Chosen men

I’m not sure how bishops are chosen. We don’t need to know, it appears. Or at least nobody wants to make us any the wiser. We’re not to worry our little heads about it. Leave that to the big boys to work out. Over the years, all the same, we’ve kept our eyes open. So we have a general gist of how it happens, though deep down it’s one of those mysteries, like the Trinity, that no one expects to get their head around.
Usually priests are asked to submit names of future possible bishops every few years. This is, of course, no business of ‘the laity’, as we describe the people kneeling in the pews and paying the collections. Then the papal nuncio susses out the names. Anyone who might be thought to be for married priests or against Humanae Vitae (the encyclical banning artificial contraception) or open to the possibility of women priests (even in the next millennium) is ruled out straightaway. The red card, period. Then the papal nuncio works his way through the rest. A wag once said that a line is then drawn through the name of anyone with any vision or charisma but that may not be an entirely serious comment, though understandable as we know.
Eventually the list is cut down to three, in order of priority and the other bishops are asked to give an opinion. In time the list makes it to Rome, where the Congregation for the appointment of bishops discusses the options, chooses one and makes a recommendation to the pope who makes the appointment. Sometimes the pope tears up the list and makes his own appointment.
Apparently this is what happened recently when the candidate slated for Chicago was rejected by Pope Francis, who chose Blase Cupich instead, someone like himself : open-minded, devoted to the poor and keen on the Second Vatican Council.
Imagine if the Pope did the same in a diocese in Ireland. Imagine if instead of an obvious choice for, say, the mythical diocese of Kilfonura, he decided to appoint a Blase Cupich bishop, someone open-minded, devoted to the poor and keen on the Second Vatican Council.
Suppose, like Cupich, Bishop Robert (let’s call him) was head-hunted by Francis who seems to be tiring of the official template that produces a succession of episcopal clones from the Benedict and John Paul era and wants bishops with a bit more imagination and to be a bit more clued in to what’s happening in the world. Those who are good at making out the writing on the wall. And prepared to make a few obvious decisions.
Imagine what Bishop Robert would say to the priests and people of Kilfonura, when he’d address them after his ordination.
Usually, after ordinations, the first comments from a new bishop are unexciting, predictable and invariably dull. Surrounded by his fellow-bishops and his clergy, a new bishop doesn’t usually lay out his priorities, still less indicate that he’s going to break new ground. Usually his speech is made up of a few formulaic utterances about the pope, the contribution of his predecessor (merited or unmerited), the loyalty of his priests (real or imagined), the support he has already received from ‘the laity’ and a few semi-emotional comments about his deceased parents.
Bishop Robert ‘s take would be different. He would do in his diocese, he would tell the packed congregation, what Pope Francis was doing in the universal Church. It was an appalling disgrace, he would tell a startled congregation, that the documents of the Second Vatican Council, voted through by over 90-plus% of the world’s bishops and two popes were subsequently ignored. Who was he, he would ask, to start devising new strategies when the officially promulgated documents already provided a road-map for the future of Kilfonura? Who was he or anyone else to argue with the Holy Spirit?
The way things were going, he’d say, in a few years time there would be very few priests in Kilfonura and those still standing would be elderly and most of them unable to function. He would see little point, he’d say, in expecting vocations when everything had been tried and had failed to interest the present generation of young men in a life of celibacy. He read somewhere, he’d say, that a definition of mental illness was someone who keeps trying the same thing and keeps expecting a different result.
It was time, he’d say, to plough a different furrow. He would intend, he’d say, to try to persuade his fellow-bishops that married men should be ordained and that an approach should be made to Pope Francis to consider this inevitable development. We’re going to do it anyway, he’d say, we might as well do it now while we have time to do it properly.
Another idea he’d have would be to stop these ‘listening’ processes in diocese because no one was actually ‘hearing’ what was being said and everyone involved ended up frustrated out of their mind. It wasn’t as if we didn’t know what people wanted. The problem was not finding out what we should do but actually doing it. We have to stop, he’d say, trying to avoid making decisions. Let’s get on with it.
He’d also, he’d tell them, like to see the few priests we had left get a complete break from parish administration so he would declare his intention to re-constitute parish councils, by banning priests from participation in them ­ in any shape or form. Likewise, parish finance councils. They were the people’s business and priests had enough to do.
He would, he’d say, follow the example of Pope Francis and, at the earliest convenience and when market conditions improved, he’d be putting the bishop’s residence up for sale. In any event he would be moving immediately into a semi-detached house in a local housing estate. Not, he said, as a mere gesture or PR exercise but as an indication of his intent. He would be giving a serious percentage of his income to the Vincent de Paul and he’d be hoping to persuade his clergy to follow suit.
He had other items too that he’s like to explore, he’d say, and he looked forward to addressing them in the near Will we ever see a Bishop Robert in an Irish diocese? How long is a piece of string?

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  1. Felix M. Larkin says:

    It seems to me that the procedure for appointing bishops was much better in the nineteenth century in Ireland. What happened then was that the parish priests of a diocese would meet in open forum and select three names – in order of preference – to commend to Rome for appointment as bishop. The names and the number of votes each received were published in the newspapers. One of the names, usually the first named (dignissimus, or ‘most worthy’), would be chosen – though on rare occasions the Vatican would impose a candidate not on the list chosen by the clergy. For instance, Archbishop Croke was imposed on the diocese of Cashel against the wishes of the clergy there. This level of transparency in the appointment of ecclesiastical authorities was most admirable, and what could be more appropriate than for a bishop to be selected by his peers: it is, after all, how the Pope is selected in the conclave.

  2. Mary Vallely says:

    It’s a sad state of affairs indeed. I suppose the people in the pews, the prayers and the payers, don’t much think about bishops. I feel sorry for them though. They are constrained by fear and that prevents them from speaking out. There is no freedom in a life lived like that. I am probably doing an injustice to many of them, good men of faith and goodwill but I do wish some of them would develop a backbone and speak out from the heart. The injustice against so many, particularly women, is appalling and yet we all stay and pray for things to change. Chin up, Brendan Hoban. One of these days some of your prophetic words will strike a chord in an episcopal heart. I do admire your courage and tenacity and the fact that you are still with us. Bail ó Dhia ar an obair. (Love that definition of mental illness though it could be applied to prayer! 🙂 )

  3. The only thing certain is that if Robert’s name made it to the last three he would absolutely not be made bishop of bis native diocese under the current system. Makes you wonder why bother with a ‘Consultation’? Killaloe diocese should be interesting the Vatican broke the record with shortest ever vacancy in replacing Bishop Willie Walsh the nearest we got to a Bishop Robert! The new man won’t even have to do a ‘listening process’ as it has all been done there….

  4. Cornelius Martin says:

    Christ is “ever ancient, ever new.” The Pope speaks about the “God of surprises,” a recognition of the way Christ has surprised in every century, by “making all things new.” (Rev 21,5) We know ahead of time that his eternal presence will always surprise us.
    However he does not make all new things. Leadership is important, but “making all things new” is not the result of new people being assigned to various ministries. “One man’s meat etc.” Saints did not achieve sainthood on basis of the style of their superiors, reverend mothers, parish priests or bishops.
    We cannot plan Christ’s surprises. That is what fashion designers do, which is why they quickly go out of fashion. Rather, Christ takes what exists already and breathes new life into it. He does that with a weary world, and he has always done it to all those who give him permission through humble submission to his grace.
    In a similar vein Advent is the time to get ready for the surprise of Christmas but the rush of Christmas can spoil the appetite for higher things and tries to replace holy joy with entertainments that often quickly become boring.

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