Hard times for bishops! For those who had become accustomed to the generally formal tone which marked until now the relations of the faithful with the Catholic hierarchy, it must be recognized that, here too, things are moving. The bishops are today accused head-on and harshly by the “base Catholics” after the publication of the Sauvé report, which highlighted the serious failings of governance for the management of abuses. And more and more, they find themselves openly contested in their legitimacy by the faithful who, no longer supporting the excesses of a solitary power, want to have a voice in the chapter and in particular to be able to participate in the process of their designation.
Because the whole paradox is there. The bishop in the Church is all-powerful. Its current questioning, brutal though it is, is ultimately only the backlash of a system of governance where power is concentrated in the hands of a man who alone holds the whole. keys to a diocese: that it is wrong, that it is wrong, that it is not up to the task, and it is all the Catholic people of the territory who pay the consequences. And the local Church which finds itself permanently penalized.
In view of the importance of the position, any casting error can indeed turn out to be dramatic. However, the appointment of bishops is undoubtedly one of the most archaic acts produced today by the ecclesial institution. Some kind of fiction would have them all named by the Pope. If we take into account the fact that there are more than 5,000 bishops in the world, we can see that even a pope who would never sleep could accomplish this task. They are in fact chosen by the nuncio – the papal ambassador in the country – or else by influential cardinals or bishops in Rome. Or both. As for the candidate selection process, it remains confidential, and even ultra-confidential, since it is protected by the famous “pontifical secret”: this means that those who are consulted for these appointments must not tell anyone or that they are consulted, neither on what criteria the candidate is chosen, nor the questions that they were asked, under penalty of excommunication automatic the most serious condemnation in the Catholic Church. Finally, only bishops and priests are generally consulted.
The questionnaire makes it possible to ensure that the candidate does not present any notable defect: that he is of a total doctrinal orthodoxy, that he has never come out for the ordination of married men (very formidable defect …) , whether “Affectively balanced” and have an authentic life of prayer… Basically, we seek more to avoid problematic cases than to make a choice based on positive criteria revealing a real capacity to exercise the responsibilities to come.
The system, which was not renewed after Vatican II, therefore remains clerical and above all very opaque. Except for the first of them, the Pope, Bishop of Rome, who is elected, admittedly in the secrecy of the conclave, but with real debates and discussions, in a collegial process, which can give rise to several ballots. While for the bishops, the faithful, although they are the first to be affected, have no say … We are not going to ask the Church to organize elections in each diocese! But between an open democratic process and a centralized monolithic nomination policy, a happy medium should be possible. The Church could at least institute codes of good practice. The religious singularity of the institution undoubtedly does not justify such an anachronism in the appointment of its executives.