We have No Role At All in Electing our Bishops
Sr Sue Rakoczy IHM,Cedara, KZN – All that Raymond Perrier says in his column “Why we have to plan for successors” is true, but a larger issue is at stake. What role do the People of God have in the selection of their bishops? The answer is none.
The process is secretive, known only to a few. Of course, when a bishop reaches his early 70s there is much conversation among the priests of the diocese: “Will it be me? I hope it will not be him.”
Eventually some names are sent to priests (I do know one Sister was asked a while back; maybe there are more) who are asked to give a recommendation and are sworn to secrecy.
The apostolic nuncio reviews the reports and selects three names to go to Rome. A bishop is selected and he is then either parachuted into the diocese from somewhere else or promoted from within the diocese. The People of God are glad, sad or relieved.
However, there are other possible ways. In the early Church the people selected their bishop since they knew their clergy well. When a bishop reaches his early 70s, the Diocesan Pastoral Council should begin a process of helping to find a bishop who will be a good fit for that particular community.
In consultation with lay organisations in the diocese, the council should draft a portrait of the diocese which includes demographics, economic status, and challenges. It should describe the diocese in terms of strengths and weaknesses, including urgent needs. For example, perhaps social justice outreach is strong but the current bishop has not given attention to youth ministry.
This portrait would be given to the metropolitan bishop (or if he is retiring, another metropolitan) who then begins another process of surfacing names.
Because the current process is a “boys’ club only”, it will be a challenge to find another way to surface names and evaluate them.
The current process is another example of the extreme clericalism in the Church. And we know where that has led the Church: read of yet another bishop or cardinal sentenced to prison for sexual abuse.