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Friday, 23 September 2011

THE APPOINTMENT OF BISHOPS IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH. WHOSE RESPONSIBILITY?


The appointment of Bishops in the Catholic Church has in recent times become an issue of public interest. This is not only because of the societal status of the Bishop but also because of the fullness of Holy Orders he exercises.  The Bishop exercises the fullest power and office of Christ’s priesthood. Though priests participate in the priesthood of Christ, they share in the ministry of the Bishop. For this reason, at the vacancy of an Episcopal seat, there is much anxiety as to who will occupy the seat.
This anxiety also extends to the clergy, religious and laity of the particular Church and even to the ecclesiastical province the particular Church (diocese) belongs to. Therefore, the process of appointing a Bishop becomes a general issue.
The appointment of Bishops in the Catholic Church is the responsibility of the universal Church. This appointment is not like a political appointment that is sought for. It is however, an appointment that is based on the guidance of the Holy Spirit directing the Holy See to appoint a suitable candidate for the Episcopal ministry. This process of appointment is governed by certain norms prescribed in the Code of Canon Law. It is however erroneous to think that partisan politics is involved in this process.
However, this holy process of appointment into the Episcopal Ministry in the Catholic Church begins in the local level and culminates in the official appointment and proclamation by the Roman Pontiff. The Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops published by the Vatican Congregation of Bishops says that the Bishop together with the Bishops of the Ecclesiastical province or also personally suggests to the Holy See through the Papal Nuncio the names of some priests he judges fit for the Episcopal Ministry. For this reason, Canon 377 § 2 states “At least every three years the Bishops of an Ecclesiastical province ... or an Episcopal conference draw up by common accord and secret, a list of priests ... who are suitable for the episcopate”. This list also contains relevant information about the priests which are relevant for prior investigation into their suitability for the Episcopal Ministry.
Canon 377 § 5 also states that “No rights and privileges or election, appointment, presentation, or designation of bishops are granted to civil authorities”. This means that the civil authorities have no say in the appointment of a bishop as it is a purely Ecclesiastical issue. In the words of Arch. Augustine Kasujja, the Apostolic Nuncio to Nigeria, “It is a spiritual affair of the Church”. Following this regulation, the right of every Bishop to suggest a candidate for the Episcopate does not mean that he appoints the Bishop. The first list of possible candidates sent by the Bishop is accompanied by the Papal Nuncio’s personal investigation of possible candidates and together they form the ternus (three names) required for an Episcopal appointment.
When the ternus is confirmed by the Pope, he invites his representative in that country to confidentially conduct consultations with Bishops, Priests, religious and the laity on the suitability of the candidates. He then sends his findings along with his personal opinion to the Holy See. More importantly, these consultations are carried out with strict pontifical secrecy binding on all who seek or give information about the candidates’ suitability. This secrecy is to ensure the respect of the candidates proposed and it must be accompanied with sincerity as any false information will be a sin against charity. All information given must not be biased or influenced by any personal gain.
Upon verification of the candidates’ reputation and suitability, the Holy See then makes an official appointment which according to Canon 378 § 1, the candidate must be outstanding in faith, integrity, morals, apostolic zeal, wisdom and piety among other things. The candidate upon hearing his appointment as a Bishop has the option of accepting or refusing his appointment. He then either travels to Rome to make the profession of Faith and take the oath of fidelity to the successor of Peter or makes it in the presence of the faithful and the principal consecrator.
I would like to conclude with the words of Arch. Augustine Kasujja that “it is neither the Metropolitan Archbishop nor the Apostolic Nuncio but the Holy Father who appoints all Bishops”. The entire Church has to pray fervently for the proper indwelling and guidance of the Holy Spirit on the Holy See, for a better vocation to the Episcopacy. The laity must avoid unnecessary anxiety, priests and religious must be disposed to give a sincere opinion and the church’s hierarchy must recourse to divine guidance.

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