NSR’s Mickens on the “election” of bishops

Robert Mickens, now of the Fishwrap (aka National Sodomitic Reporter aka National Schismatic Reporter) and famous for his Facebook chat about wishing death on Pope Emeritus Benedict (which got him fired from The Tablet), has a piece today about choosing bishops in a new way.

Bishops should be elected with considerable local input.

He beats up for a while on Archbp. Nienstedt, and then…

How many priests and other baptized faithful had a voice in any of these appointments? Where are the concerns of any of them listened to seriously? The “election” of bishops (that’s what the Holy See calls such appointments, underlining the more ancient practice) need not be done by widespread popular vote. In fact, that would be disaster.

But there should be a more serious and involved process that involves a significant representation of the entire community in identifying the most qualified and gifted leaders. And it should be the rule, not the exception, that the choice (or recommendation) of candidate generally be from the local clergy, especially in long-established dioceses.

Such an “election process” needs to be re-established, albeit with provisions for changed modern-day situations.

Let’s think about what he is proposing.

If dioceses elected bishops, what chance would Cupich have had in Chicago?  Wouldn’t more local talent have eclipsed Cupich?  But, trusting instead in our Holy Father, the Church of Chicago now has Archbp. Cupich, a great favorite on the Left, a great successor to Card. Bernardin.   As a matter of fact, Card. Bernardin would never have been elected to Chicago, coming as he did from Cincinnati.

Let’s continue along this line.

Would Montini have made it to Milan?

Would Roncalli have been elected by the Venetians?

Would Mahony have been chosen by the Angelinos?

Would Kasper have wound up in Stuttgart?

Anyway… though I’m sometimes a little hard on Mr. Mickens, I can’t help but thinking that, in this article at least, he might be on to something.

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27 Responses to NSR’s Mickens on the “election” of bishops

  1. rwj says:

    You certainly put the ‘Z’ in zing! Bravo!

  2. Elizabeth D says:

    I am picturing a tight race in Chicago between Fr Michael Pfleger and Fr Robert Barron for Archbishop of Chicago, and laughing.

  3. Sacred1 says:

    Our country appoints judges so that they are insulated from electoral pressures that would influence judicial decision-making. Similarly, the Church appoints Bishops, among other reasons, so that they are insulated from electoral pressures that would influence doctrinal teaching and pastoral practices. In theory at least, Bishops are enabled through the appointment process to do what is right and in accordance with the Church’s teachings, rather than what is popular with a majority in a particular diocese.

  4. anilwang says:

    It’s my understanding that bishops were elected locally for much of the early Church. For instancem most of us know of the story of how St Ambrose was chosen as a bishop even though he was only a layman at the time. That practice, was changed in the west for the simple reason that local elections often lead to corruption (the person that most of the locals are endebted to is more likely to be elected, regardless of whether they think it’s the best choice) and to avoid caesaropapism where local governments pick bishops, as is most notably the case in China today and is common in the Eastern Orthodox.

    I don’t know the best solution. The real problem isn’t who makes the selection or even how it’s made (remember Acts 1:26 where St Matthias was chosen by lot from a list of candidated) but that the selection is made for the right reasons.

    If the local population can’t be trusted, and appointed men by the Vatican can’t be trusted, perhaps a few more checks and balances are called for. For instance, it’s my understanding that 3 bishops are required to ordain a bishop (to reduce the possibility of an invalid ordination of a bishop). If that’s the case, then each bishop including the Vatican can submit names for being raised to the office of bishop and that no bishop can be elected unless all agree on a choice.

  5. Phil_NL says:

    If I look at what kind of politicians can get elected, especially in a district system (such as the US), and a forteriori in districts where the Democratic primary is the general election, I think you’re overly optimistic, Father.

    Or maybe I’m dead wrong, and bishop Zuhlsdorf will be elected this way (there’s no line in there that says the candidates should volunteer…).

    Either way, I recommened to stock up on whiskey if such elections come to pass. Whatever the result, you’ll need it.

  6. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    So, Mickens is catching up to the 1970s? How nice. See, e.g., W. Bassett, ed., “The Choosing of Bishops” (CLSA, 1971), 100 pages of expertise discussing (rather favorably) exactly these ideas. I wish people would read a little history before announcing their “new” idea. This, from one who thinks the bishop appointment process needs serious overhaul.

  7. FrPhillips says:

    Whether elected or appointed, it’s easy to see that there’s no guarantee of greatness resulting from either system.

    What interests me more is the ancient practice of a bishop being “wedded” to his diocese. When a priest is chosen to be Father-in-God to a diocesan family, unless there are overwhelming reasons for him to be moved, he should remain there. The practice of moving bishops from one diocese to another not only leads to the possibility of careerism in the episcopate, but it can have some of the same effects we see in families which have a change in fathers.

