How a Catholic bishop is chosen
The Catholic Diocese of Las Cruces will install its new bishop, Oscar Cantu, on Thursday, Feb. 28 while El Paso's diocese awaits word on when it will receive its new bishop. El Paso has been without a bishop since Dec. 2011.
In the United States, there are 195 archdioceses/dioceses, 1 Apostolic Exarchate, and 1 Personal Ordinariate. There are currently 11 dioceses without a bishop, including El Paso's diocese.
The ultimate decision in appointing bishops rests with the pope, and he is free
to select anyone he chooses. But how does he know whom to select ?
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 the apostolic nuncio, the Congregation for Bishops and the pope.
It can be a time consuming process, often taking eight months or more to complete. While there are distinctions between the first appointment of a priest as a bishop and a bishop’s later transfer to another diocese or his promotion to
archbishop, the basic outlines of the process remain the same.
The pope’s representative to both the government and to the hierarchy of a given nation; a key person in deciding what names are recommended to the Congregation for Bishops for posible episcopal appointment.
CONGREGATION FOR BISHOPS
A department of the Roman Curia, headed by a Cardinal. The head of the congregation, called the “prefect,” is presently Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Canada. Among the congregation’s responsibilities are moderating all aspects of episcopal appointments; assisting bishops in the correct exercise of their pastoral functions; handling ad limina visits (regular visits to Rome by bishops every five years); and establishing episcopal conferences and reviewing their decrees as required by canon law. Its membership consists of approximately 35 cardinals and archbishops from around the world.
Pastoral and legal head and representative of a diocese.
A territory comprising one archdiocese, called the metropolitan see, and one or more dioceses, called suffragan sees. The Code of Canon Law spells out certain limited obligations and authority that the metropolitan archbishop has with respect to the dioceses within his province. The United States is divided into 33 ecciesiastical provinces.
A list of three candidates for a vacant office, including the office of bishop.
STAGE 1: BISHOPS’ RECOMMENDATIONS
Every bishop may submit to the archbishop of his province the names of priests he thinks would make good bishops. 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. Following a discussion among the bishops at the province meeting, a vote is taken on which names to recommend.
The number of names on this provincial 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).
STAGE 2: THE APOSTOLIC NUNCIO
By overseeing the final list of names forwarded to Rome, the apostolic nuncio
plays a decisive role in the selection process. He not only gathers facts and
information about potential candidates, information about potential candidates,
but also interprets that information for the congregation. Great weight is given
to the nuncio’s recommendations, but it is important to remember that his
“gatekeeper” role, however, does not mean that his recommendations arealways followed.
For Diocesan Bishops
? After receiving the list of candidates forwarded by a province, the apostolic
nuncio conducts his own investigation into the suitability of the candidates.
? A report is requested from the current bishop or the administrator
of a diocese on the conditions and needs of the diocese. If the appointment
is a replacement for a diocesan bishop or archbishop about to retire, consideration will be given to the incumbent’s recommendations. Broad consultation within the diocese is encouraged with regard to the needs of the diocese, but not the names of
• The report is to include the names of individuals in the diocese with whom the Nuncio might consult and how to contact them.
• Previous bishops of the diocese are consulted.
• Bishops of the province are consulted
• The president and vice president of the USCCB are consulted.
• If the vacancy to be filled is an archdiocese, other archbishops
in the United States may be consulted.
? At this point, the nuncio narrows his list and a questionnaire is sent to 20
or 30 people who know each of the candidates for their input.
? All material is collected and reviewed by the nuncio, and a report (approximately
20 pages) is prepared. Three candidates are listed alphabetically – the terna – with the nuncio’s preference noted. All materials are then forwarded to the Congregation for Bishops in Rome.
STAGE 3: CONGREGATION FOR BISHOPS
Once all the documentation from the nuncio is complete and in order, and
the prefect approves, the process moves forward. If the appointment involves a
bishop who is being promoted or transferred, the matter may be handled by
the prefect and the staff. If, however, the appointment is of a priest to the episcopacy, the full congregation is ordinarily involved. 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, choose another
of the candidates on the terna, or even ask that another terna be prepared.
STAGE 4: THE POPE DECIDES
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 be- comes vacant until a new
bishop is appointed.
Source of majority of information: Catholic Diocese of Las Cruces