How does Pope Francis choose bishops of important dioceses?

BishopMcElroyItalian vaticanista Andrea Gagliarducci writes regularly a column at his place called “Monday Vatican”. You should read him.

Today, however, he has a piece at CNA about how Pope Francis seems to approach the selection of and translation of bishops. HERE

Among other things, Andrea wrote:

Over the past year, Pope Francis has appointed 16 U.S. bishops, most of them in smaller dioceses or as auxiliaries. The major pending question is that of the successor of Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington, D.C. Cardinal Wuerl is already 76 years old, more than a year beyond the normal retirement age.

The post in Washington, D.C. is a key post, as it involves both pastoral care and institutional relations with the U.S. political establishment. What will Pope Francis do?

An insistent rumor says that Bishop Robert W. McElroy of San Diego might be at the top of the list.

Bishop McElroy recently grabbed headlines for jumping into the discussion on LGBT issues that followed Fr. James Martin’s book, “Building a Bridge.” Bishop McElroy has defended the book, and Martin, in the face of criticisms of his work. [I wrote a response to McElroy’s statement that anyone who opposes a homosexualist agenda is like a “cancer” in the Church and that they should be “purged”. HERE]

He also recently took part in a Boston College conference on Amoris Laetitia, hosted by Cardinal Blase Cupich and Father James Keenan, SJ. During the conference, Bishop McElroy reported on the diocesan synod he launched on Amoris Laetitia, and said that Catholic teaching must take seriously the complexity of adult moral life.  [More on that Agitprop Conference HERE]

Among observers, he is considered a figure similar to Cardinal Blase Cupich, who was personally chosen by Pope Francis in 2014 to lead the Archdiocese of Chicago. This seems to suggest that he is a fit for Pope Francis’ model of episcopal leadership.

Of course, his appointment is simply a rumor, just as another rumor in Rome says that the Pope will soon call Cardinal Cupich to lead an important Vatican office in Rome.

Just so that you know what is going on behind the scenes.

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20 Responses to How does Pope Francis choose bishops of important dioceses?

  1. rtjl says:

    Pope Francis might make a died in the wool traditionalist of me yet.

  2. stuartal79 says:

    The fact that Bishop McElroy has only been in San Diego a relative short time (a few years) makes it seem unlikely that he would transferred at this time.

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  4. vandalia says:

    As I understand it there are two issues in play in this post:

    First, the fact that the Pope is in essence reserving the selection of Bishops for “key” diocese to himself. I obviously have never been in the room when a Pope makes these selections, so I have no first-hand knowledge. However, based on all the information that is out there, I think it is clear that this is not unusual. Pope’s often (always?) essentially reserve the selection to themselves when they feel they have knowledge of the diocese and/or the potential candidates. This is especially the case in the Pope’s “hometown.” When there were Italian Pope’s the available history tells us that they essentially made the Italian picks themselves. It is well known that Saint Pope John Paul II kept his own counsel with picks in Poland, Pope Benedict in Germany, Pope Francis in Argentina and South America. So I see absolutely nothing unusual about the Pope relying primarily on his own knowledge and judgement for the “key” posts. Invariably the picks for these posts have been active on the international scene for years and are fairly well known in Rome. I strongly doubt that any Pope knows where Evansville – announced today – is and I am certain the Nuncio’s terna decided that selection. But Washington, Chicago, New York, London, etc. are in the proverbial “other kettle of fish.”

    As for Bishop McElroy, if I get a letter from the Nuncio asking for my advice I will certainly give it. I will also pray that the Pope will receive and rely on Grace when making these selections. But beyond that, it is out of my hands. Maybe it is the wisdom of age, but I have resolved to spend my time and energy in the main on things under my control, and not worry about the things that are out of my control. After decades of discernment, I have come to the conclusion that worry, angst and anger over things outside of my control inevitably leads to sin. And I can do without that.

