Laity's Role in Picking Area's Next Bishop
Chicago-area Catholics have an unprecedented opportunity to express their concerns and recommendations about our next leader of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Last January, as standard procedure on his 75th birthday, Cardinal Francis George submitted his resignation to Pope Benedict. The search for his successor was progressing even before the cardinal's recent cancer recurrence.
The unprecedented opportunity is that Catholics in Cook and Lake counties can use technology -- a website, votf.org/bishop -- to speak up about the needs facing the archdiocese and the qualifications and pastoral style we desire of Cardinal George's successor.
A role for the laity in selecting bishops, however, is not unprecedented in the history of our church. From the apostles, who drew lots to select Matthias, early Church practice maintained a bishop should be chosen by all. In the 5th century, Pope Celestine I and Pope Leo I insisted on the right of the faithful -- both priests and the laity -- to elect their own bishops and condemned any attempt to impose a bishop without their consent. Indeed, as we celebrate the 225th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution, we recall that our first American bishop, John Carroll of Baltimore, was locally chosen.
While interference from kings and noblemen led Rome to wrest more control of the process over time, it wasn't until 1917 that Canon Law reserved the right of appointment of bishops exclusively to the pope. Currently, the Apostolic Nuncio, the church's ambassador to the United States, collects opinions and makes recommendations to Rome on candidates for bishop. Although consideration may be given to the opinions of a few select laypersons, the nomination process is highly centralized and lacks the universal lay participation that was a hallmark of the earlier church. …