop is Marcel Gervais, Archbishop of Ottawa. The names of candidates passed on by a Bishop are usually from his current diocese or from one where he has served, since these are the priests he knows best.

The qualities of a bishop

The Church is very explicit about the qualities that must be present in a candidate to the episcopacy. He must be “a good pastor of souls and teacher of the Faith.” The Church examines whether the candidates “enjoy a good reputation; whether they are of irreproachable morality; whether they are endowed with right judgment and prudence; whether they are even-tempered and of stable character; whether they firmly hold the orthodox Faith; whether they are devoted to the Apostolic See and faithful to the Magisterium of the church; whether they have a thorough knowledge of dogmatic and moral theology and canon law; whether they are outstanding for their piety, their spirit of sacrifice and their pastoral zeal; whether they have an aptitude for governing.”

Consideration is also given to “intellectual qualities, studies completed, social sense, spirit of dialogue and cooperation, openness to the signs of the times, praise-worthy impartiality, family background, health, age and inherited characteristics.”

The conference list

Periodically, the bishops of an area meet under the chairmanship of their archbishop to consider the names of priests who are possible candidates for the episcopacy. At this meeting, a list of candidates for the episcopacy is assembled, voted on and forwarded to the Apostolic Nuncio. While the Nuncio could nominate for bishop someone not from this pool of candidates, and the Pope could appoint any priest he wanted, most appointments come from these lists.

When a diocese becomes vacant, the second part of the process gets underway, the search for the specific person who will fill a specific vacancy.

The Apostolic Nuncio

A nuncio represents the Holy Father to both a country’s civil government (as ambassador) and the Catholic Church in that country. The Most Rev. Luigi Ventura, originally from Italy, has been the Apostolic Nuncio to Canada since June 22, 2001.

When vacancies occur in Canadian dioceses and a diocesan ordinary (bishop) is being chosen (as opposed to an auxiliary bishop), the nuncio chooses several candidates to suggest to Rome from among the names which have been submitted. The nuncio’s recommendations to Rome are based on his own extensive investigation of the needs of the diocese and each candidate’s suitability for that particular diocese. For example, the Diocese of Pembroke is a small rural diocese that includes parts of both Ontario and Quebec. There are a few larger populated centres. The diocese presents the same faith and personnel challenges as a larger diocese.

During his investigation the nuncio sends a confidential questionnaire on the candidate to people who know him. The questions address the physical, intellectual, moral, spiritual, social, and priestly characteristics that one would hope for in a bishop. Those questioned include priests, religious and laity. Some are suggested by the candidate priest’s diocesan bishop, others are diocesan officials or people the nuncio has gotten to know personally. The laity consulted tends to be officers in diocesan lay organizations or on diocesan advisory committees. Each is told to answer the questions without consulting others. They cannot tell anyone, especially the candidate, that they have received the questionnaire.

Nuncio’s report

After the nuncio has examined the responses to the questionnaires, he prepares the “terna,” a list of three candidates, and writes a report extracting and synthesizing the content of the consultation and giving his own judgment. The “terna” and the report are sent to the Congregation for Bishops in Rome, and no bishop sees them unless he is a member of that congregation. The report gives a description of the diocese, describes the process the Nuncio went through in selecting the candidates, describes the candidates and gives the nuncio’s recommendations.

Congregation for Bishops

When the Nuncio’s report arrives at the Congregation for Bishops, the members discuss the appointment under the Chairmanship of the Prefect; The Congregation then votes on the candidates and attaches its own recommendations to the report.

The Pope

The final step in the appointment process takes place when the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops presents the nuncio’s, the Congregation’s, and his own recommendations to the Pope in a private audience. The prefect summarizes the discussions of the Congregation and reports any dissenting opinions. The Pope may ask for more information about the candidates, or may even ask for other candidates to be proposed. In the end however, the Pope, led by the Holy Spirit, makes the appointment.

Notification and consent

After the Pope makes his decision, the Nuncio is notified, who then approaches the nominee and asks if he will accept the appointment. When the Candidate accepts, Rome is notified and a date is set for the announcement. Although the process normally takes four to eight months, it can be much shorter or much longer. The Diocese of Pembroke has, in the past, waited patiently for more than a year while the Holy Spirit leads the church to the best bishop possible—the “saint who fits the niche.”

In the mean time

When Bishop Richard Smith was transferred he continued to function as the Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese. He continued to fulfill the responsibilities of a diocesan bishop but with care not to introduce any innovation or to prejudice any aspect of the governance of the diocese for his successor, in accord with Canons 427 and 428. With the announcement that Bishop Smith was elected Archbishop of Edmonton those who were appointed by the bishop ceased to be Vicar General and Episcopal Vicar. However they continued to assist the bishop in the governance of the diocese and especially in his care for the presbyterate of the diocese.

It was no longer possible for the bishop to make any major new decisions for the diocese, for example, regarding the status of parishes or buildings and remodeling projects. Decisions already made and directives already given remained in force.

After the Bishop took possession of the Archdiocese of Edmonton, the College of Consultors assumed the administration of the diocese and elected a Diocesan Administrator (Canons 419 and 421). Upon his election, the Diocesan Administrator assumes the administration of the diocese until a new bishop is installed or takes possession of the diocese (Canon 430). The Presbyteral (Priests’) Council lapses until the Eighth Bishop of Pembroke reconvenes it (Canon 501).

Until his installation in the Archdiocese of Edmonton, Bishop Richard Smith was mentioned in the usual way during the Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass. After his installation on May 1st, the prayer for him as diocesan bishop was suppressed in the Eucharistic Prayer, and meanwhile, until the new bishop of this diocese is appointed, we pray for the Diocesan Administrator in the Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass. May the Holy Spirit be active in the process of selecting our new bishop. May he be a man of deep faith, integrity, fidelity and compassion. Let’s pray daily!

Prayer for the election of our new bishop

Almighty God, giver of every good gift: Look graciously on your Church, and so guide the minds of those who shall choose the new Bishop for this Diocese of Pembroke, that we may receive a faithful pastor, who will care for your people and equip us for our ministries. We ask this through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.

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Home News and Events Ecclesia Archives: 2006(non-PDF)