Irish theologian Vincent Twomey weighs in publicly on how bishops should be selected. The gist of his argument pertains to Ireland: mediocre candidates, too many dioceses (26), an immediate moratorium on selecting new bishops, a serious self-examination of the Irish Church,
The system to date has failed. I do not deny that Rome may bear some responsibility. But I would place the main responsibility on the fact that the Irish hierarchy has in effect produced a self-perpetuating mediocracy. Incompetence breeds incompetence.
Twomey surfaces a thought from Cardinal Ratzinger from years ago that bishop conferences should devote themselves, in part, to the formation of those who inhabit them. That’s intriguing. How much formation goes into elevating a bishop from the presbyterate? Or is there an assumption that bishops spring fully formed from pastorates? Or diocesan bureaucracy?
Count me a doubter on the notion that bishops can be directly elected from within a diocese. At least in the US, elections are so clogged by the cult of personality, I can’t escape the thought that the secular election process would tarnish a church process in a noticeable way. In most democracies, elections empasize divisions among people. The Church doesn’t need that.
Though I have no idea how to implement such an idea, I believe bishops must be chosen by spiritual discernment. Public elections of any sort are a dead end for us. Careerism and protege promotion could be argued are little better and maybe a lot worse.
I’m less lenient than Fr Twomey with the blame Rome bears on appointing bishops. The buck stops, as it were, with them. They’ve wanted it that way for a century or two now. The treatment of a grave mismanager like Cardinal Law shows they have little grasp on the administrative and spiritual qualities needed for the episcopacy.
My suggestions would be as follows:
- The Congregation of Bishops should be blown up and restarted with a combination of bishops, seasoned pastors, and lay people from around the world. Such a body would be involved with a serious vetting of potential candidates. Such work would take place in parishes and involve extensive input from people who know these candidates, especially the laity.
- The discernment on a bishop should be made mostly at the local level, probably with the assistance of nearby bishops as moderators, but not necessarily archbishops or cardinals.
- Any prospective bishop should have significant experience (ten to twenty years) as a parish pastor or some similar leadership.
Any suggestions of your own, knowing that anything you say will probably be completely ignored by Rome?