02Mar Bishops should be elected

Election of Bishops

A recent article by Donal Dorr in The Furrow outlined the difference between the exercise of authority among secular clergy and in religious orders, including the Dalgan and Kiltegan priests. The difference boils down to the fact that the latter freely elect their superiors while the former have their bishops appointed. I remember discussing the article with the Director of CORI. She agreed that Dorr had got it right.

The simple solution is to elect the bishops. This would just be a return to the original practice of the church. For instance the Apostolic Tradition states that, ‘He who is elected is to be the choice of all.’ The election system lasted undisturbed down to the Middle Ages. The Normans had a policy of taking control of the church as an aid to ruling the conquered territories. The appointment of Lanfrank and Anselm to Canterbury is the prime example. Those bishops were still elected but the electors were told who to elect. The remnant of this process is seen in the most recent announcement, ‘The Queen approves for election, Bishop Justin Welby’. This was the system in Normandy itself, in England, in Norman Ireland, and in The Two Sicilies.

The election system has its own limitations but it does occasionally throw up a strong leader, like Patrick Hederman, abbot of Glenstal. What appointment system would ever have chosen him – author of a book on Tarot Cards and trailing rumours of ecumenical concelebration. Consider that he was neither priest nor deacon when he was elected.

Pope Francis has told his Nuncios not to appoint theologians. This is unfortunate. It leads to a clerical culture, where intellectuals are put down by colleagues: he is ‘cerebral’, ‘immature’, etc. A good example of the hurt caused can be gathered from the following account by Fr KieranWaldron in his biography of The Archbishops of Tuam:

Enda McDonagh secured a two-thirds majority when the priests of the archdiocese of Tuam voted on a new bishop in 1986. He had already been passed over, more than once, for the post of Vice-President of Maynooth College. One year later the priests again proposed McDonagh’s name to the Nuncio. When he was not appointed, he continued his theological writings, ‘as Ireland’s outstanding theologian’.


2 Responses

  1. Eddie Finnegan

    “Pope Francis has told his Nuncios not to appoint theologians.”
    Well, let’s hope Charlie Brown ignores that Franciscan nugget as blatantly as he will the rest of Francis’s wisdom. I suppose Francis was hoping that more of his nuncios might plump for the local Tom Fee or Joe Cassidy, Albino Luciani or Jorge Bergoglio. It’s up to theologians not to be so cerebral as not to have a trace of the smell of the sheep about them. Thank God for St Patrick’s (no, not Maynooth or Armagh)for canonising Enda. The cornerstone rejected by the jerry-builders.
    Slightly different point: Why couldn’t Brown have picked Dónal McKeown for the Armagh Co-Adjutor job and cut out all these Derry musical chairs?

  2. Con Devree

    On the basis of the arguments provided in this article, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was the ideal choice for Pope. He was elected by his peers and was the top theologian in the world. Unconfirmed reports say he had the endorsement of the Cardinal who succeeded him.