Keep the Faith, Change the Church.

Lay Input in the Bishop Selection Process

Our Bishop Selection Working Group has asked Pope Francis to inject broader-based lay input into the selection of bishops for local dioceses. (Letter to Pope Francis

The VOTF proposal would restore to the selection process many of the lay-involvement practices followed throughout the first millennium and well into the second, and, at the same time, it would recognize the authority of the pope (as affirmed in Canon Law and Vatican II) to make the final appointment of a bishop, generally from the recommendations submitted for each diocese. 

To facilitate lay involvement, we host a web form that enables Catholics in any U.S. diocese to send their thoughts on the needs of their diocese and the qualities they deem important for their next bishop directly to the U.S. Apostolic Nuncio.

Background

The current outreach builds on an earlier letter to Pope Benedict XVI and the launch of a first-of-its-kind web form enabling Catholics in a diocese with an announced or impending vacancy to offer confidentially their thoughts on the needs of the diocese, the desired qualities of the next bishop, and the names of potential nominees directly to the Apostolic Nuncio.

In 2012, nearly 200 Chicago-area Catholics utilized this portal to register their concerns and recommendations on the needs and opportunities in their archdiocese and on the qualifications and qualities desirable in a new archbishop. They also recommended a number of bishops and priests for consideration as good candidates. An additional 200 filled out a related second survey. This participation likely represents the best-facilitated volunteer input on Catholic bishop selection in modern times. (See Chicago Tribune article.) Since then, hundreds of Catholics in other dioceses have used the portal to send their ideas on bishop selection directly to the Apostolic Nuncio for the U.S.

Apostolic Nuncio (2017):
The Most Reverend Christophe Pierre
Apostolic Nunciature
3339 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W. 
Washington, D.C. 2008-3610

Additional Information

The participation of lay Catholics in bishop selection has a rich history and tradition in the Catholic Church from its earliest days through modern times. The Voice of the Faithful (VOTF) Bishop Selection Iniiative seeks to revitalize this storied Church practice.

In the early Church, all members - both clergy and laity - elected their bishops. St. Cyprian described a "practice based on divine teaching and apostolic observance [and] faithfully followed among us and in practically every province." Pope Celestine I insisted on the right of the faithful to elect their bishop, declaring, “The one who is to be head over all should be elected by all. No one should be made a bishop over the unwilling…”

Church authorities gradually claimed more control over bishop selection, beginning in the Middle Ages when emperors and kings interfered -- at times abusively -- in Church affairs. Dioceses still retained wide latitude in choosing their bishops, however, throughout the balance of Church history. It was not until 1917 that Canon Law reserved the appointment of bishops solely to the Pope with few exceptions. The first bishop in the US, John Carroll of Baltimore, for example, was elected locally.

Today a bishop must submit his resignation to the Pope upon reaching 75 years of age. The Pope appoints his successor guided by recommendations the Apostolic Nuncio submits to the Congregation for Bishops. The Nuncio's recommendations are generally based on information gathered from neighboring bishops, some diocesan priests and, at his discretion, select lay men and women consulted individually and confidentially. 

VOTF believes that all the laity in a diocese should be encouraged and enabled to offer input on their next bishop to ensure the Nuncio's recommendations enjoy a breadth and depth of information and insight. The ecclesial role of the laity promulgated by the Second Vatican Council surely requires a more formal and public role for the laity.

In 2010, VOTF requested Pope Benedict XVI to “require the formal participation of lay men and women in the Episcopal recommendation processes...,” and we have made a similar request to Pope Francis (see News).  

Canon 212 states: “Christ's faithful are at liberty to make known their needs, especially their spiritual needs, and their wishes to the Pastors of the Church.”  It adds, “They have the right, indeed at times the duty, in keeping with their knowledge, competence and position, to manifest to the sacred Pastors their views on matters which concern the good of the Church.  They have the right also to make their views known to others of Christ’s faithful…” (212:2.3) 

The appointment of their new bishop surely ranks high among those “matters which concern the good of the Church," and this website provides a conduit for Catholics in dioceses with a pending vacancy to offer their input on it.

Key Links

Web form for "next bishop" recommendations

Letter to Pope Francis

Proposal for International Bishop Selection Modeling

Consulting the Laity on Candidates for the Episcopacy

Letter to Pope Benedict XVI

Letter to Tarcisio Cardinal Bertone, Vatican Secretary of State

Letter to Francis Cardinal George, chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Letter to Giovanni Battista Cardinal Re, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops

Letter to Most Reverend Pietro Sambi, Apostolic Nuncio United States

 

We welcome questions and feedback that may help us in our future efforts. Email John Doyle, Chair, Bishop Selection Committee at john.jackdoyle32@gmail.com