Bishops Divorced from their Sees

Resolved:  except in unusual circumstances, a bishop should remain wedded to his See and not be promoted from diocese to (more important) diocese.   One exception would be to allow a bishop to be appointed archbishop and metropolitan of the archdiocese his diocese is associated with.

Sandro Magister in his blog wrote that Pope Francis has been preaching against ecclesiastical careerism, which is most notably manifested in bishops being transferred between dioceses.  He notes that this practice was banned in the early Church, and only became common during the middle ages.  He quotes Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, who railed against this practice in a 1999 interview:

On his appointment, the bishop must be a father and a pastor for the people of God. One is always a father. Once a bishop is appointed to a particular see, he must generally and in principle stay there for ever. Let that be clear. The relationship between a bishop and a diocese is also depicted as a marriage and a marriage, according to the spirit of the Gospel, is indissoluble. The new bishop must not make other personal plans. There may well be serious reasons, very serious reasons for a decision by the authorities that the bishop go from one family, so to speak, to another. In making this decision, the authorities take numerous factors into consideration. They do not include an eventual desire by a bishop to change see.

In my own diocese our own Archbishop has reached the age of retirement.  I have been told that the Chancery gossip is entirely focused on which existing bishop is going to be transferred here.  No one is discussing who among the clergy should be ordained bishop, or even if our auxiliary bishop should be made ordinary.

One problem with this resolution is that it will have an impact on who is eligible to be elected Pope and will also have an impact on who might be called upon to fill important positions at the Vatican.  I would be interested in hearing your ideas on possible alternatives for addressing these concerns.

"If you don’t believe in God like me though you can have as many robit ..."

What would “pro-life” mean in a ..."
"If technology can solve these problems then we will be free, although if humans start ..."

What would “pro-life” mean in a ..."
"Was just looking back over my copy of Brave New World. Here's Controller Mustapha Mond ..."

What would “pro-life” mean in a ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Ron Chandonia

    This strikes me as just one of several related measures that ought to be taken. There is no longer any justification for having all bishops appointed by the pope; in fact, V2 explicitly made the point that they are not his vicars (Catechism 895). If the people had a hand in the choice of their bishop, they would almost certainly pick a person known to the local church and accountable to it, just as Christians in much earlier times did. Such a person would WANT to stay home instead of hopping from one diocese to another.

    • A Sinner

      The only “justification” for having all bishops appointed by the Pope is fears about orthodoxy if more local elections were allowed.

      Of course, the Pope is Western patriarch (in function, if no longer in title; an odd choice that). I believe in the Eastern churches (Catholic and Orthodox), it’s not just “the people vote” either. Rather, groups of clergy consult and make recommendations, and then a local group or synod of bishops votes on the final choice, with possibly some veto on the part of the patriarch or regional metropolitan possible or something like that.

      I don’t think “the people” voting, nor even the whole presbyteral senate voting, is ever going to fly.

      A middle ground that might be proposed is a more “medieval” model: the bishop would maintain a cathedral chapter of canons (12 numerary who actually serve the cathedral, but then also possibly supernumerary members chosen by the bishop from among distinguished priests in the diocese; the locally based honor of “canon” should really replace, in large part, the Roman/papally-based system of “monsignor” as being the primary honor for priests in dioceses…)

      The canons would elect a bishop for the diocese, which would be subject to confirmation by the archbishop of the province (and, I’m sure, a sort of veto would always be “reserved” by the Vatican, but passively). If the election was for the archbishop of the province, then the suffragan bishops would also be part of the vote. If it were for the patriarch, of course, then the entire synod of bishops of the patriarchate is included, but that’s not really a concern in the West…

      Though the level of “Primate” for a given country (of multiple provinces) has never been as important, we might imagine him having the power to confirm choices of Archbishop (though I’m sure he’d almost always defer to the local choice) and that if it was a Primate being elected, then all the archbishops of that country would also have a say somehow (though not necessarily a vote equivalent to the local bishops of the province and canons of the diocese itself).

  • T J Hostek

    This resolution is nothing new. From the Council of Nicea on most Councils repeated similar resolutions which have been ignored time and again. Pope Francis’ 2 previous successors to the Chair of Peter were among the worst offenders. The current archbishop in my diocese has started a pallium collection.

  • A Sinner

    Agreed. Though I think the principle should extend beyond just diocese to archdiocese. Any of the various “levels” which can be taken to “include” the former See should still be options; so, from diocese to archdiocese to primatial see to patriarchal see to papacy. I feel like if your former diocese is still “suffragan” to you in some way, as it were, you haven’t really “abandoned” her, because it’s sort of included in a vague umbrella you still hold (though in the strict theological-ecclesiological sense, obviously, each diocese is “sovereign” as it were). But, yes, there should also be a much greater emphasis on appointing a priest from the diocese to be bishop if possible. As for Vatican appointments, no one said bishops can’t retire early, and then have a job in the Vatican as an emeritus bishop, I suppose.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      “As for Vatican appointments, no one said bishops can’t retire early, and then have a job in the Vatican as an emeritus bishop, I suppose.”

