One of my favorite novelists, Graham Greene wrote a short novel entitled, Monsignor Quixote. It’s a humorous story of the adventures of a Spanish Priest from a small town who through a fluke is named a Monsignor by the Vatican much to the chagrin of his Bishop. The Bishop eventually suspends him as it’s just too much for the Bishop to have this lowly, unimportant, small-town priest to wear the robes of a monsignor. The irony is that Quixote is a very delightful, humorous man who is very well versed in Catholicism and ultimately is mortally wounded trying to save a statue of the Virgin Mary from being desecrated. The story is an ecclesiastical version of The Man of La Mancha in many ways.
Graham Greene’s little narrative does unfortunately provide a glimpse into the reality of how ecclesiastical promotions too often occur. Specifically, the appointment of Bishops. As this summer of shame has revealed too often episcopal selections are a matter of cronyism. Someone like the former Cardinal, McCarrick became a king maker. He made sure to push for the appointment of new bishops who were in his image and likeness. That, of course, leads to a whole lot of “the Godfather requires a favor of you” kind of scenarios. So those he pushed up the ecclesiastical ladder would not be likely to turn against him no matter how egregious his behavior.
The basic process in current use for the selection of new bishops begins within each ecclesiastical province (we are in the Santa Fe Province). The area bishops place names of priests who they want to be considered for Bishop on a list called a terna. Each bishop of a Province can add or delete names. That list is sent to the Nuncio in Washington, DC who vets the candidates and then submits those who pass muster to the Vatican. In the meantime, Bishops with lots of influence, like a McCarrick can push for their selection over the choice of the Bishops of a Province. Practically speaking, I would venture to say that the picks of someone like Bishop Olmsted, who is not the most popular kid on the block at the USCCB, would rarely get selected, whereas a McCarrick choice would be more of a first-round draft choice.
This process needs serious modifications. In my 30yrs as a priest only once did a Bishop ask the priests of the Diocese to submit names of other priests whom they considered good candidates for the episcopacy. You can see how inbred the selection of Bishops can become and why they are so reluctant to hold one another accountable.
Over the centuries the process for selecting Bishops has varied greatly. St. Augustine became a bishop by popular acclamation. In the medieval period it was often nepotism. One of the reasons for the imposition of the discipline of celibacy on priests and bishops was to stop Bishops from appointing their own sons or relatives, which in those days included the vast inheritance of Church property and benefices. Today with lightning speed communication and a very bloated Vatican bureaucracy the process is tightly controlled by a few people.
I would suggest the process be opened up significantly. Allow priests and lay people to submit names of possible candidates to the Bishop. He can vet them and ask if they accept a nomination. If they do then those names should be made public for scrutiny. If a candidate passes the scrutiny then the name can be submitted to the Pope. Admittedly, this process may be a bit messy and slow but it would be transparent. There is one caveat: a new bishop should not serve in his home diocese. A new bishop who stays local, might have his hands tied in any manner of ways and feel pressure to “return the favor”. We see it with politicians who after being elected have to dance to the tune their big campaign donors play. By serving in a new Diocese a Bishop brings a fresh set of eyes and no loyalties to anyone. This will enable him to be objective and fair in his new ministry.
Tangentially, the position of auxiliary bishop should be done away with completely. There can be only one bishop, the position of auxiliaries is really a bastardization of our theology and the biblical model. The way to do that is to chop down the size of dioceses whether by half or thirds or fourths. That would make a Diocese more manageable and the Bishop less inclined to act like a CEO of a major corporation. Maybe then Bishops could focus on providing clear teaching and strengthening the faith of the flock. The number one job of the Bishop is to carry the Cross and show the rest of us how to do the same.
The Church has big issues to face and the Church after 2018 will look very different. In the meantime, it appears that many, many bishops are hunkering down, lawyering up and consulting PR firms. Sad. The quicker they get honest with their people and priests, the quicker we can find solutions to our problems. A big problem is how to get rid of the Bishops that are part of this syndicated episcopal crime family?” At least Michael Corleone had the heads of the 5 families snuffed out when they turned to selling drugs. How do we get rid of the warts on the ecclesiastical bum, that is, Bishops who facilitated the homosexual takeover of the Church?
There are quite a few “Monsignor Quixote’s” out there. Please continue to support the priests you know that are doing their best to strengthen your faith and lead you in the ways of holiness.
Love, Fr John B.
PS Two of our physicians are working on a really ingenious new tool to help diagnose potential violence in young people in our schools as well as effective interventions. Pray for their enlightenment.