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.
The nuncio is the pope’s representative to both the government and to the bishops.
The Congregation for Bishops is a department of the Roman Curia, headed by a cardinal, called the “prefect.” 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.
The appointment of a bishop 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, the basic outlines of the process remain the same.
Potential candidates from Wisconsin
Every bishop may submit to the archbishop of his province – Superior is part of the Wisconsin province; Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki of Milwaukee is head of the 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 that 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 forwarded by the archbishop to the apostolic nuncio in Washington. The list is also submitted to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
Work of the ‘gatekeeper’
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, but also interprets that information for the Vatican Congregation of Bishops.
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 are always followed.
After receiving the list of candidates forwarded by a province, the apostolic nuncio conducts his own investigation into the suitability of the candidates.
Consultation about diocese’s needs
A report is requested from the current bishop or the administrator of a diocese on the conditions and needs of the diocese. Broad consultation within the diocese is encouraged with regard to the needs of the diocese, but not the names of candidates.
* 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.
* 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 – this list is called a terna – with the nuncio’s preference noted. nAll materials are then forwarded to the Congregation for Bishops in Rome.
Once all the documentation from the nuncio is complete and in order, and the prefect approves, the process continues. 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, chose another of the candidates on the terna, or even ask that another terna be prepared.