      I had not thought of that. It would make the Vatican bureaucrats “elders” of the universal church in some sense.

  • bluelawscribe

    David, I like your idea. Our recently deceased bishop served here for about a quarter of a century. He was from Boston, but once he was appointed here in Indiana, he stayed here and elected to die and be buried here. Our current bishop came from Pennsylvania and seems to be someone looking for a “promotion” after he has been here 5 years or so. I’d like to see a priest promoted to bishop from within our diocese, rather than having someone shipped in from the outside when it’s time to fill that seat again.

  • Ivan Kauffman

    For most of my life I lived in an archdiocese (Washington DC) where bishops cycled through from somewhere else on their way to being named a Cardinal–and in some cases to a position at the Vatican. As a result we got the cream of the crop, but it produces a sense that the local Church really doesn’t matter that much–that it’s somebody else’s Church, not ours. I often compared it to being a branch bank. You could make deposits and withdrawals, and you had the advantages of being part of a strong central institution, but you didn’t think of it as your bank. It seems to me we need to somehow find a way to make the Church stronger at the local level while continuing to build a strong international institution. The two go together.

  • Kurt

    Several observations. I understand the temptation to give an episcopal candidate the lesser duties of a small diocese, see how he performs and then promote him to a diocese with more demands if he performs as expected. The problem (and I won’t name names right now) is when a small diocese gets a young bishop who turns out to be a buffoon. They are stuck with him for a long time.

    Second, I would still propose that the most beneficial reform would be to stop ordaining priests to the episcopacy for the purpose of being a bureaucrat. Few people should be made bishop for the purpose of being an auxiliary or a curial bureaucrat, as if the episcopacy is not the pastoral leadership of a particular church but the Catholic equivalent of a “GS” grade. People in these posts need not be bishops for sacramental, theological, spiritual or pastoral purposes. They are simply made bishops to give bureaucrats a sense of authority that they should not have.

  • Jordan

    My diocese is known as a “hop” for careerist bishops who are aiming for an archdiocesan see. Our diocesan seat is currently vacant and has been for some time. I suspect that Rome via Washington is waiting for the cleric with the right Party credentials to install in our cathedral.

    Our previous bishop, now His Grace elsewhere, was rather milquetoast liturgically. He condoned the existence of two safe haven parishes for Tridentines and high church ordinary form Catholics. I know it’s really selfish as a trad for me to only think of my faction’s welfare, but a Rome-chosen lifetime appointment would be even worse for Roman rite minorities than a careerist. At least a careerist would ostensibly protect Summorum Pontificum and reform-of-the-reform for the sake of a brokered peace, even if he personally cares less for traditionalism. A poorly chosen life term bishop might actively persecute the high church, and not care if a de facto schism develops in his diocese. In fact, bishops have been known to fan the flames of discontent.

    A Sinner’s [June 8, 2013 2:17 pm] call for a return to the medieval cathedral chapter model of episcopal election is a better way to ensure that life episcopal appointments are truly a match for a diocese’s liturgical topography. At least traditionalist/high church canons could confer with canons of more progressive views, argue among themselves, and eventually agree on a compromise candidate who is amenable to protecting the interests of all parties. From my observations of Anglicanism, most bishops are plain-vanilla broad church, equally comfortable at a charismatic service and a nosebleed-high Anglo-Catholic Mass.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      I think that this is an important point beyond the simply liturgical. Any local selection process that broadens the base (whether election by canons or by the whole presbytery) would have the advantage of being conducive to compromise and the protection of diversity within a diocese. As the example of Bishop Morlino in Madison, Wisconsin, shows, a bishop from the outside often imposes a “my way or the highway” view on a internal dynamic which is often quite complicated.

      (I mention Morlino only because I have blogged about him in the past—I am sure there are other examples who impositions leaned in other directions.)

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    I think the zeitgeist has provided the real background and context for the issues you raise here David. The recent news in the Huffington Post and elsewhere that Pope Francis has admitted the existence of a “gay lobby” after so much effort has been expended to deny it. First you have to factor in the vast amount of energy and money and intellectual elbow grease that has been spent denying this fact that so many of us knew from our time in the Church, including for some like me even some small amount of Roman contact. It is easy to see how “careerism” is related to the existence of that lobby, and when people like me are regularly excoriated for pointing to that as a central factor in the administration of the ancient institution we can only chuckle when others accuse us of “anti-catholicism”. Well, the Pope himself must be “anti-catholic” now for he has bluntly admitted what many of us have said. And a big “duh!” is truly the only worthy response. (What will people like Robert Royal and George Weigel do now that there regular denials of this very issue have be vexed by the Pope himself. Weigel’s denial was always the funniest as he loved to identify it with the the “tactic” of the Polish communists to besmirch the Church by calling the clergy homosexual! I guess Pope Francis is a de facto communist too now! LOL)

    It will be very telling and revelatory to see how Pope Francis handles this issue. As Albert Cutie, former Catholic priest has written, “the Catholic Church cannot function without them.” Referring here of course to gay men. But the clarity of that statement is lost if don’t see that this runs the gamut from those who by any reasonable measure (even one that would fit a gay critic like me) could be assessed as corrupt. Namely nasty bitter old queens who are out to live a fancy life at the behest of the Church, and don’t particularly care who they destroy to get it. On the opposite pole are internally self-acknowledged gay men who have come to some modus vivendi with their priest life, and try to do good things. Pray tell, where is the corruption there, Papa??

