The problem is we don’t get to pick our own bishops

The problem is we don’t get to pick our own bishops

Fr. Richard “Where’s my collar” McBrien writes an essay in the current issue of the Los Angeles archdiocesan newspaper that asks what Cardinal Law’s resignation means. Predictably, McBrien says it means that the Church must now listen to tiny splinter groups like Voice of the Faithful and the Boston Priests Forum, as if those two groups were the primary reason Cardinal Law’s resignation was ultimately accepted at the Vatican.

He says that primarily it was the loss of support of the priests that caused Law to resign finally, because the Vatican still mistrusts the laity.

    The Vatican continues to be suspicious of lay demands for greater involvement in the internal governance of the church, not only with regard to finances but also the appointment of bishops and pastors.

Ah yes, the appointment of bishops and pastors by lay people. It’s the second-biggest demand of the reformers after women and married priests. Why? Because they think that bishops appointed by popular vote will then be beholden to their “constituents” and will thus approve of changes in Catholic teaching, such as birth control and divorce, that a majority of Catholics want.

    The laity of Boston—and the clergy as well, for that matter—will have no say whatever in the selection of Cardinal Law’s successor, even though all bishops, including the Bishop of Rome, were elected by the laity and clergy of their respective dioceses for much of the First Christian Millennium.

And why did that practice change? Perhaps it’s because it was being abused and the Church realized that it’s not such a good idea to leave the selection of bishops to lay powers and popular votes. When popes were selected by kings and emperors and bishops appointed by dukes and earls and in some cases by popular acclaim, we didn’t always get the best possible shepherds. In fact, some of them made Shanley and Geoghan look like St. Francis by comparison.

So perhaps it is thousands of years of experience that has proven that you don’t select bishops through popular vote because the criteria used for their selection is often at odds with what is needed for a good bishop. Granted, the current system leaves something to be desired, considering the current crop of US bishops, in general, but any reform of the system that lets Voice of the Faithful, the Boston Priests’ Forum, or Richard McBrien have a vote is not an improvement.

Written by
Domenico Bettinelli