  8. Uxixu says:

    The idea of the Holy Father personally appointing the bishop of Podunk USA is a relatively modern practice that most Catholics should so recognize. What really should happen is that the bishops of the US should establish Chapters of Canons from priests in their diocese to elect a successor (who would of course still be subject to the approval of the Holy Father). IIRC this hasn’t been considered since the late 19th century but is long overdue.

    Recognizing the different environment, it’s unlikely that Canons would get to stay at the Cathedral all day and chant the Office (though one could dream and pray for that!) and would likely still need to be pastors of parishes, etc but they could certainly meet and even (gasp) concelebrate in the Ordinary Form with their bishop on occasion… and fill many a roll in a Pontifical Mass at the Throne in the Extraordinary.

  9. Gregg the Obscure says:

    If a preference is to be given to bishops being selected from among the clergy of their own diocese, that should also put the kibosh on shuffling bishops about like chessmen across the map.

  10. msc says:

    My immediate reaction to this is wonder about language. When Mr. Mickens says “The “election” of bishops (that’s what the Holy See calls such appointments, underlining the more ancient practice) need not be done by widespread popular vote,” I wonder to what extent “election” is a carefully chosen word in English documents. Or is it chosen because the Latin uses “eligo,” which simply means “choose” or “select.” We see such use of “elect” in English phrases such as “the elect” for an elite. Is Mr. Mickens merely fixating on a particular definition of a word with a broader semantic range?

  11. torch621 says:

    Let’s not kid ourselves. This guy wants locally elected bishops because he thinks it’s the best way to put liberals in power so they can push through radical changes.

  12. Benedict Joseph says:

    This appears to be among our gravest problems. All the bishops are in highly sensitive positions given the inevitable internal and external politicking. In the face of the media they all speak with a certain personae of feigned enthusiasm or awkward constraint. Though there are many fine and courageous priests, the clerical estate is in a sorry pressured state — we can’t deny that – witness the electoral machinations in religious orders, congregations and monasteries. The laity surely are not up to the task — there has been no catechesis in almost fifty years – if they ever were, and that is highly problematic.
    As an aside, I thought it important to get a good overview of what has been said of the encyclical today, and in a masochistic fit I attempted to post a response to Fr. Reese’s encyclical commentary in the “Fishwrap.” My short contribution was given the distinction of rejection! To what could this be attributed? I had no idea the sharks had developed such thin-skinned sensitivity. Perhaps it comes with age?

  13. Gail F says:

    Guess he doesn’t know his Church history. Been there, done that. Bad idea.

  14. JARay says:

    I am afraid that I cannot see the election of bishops by the laity as being a “good” thing. I fear it would be open to all sorts of corruption and that those with the loudest voices would be the the ones who would be listened to. On the other hand I can also see that in some places a “magic circle” exists and choices are made simply because a particular priest belongs to the club. Neither way is the “best” way. Of course we do have one extremely powerful force for good and that is prayer, prayer and more prayer.

  15. Jon says:

    The election of bishops is an extensive process that amounts to local election (not popular vote) that was discussed above. There is much input by local clergy, laity, and hierarchy, only it is selective, given the voices that participate, and discreet.

    The Holy Father, unless he knows of another candidate he wants, nearly always chooses the suggested name presented him by the Congregation for Bishops which in turn was chosen from the terna of names provided by the local papal nuncio. As His Holiness can’t possibly rely on personal knowledge of these candidates, we thus get stinkers tainted by politics both local and curial.

    The best cure for this, and prescription for Restoration, to my mind, is for the pope to insist on evidence photographic and otherwise of the candidate’s long association with and affection for the Traditional Mass. In today’s environment, such evidence would be all the proof needed of a potential ordinary’s pastoral (having had to both care for a small flock with little resources and endure persecution) acumen and orthodoxy.

    Perhaps in the future careerists will get wise to the criteria, but I have faith that the truly heterodox won’t be able to stomach it for long, and that those few who do will be transformed by the contact. Problem solved.

  16. This is an interesting idea. The only ones allowed to vote should be able to declare an oath of fidelity to the Teachings of Holy Mother Church, all the Laws of the Church, the 10 Commandments, must have been confirmed, and only parents should be allowed to vote – parents that obey and practice all the Laws of the Church on marriage and family, since it’s parents that have the most vested interest in the future trajectory of the Church and would be most thoughtful in who is elected since their children would likely be under the bishop’s rule for some time of their children’s lives.

  17. Warren says:

    If the Anglican/Episcopalian experience and the experience of the national eastern churches separated from Rome is anything to go by, we should say ‘nope, never’ to local elections of bishops. Lay involvement in the selection of bishops would really politicize the process and probably enhance the possibility of schism in some places (Germany, for one). Locals “electing” locals seems highly prone to creating stagnant sees, especially where local culture exerts much pressure on everyone to conform to a questionable political or social status quo.

