Friday, September 16, 2016

Bishop nominations: Questionnaire is to be reformed

Image result for episcopal mitre crozier and ring
One of the topics recently discussed by the C9, the council of cardinals assisting the Pope with the reform of the Curia and the government of the universal Church, was to do with the process of nominating bishops. 

The procedure, which always allows for a certain degree of discretion – the overall decision depends on how many and which people are interrogated – is apparently not to be reformed. 

What is going to change is the questionnaire used. 

There is in fact a questionnaire that is used by nunciatures to obtain information by questioning clerics and lay people about the suitability of a candidate. The C9 has suggested re-writing it, following a “more pastoral” approach that is more “Biblically inspired” and has a more “spiritual approach”. 

This would give it less of a bureaucratic and legal feel. 

These changes, however, are not to be understood as relating to the profile of candidate bishops. There are already documents produced by the recent magisterium that give a comprehensive description of the qualities a cleric must have in order to lead a diocese. 

Instead, the changes refer above all to the individual being questioned, whether they are members of the clergy or laypeople. This person will need to be increasingly conscious of the fact that they are giving confidential information to the Holy See and that they are required to enter the frame of mind of someone who is helping in the selection of a pastor. 

The process of nominating bishops has undergone numerous reforms through the course of history and has been influenced by civil authorities. Problems linked to cliques and groups existed and continue to exist. Depending on the period, there are always different emphases given, highlighting those aspects of a candidate’s profile that are most in tune with the pontificate of the time. 

Looking at episcopal nominations made during Francis’ pontificate, there seems to be a preference for candidates who have experience as parish priests. The figure that emerges as the ideal candidate in Pope’s speeches is that of a bishop who is in the midst of his flock, confirming his people in the faith but walking with them. 

Bishops who are experts in humanity, thanks to their knowledge of the concrete existential situations people live in today. In his address to the assembly of the Italian Bishops’ Conference in May 2015, the Pope explained that what the Church needed was not “bishop pilots” but “bishop pastors” who are able to reinforce the role of “the laity willing to assume the responsibilities that correspond to it”. 

The Church, Francis said back in February 2014, needs bishops who are neither “apologists for her causes nor crusaders for her battles” and are not chosen on the basis of “demands, conditioned by possible “stables”, factions or hegemonies”. Bishops who stay in their dioceses and don’t go around spending their time in “meetings and conferences”. 

Bishops who are chosen in the Vatican because they have been “chosen by the Holy Spirit,” requested by “the holy people of God”, testimonies of the resurrection, proclaimers of salvation who are capable of acting not “for themselves” but “for the Church, for the flock, for others, especially for those whom the world believes to be worthless”. 

On that occasion Francis added that bishops must be “patient” “because they know that the weeds will never be so many that they fill the field”. “They say that Cardinal Siri would repeatedly say: “Bishops have five virtues: first patience, second patience, third patience, fourth patience, and lastly patience with those who invite us to have patience.” 

The revised questionnaire will then be reviewed by the three Vatican Congregations directly involved in the episcopal nominations: the Congregation for Bishops, the Congregation for the Oriental Churches and Propaganda Fide. 

Tied to this issue is the question of apostolic nuncios, which was also dealt with in the C9 session which concluded today. Their Jubilee is to be celebrated in Rome in the coming days and the Pope will address them with a speech.

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