    We will have to see if he turns all Pope Adrian VI on the world. Or will he be the one to finally admit the historical fact that gay men have always been the bull of the priesthood, and that it is time to finally integrate a different view of being gay into the ancient faith. There is at least the possiblity for the latter now Simply because the old ways of handling this “corruption” issue are not going to fly anymore. Not just because the RC church has changed. But because simply they still want to be taken seriously in some way. And an institution that is de facto run by gay, which the top guy has now admitted, after strenuous self-sillying denials within the organization, is without some serious attempt at change only going to be taken as a joke. That would be a sad fate for such am inspiration of great art for so many centuries. Therefore, i would see the very curious desire to revive permananent sees for bishops entirely in the context of only having men who are going to be in a spot long enough to be known by everyone. Hopefully, the issue that people will want to know principally is whether he is one of the gay ones or not. How silly, and if you look at the press coverage for the Archdiocese of Miami, where I was once a seminarian, that is all they spend their time talking about. And if we take the choice of Tom Wenski as instructive, the central factor for choosing a bishop seems to be these days that he is not one of the gay ones.

  • Jordan

    PPF [June 11, 2013 11:07 am]: Namely nasty bitter old queens who are out to live a fancy life at the behest of the Church, and don’t particularly care who they destroy to get it. On the opposite pole are internally self-acknowledged gay men who have come to some modus vivendi with their priest life, and try to do good things. Pray tell, where is the corruption there, Papa??

    +1 Peter Paul. I also suspect that this “scandal” will out a number of rather corrupt cardinals along with their lover(s). Then tradosphere will blow a head gasket and double down on the claim that teh gheyz shouldn’t be ordained. Deep down inside even traddieland knows darn well that the majority of priests, and especially their priests, dig dudes.

    Or, instead of the previous perpetuation of the cycle of violence, we the clergy and laity could just be honest and accept that gay men are not only crucial to the priesthood but also found in all places and liturgical persuasions. This is the gist of I gather from “On the opposite pole …”

    A resolution to end to the cycle of victimization against gay priests not only entails the peril of “what to do” with teachings on homosexuality, but also removes a crucial scapegoat-class which until now greased the cogs of the sacerdotal system. The church would have to re-invent clergy and hierarchy if the cycle of violence against gay men and gay clergy were ended. I just don’t foresee the institutional strength to end the cruelty.

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    Well said, Jordan! You know, I think it must be clear that I am not crazy about the Catholic Church at this point. I do personally marvel a bit that people can get so worked up about it anymore. It seems so transparent to me on many levels. Yet I am also deeply committed to protecting the profound sphere of meaning that all religious ideation represents. And there are a number of cultural reasons as well that I am sorta on their side in a way. I say all this to preface my more personal point. I think I have written this before here, but it bears repeating. I knew a number of very lovely men who were very committed priests. I would not say they in the majority, but rather significant minority. But they were some of the truest and kindest people I have known in life. And as I like to say, this is not my first rodeo. During all these scandals I felt a heartbreaking feeling for those fine men. Not so much as priests, but simply as good human beings. It takes a lot to be a good human being in this nasty world of ours, and when you seem someone who has done it dragged through shit, it hurts everyone.

    I don’t think generally that the RC church is treated unfairly in the media, in fact I think they are treated de facto with kid gloves. But — and it is a big but!!– our society has certain toxic tropes which run almost automatically once they are engaged. I think people have to be pretty sharp and on the lookout for trouble to escape them completely in a lifetime. Unfortunately, those fine men that I knew were probably not the sorts to see those spectres heading straight for them. It is a human tragedy. And, just as you mention, I fear as well that some of those crazed hyper-traditional fanatics will seize on those same benighted tropes. Flectere si nequeo superos Acheronta movebo. Once they have stirred up hell they will not be able to quash it. This has repercussions not just for the RC church but for the whole world, simply because Catholics make up such a large part of the population of this planet. I pray Pope Francis is savvy enough to get it, and puts aside that Argentine macho stuff which all Argentines have, especially.

  • Adam Rasmussen

    This practice should be re-instated. It would not a problem for the Holy See because staffing appointments there could be filled by people of any rank, including laypeople, and likewise the College of Cardinals is free to elect anyone Bishop of Rome, whether a cardinal or not, and, for that matter, the Bishop of Rome is free to name anyone a cardinal whom he wishes, including laypeople (including women!).

  • Steve

    …and….AND…..let us not forget Mr. Cutie LEFT HIS BRIDE FOR ANOTHER, why hold him up as a voice of reason and/or clarity? C’mon people…