    There was a time, before we received a good and holy bishop from back east who replaced our then scandal plagued bishop, when virtually all our priests were as flaky as the neo-pagan enneagram master who drew them to our diocese in the first place. If lay representatives and priests had a say in the 1990s, their choice of bishop would have doomed us to big puppet Masses, lay homilists and other abuses for decades longer. Thanks be to God, we have had three good bishops given to us by God (from afar) and, because our bishops have been faithful to the Magisterium, our priests have gotten much better too. The flaky priests have retired and many goofy lay wizards of dissent have been largely marginalized by sound teaching or drifted into an angry obscurity.

  18. Gerard Plourde says:

    I think the first thing to acknowledge is the fact that though the Church herself is indefectible, all of her members, both lay and clerical still possess free will and can err. Thus no method of selection is guaranteed to bring us prfect bishops. That said, Pope Francis’s comment that “shepherds should smell like the sheep” is most apropos. In recent history too much emphasis has been placed on candidates who have long resumes in the bureaucracy of the Church with little pastoral experience. While understanding of the organizational structure of the Church may be important I believe it is far more important to have a knowledge of the daily lives of the faithful. Such experience would most likely help bishops preach Church doctrine authentically but in a way that also respects the faithful who hear it.

  19. Dimitri_Cavalli says:

    I think James Carroll also proposed the direct election of bishops.

    How would campaign finance work during the campaigns? Could non-Catholics be allowed to contribute?

    If the Church did have the direct election of bishops and the results did not go as the lefties had hoped, I’m sure the lefties would propose more reforms to rig the game in their favor just like they usually do.

  20. Dennis Martin says:

    What people fail to grasp is that “elections” were carried out by a limited electorate until very, very recently. In the ancient and medieval world, this meant the local elites,t he “pars sanior”, the ones with greater gravitas, seniority whatever. Never, ever did elections rest with the total populace.

    In the United States, only male property owners could vote and the percentage of male property owners was well under 50% initially. That changed in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Taxpayers (as distinct from land owners became threshold, then eventually all male citizens, then all men and women citizens. Today all legal and many illegal (practically speaking, though this constitutes fraud and corruption, but then our government is mostly fraudulent, today) residents.

    So “local elections” of bishops meant appointment by elites–canons of a cathedral, the local gentry, the regional duke or king–it varied over time and place but never, ever was it a broadly-based popular election.

    That appointment came to be limited to the pope (in the West) was a direct result of the Protestant Revolt. As royal (or city-state) absolutism replaced the checkerboard personal loyalty system of the Middle Ages and as kings and city councils elected to break from the Church, to leave the “election” of bishops in the hands of local authorities (at whatever level) was suicidal for the Church. If Mickens wants to return to the status quo ante of the pre-Reformation election of bishops, I’d be all for it. In one fell swoop we could abolish the Revolt and the murderous nationalism that came in its wake and produced two World Wars, hideous colonialism and a host of other travesties.

    But I don’t quite know how Mickens will accomplish that return to the status quo ante of the pre-modern “local elections” of bishops. I do know that today’s “democracy” is a joke. The present US administration has a deliberate policy of creating a great Twittered Mob to be manipulated into convenient plebiscital rule, not unlike the great “democratic” “voting” that took place in the Old USSR. Perhaps that’s the status quo ante what Mickens wants.

  21. Sonshine135 says:

    Yes, because we as Catholics do a fine job in this country of choosing a President that follows Catholic Doctrine. Please, let us choose our own Bishop *sarcasm off

    I thank God every day that Catholicism is a top-down organization.

  22. LarryW2LJ says:

    As if there weren’t enough politics in place already. Eeesh.

  23. Zephyrinus1 says:

    Is Robert Mickens the son of Mrs Mickens, who ran “Mrs Mickens’ Pie Shop” in the television hit programme “Blackadder”, starring Rowing Atkinson ?

    [I’m pretty sure he is not a fictitious character from Blackadder. For one thing, he’s from Toledo, Ohio. No one would make that up.]

  24. jschicago says:

    America’s first bishop, John Carroll, and the city for his cathedral, were voted on by the American clergy, which then were approved by the Pope.

  25. robtbrown says:

    Dr. Edward Peters says:

    This, from one who thinks the bishop appointment process needs serious overhaul.

    I would be interest to know what you think needs overhaul?

    Any non concordat process allows for local/national input, Cong of Bishops input, and Papal Nunzio input. It seems very flexible.

  26. Jon: “The best cure for this, and prescription for Restoration, to my mind, is for the pope to insist on evidence photographic and otherwise of the candidate’s long association with and affection for the Traditional Mass.”

    AMEN! And without a whole-hearted commitment of the Pope and bishops to the restoration of the Roman rite (in both forms) toward which Summorum Pontificum is directed, any mention of the “new evangelization” one hears them mention is empty prattle that should be prohibited as meaningless so long as they turn blind eyes to the liturgical disintegration of recent decades.

  27. Prayerful says:

    A liberal Catholic would blanch at the idea of the conservative faithful choosing a faithful bishop. I suspect the only electorate they could tolerate would be a mixture of Charismatics, some grey haired ACTA radicals, and some Jesuits too to ensure someone properly Alternative get elected.