How To Choose A Bishop

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After the death of Most Rev. Archbishop Daniel Bohan, most people of the Archdiocese of Regina may wonder how a new Archbishop would be chosen. I would like to take this opportunity to share with you the process for selecting a bishop.

Who has the authority to choose a new bishop? The short answer is the Pope with the help of the Holy Spirit.  Remember, Christ has not abandoned his Church, and continues to guide and govern her through the Holy Spirit.  Basically, the Pope can appoint any Catholic priest to be a bishop, the actual process usually involves many people. This process can be seen in two parts: first selecting the right priests, and secondly, choosing the one who best fills a specific vacant See.

I - Selecting the right priest(s)

The development of selecting priests with the particular qualities desired in a bishop is an ongoing process, which begins even when there are no vacancies. The bishops of a provincial council give their archbishop the names of priests whom they think would make good bishops. The Catholic Church in Canada is divided into four provinces: West, Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic.  The Archdiocese of Regina belongs to the Western Conference.  The names of candidates passed on by a bishop are usually from his current diocese or from one where he has served, since these are the priests he knows the best.  These candidates can be chosen either from the diocesan priests or the religious priests.[1]

1 - The qualities of a bishop

Can. 378 states:

      1 In regard to the suitability of a candidate for the episcopacy, it is required that he is: 

  • outstanding in solid faith, good morals, piety, zeal for souls, wisdom, prudence, and human virtues, and endowed with other qualities which make him suitable to fulfill the office in question;
  • of good reputation;
  • at least thirty-five years old;
  • ordained to the presbyterate for at least five years;
  • in possession of a doctorate or at least a licentiate in sacred scripture, theology, or canon law from an institute of higher studies approved by the Apostolic See, or at least truly expert in the same disciplines.

      II. The definitive judgment concerning the suitability of the one to be promoted pertains to the Apostolic See.[2]

According to this canon, not surprisingly, choosing a new bishop is the choice of the Pope. The canon notes that the Pope freely appoints bishops, or confirms those lawfully elected. We Canadian Catholics are, of course, familiar with the appointment of bishops; but when would a bishop ever be elected?

2 - The list of candidates

Canon 377, 2 provides a system that is considered to help the Pope make a well-informed decision. The bishops of each province are to compile a secret list of priests whom they believe would make good bishops; and that list is sent to Apostolic See.  In order to keep the list current, it is updated at least once every three years.[3]  Occasionally, the bishops of an area gather together under the chair of their archbishop to consider the names of priests who are possible candidates for the episcopacy. At this meeting, a list of candidates for the episcopacy is determined, voted on and forwarded to the Apostolic Nuncio. However, the Nuncio could nominate for bishop someone not from this list of candidates, and the Pope could appoint any priest he wanted; but most appointments come from this list.

II - The process of choosing the one who best fills a specific vacant See

When a diocese becomes vacant, the second part of the process gets underway urgently, i.e., the search for the right person who will fill a specific vacancy.

1 - The Apostolic Nuncio

A Nuncio represents the Holy Father to both a country’s civil government (as ambassador) and the Catholic Church in that country. Presently the Nuncio in Canada is the Most Rev. Luigi Bonazzi.  He is originally from Italy and was appointed Apostolic Nuncio to Canada on December 18, 2013.

When vacancies occur in Canadian dioceses, the Nuncio chooses several candidates to suggest to Rome from among the names which have been submitted. The Nuncio’s recommendations to Rome are based on his own extensive investigation of the needs of the diocese and each candidate’s suitability for that particular diocese. 

During his investigation the Nuncio sends a confidential questionnaire on the candidate to people who know him. Usually the Nuncio is not only to hear from the thoughts of the bishops of the region where the vacancy is located but also seeks the opinions of the priests of the diocese, as well as the lay persons who are involved in the diocese especially who works with the candidate.

After the Nuncio has examined the responses to the questionnaires, the Nuncio prepares a list of three names of worthy candidates and submits them to the Vatican. Eventually, the Pope reviews this report and chooses one man from the list of three.

2 - The Holy See: Congregation for Bishops

When the Nuncio’s report arrives at the Congregation for Bishops, the members of this Congregation discuss with the Prefect (presently our Canadian, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, p.p.s ).  The Congregation then votes on the candidates and attaches its own recommendations to the report. The next step in the process takes place when the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops presents all the recommendations from the Nunciature and the Congregation along with his own opinion in a summary fashion to the Pope in a private audience, usually on a Saturday. 

3 - The decision of the Pope

The Pope may ask for more information about the candidates, or may even ask for other candidates to be proposed. A few days later, the Pope, led by the Holy Spirit, informs the Congregation of his decision.  The Congregation, of course, immediately notifies the Nuncio, who will contact directly the candidate and ask if he will accept.  When the candidate accepts, then the Vatican is notified and a date is set for the announcement through the Vatican Radio.  The process often takes six to eight months. It can be much shorter or much longer depending on various circumstanses.

Who will be the Archbishop of Regina?  We do not know now.  However, the Archdiocese of Regina has, in the past, waited patiently for more than a year while the Holy Spirit leads the Church to the best bishop possible.

4 - Prayer for the election of our new bishop

Fortunately, we have the Archdiocesan Administrator, Fr. Lorne Crozon, who was elected from the College of Consultors six days after the death of our Archbishop Bohan.[4]  In the meantime, let us continue to pray for the process of selecting our new Archbishop.

Heavenly Loving Father, giver of life and gifts, look kindly on your Church, and so open the minds of your people, especially the Church leaders and guide those who will choose the new Archbishop for the Archdiocese of Regina, that, we may receive a faithful pastor, who will care for your people and provide us for our ministries. We ask this through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.

Ottawa 31 January 2016

Fr. Thomas Nguyen

[1]Code of Canon Law, Latin-English Edition, translation prepared under the auspices of the Canon Law Society Of America, Washington, DC, Canon Law Society of America, 1999 (=CIC).  This translation is used for all subsequent citations of the canons of the 1983 Code., 377,2.

[2]CIC, c. 378,1

[3]CIC, c. 377,2.

[4]CIC, c. 421,1.