In late February the National Council of Priests met with the Catholic Bishops Commission for Church Ministry. This is an annual dialogue. Fr Ian McGinnity who is the President of the National Council of Priests sent to his colleagues a record of the issues that were raised with the Bishops. The issues raised referred generally to the selection of bishops and archbishops. It has particular relevance to the process which will now be put in motion for the appointment of a successor to Cardinal Pell. In its conversation with the Bishops, the National Council of Priests refers to comments by Pope Francis about the qualities he was looking for in bishops. The Council also described the issues which the Council believes should be followed in the appointment of bishops and archbishops. John Menadue
Since we last met two momentous events have occurred in the life of the universal Church. Firstly, the reigning Pope retired for reasons of age and health (only two other Pope’s have resigned from their post in the history of the Church, the first being St Celestine V in 1294; the last was Gregory XII, in 1415) sending a significant message to all involved in Church leadership that it was possible and also desirable to do so for the good of the Church.
Secondly, we saw the election of a new Bishop of Rome, Francis, who has introduced a very different style of leadership in the universal Church which has given new hope and encouragement to many. Pope Francis has modelled and encouraged leaders at all levels in the Church to return to a more simple and Gospel aligned style of life.
At the Holy Thursday Chrism Mass in Rome, Pope Francis delivered an appeal to priests to live simply, close to the needy and the suffering poor, instead of worrying about careers as “church managers”. He also said those who do not live in humility close to the people risk becoming “collectors of antiques or novelties instead of being shepherds living with the smell of the sheep”.
On June 21 during a meeting with Nuncios and apostolic delegates he outlined the characteristics he wanted to see in candidates to serve as Bishops. He said he wanted “pastors who are close to their people, fathers and brothers, who are meek, patient and merciful, who love interior poverty and live that externally with a simple lifestyle and won’t have the mindset of a prince.”
Candidates must be real pastors and shepherds “sustaining with love and patience the plans that God is working within his people. One who is wed to his diocese, the spouse of one church who is not constantly seeking another.” He also stated “beware of those who are ambitious, who seek the episcopacy.”
These criteria are challenging for all who assume this office. There is no doubt the selection process is difficult with fewer candidates and more onerous responsibilities. However a few issues still need to be faced.
- The extraordinary length of time it takes to appoint a new Bishop, particularly in smaller dioceses.
- The unfair expectation on elderly bishops to continue in office past the age of 75.
- The movement of bishops between dioceses and archdioceses.
- The lack of consultation of different groups (including the smelly sheep) in the selectionprocess.
- The imposition of bishops with little past experience and smell of the sheep.We are aware that you have a major consultative role in the appointment of your brother bishops in conjunction with the Nuncio and the Congregation for Bishops.
We respectfully suggest that you as a group express your hope that this process of selection will improve for the good of the people and priests.
People rightly expect a more professional process for the selection of leaders the 21st Century.