  5. Lavrans says:

    If these rumors turn out to be true, perhaps it would not be all that terrible. Maybe even positive. Allow me to elaborate. Concerning His Excellency, Bishop McElroy, ascending to Metropolitan of Washington DC, I’m not sure it really matters anymore. After the last few elections, presidential and congressional, Washington DC has become less and less influential. Half of the country wants little to do with DC, politically, and are increasingly turning their attention to local- and state-level politics (no to mention one’s neighborhood and family), which are far more important to them, and where they can have far more effect. The conservative and intelligent Cardinal in DC has chosen to not be particularly vocal in the Church on a national level, and has shied away from direct confrontations with the politicians in DC. He has decreased the significance of his post in terms of the wider Church in America. Bishop McElroy would be taking a position in a diocese that is not as significant and influential as it was, and in a town where he will be a hero to politicians whom are hated by half of the nation. One would be far more influential and significant as bishop of, say, Madison, where one could actually make a difference among people who are more likely to pay attention. Besides, there is no guarantee that he would be a cardinal anyway, since giving the red hat to large dioceses seems passe in the current pontificate. As for the second rumor, since when did “promoting up and out” a cardinal make him more dangerous? Given the snickering among liberals when Cardinal Burke was “promoted up and out” to the Vatican, I’m not sure they would have all that much to celebrate if Cardinal Cupich goes to Rome. It would also eliminate his impact on Chicago, which would be a relief to not a small number, I’m sure.

  6. graytown says:

    I would think at least a few of the faithful in San Diego would give the Bishop a hearty send off

  7. rdb says:

    As someone more familiar than most with the process here in the US, the first rule given to the apostolic nuncio is the rejection of any candidates put forth by “culture warrior” or traditional bishops (Chaput,Dolan, Sample). Second, a preference for men from the ideological left. Then, if they can’t be found, then bland administrators with an expertise in canon law.
    The result is a return to the uncertain, bland, beige Catholicism of the 1970s.

    This is only my impression, but my guess is that McElroy will not go to DC. That may be left to Weurl to decide and I would think he has others in mind.

  8. CharlesOConnell says:

    Pope Pacelli’s central role in von Stauffenberg’s assassination attempt against Hitler, and the Pope’s coordination of efforts to ensure smooth succession among the secret opposition against the Nazis, point up an interesting fact: This is a panopticist world, in which everything done by everyone is knowable by everyone. This means, that in a future pontificate restored to the Church’s tradition, the intelligence offices of the Swiss Guard should have no difficulty providing intricate evidence of which high officials are failing to live up to their calling to continence, protestations of privacy notwithstanding, a key predictor of heterodoxy in view of “the question behind the question”. It should be possible for a future, traditional Pontiff to easily exile the heterodox out to Ulaanbaatar or some other remote posting like that which ended the career of Annibale Bugnini, Teheran wasn’t it?

  9. Kathleen10 says:

    It is not apparently just a matter of the pope making his own selection from a native land. If only. But that is not our situation. Our situation is the pope making a selection for an important post and possibly selecting a man who has chosen to put himself in front of a rainbow St. Peter’s for a picture, one who has openly supported a priest who is currently at great odds with Catholic teaching by promoting homosexuality, and encouraging people to sin.
    Just another day in the life of a Catholic today.

  10. majuscule says:

    The fact that Bishop McElroy has only been in San Diego a relative short time (a few years) makes it seem unlikely that he would transferred at this time.

    This was the thought before Bishop Cordileone of Oakland was appointed Archbishop of San Francisco just across the bay. He had not been there all that long.

    Though I suspect rdb is thinking closer to what will happen and Weurl will have some input on the matter. But maybe he favors McElroy, too.

  11. hwriggles4 says:

    Although after reading the CNA article I took the rumor with a grain of salt, I do hope and pray that our Church avoids the era of several Jadot appointments. Much of the confusion and wishy washy leadership, as well as experimentation and relativism, occurred within the Catholic Church between 1973 and 1980, particularly in the United States.

  12. Sawyer says:

    Now I know what Bishop McElroy has been campaigning for during the past twelve months. He wants to be appointed to the DC archdiocese. Think of all the things Bishop McElroy has written, said and done over the past year or so, and it makes so much sense that he would do those things in order to catch the attention of Pope Francis. McElroy would be the toast of the town in DC and get to live the rest of his life in enviable comfort, power and prestige while having an ever more influential place from which to influence politicians and the media in advancing the United States further in the direction he and Fr. James Martin would prefer.

  13. TonyO says:

    The fact that Bishop McElroy has only been in San Diego a relative short time (a few years) makes it seem unlikely that he would transferred at this time.

    I don’t think that works any more: after being the bishop of Rapid City, South Dakota, Bishop Cupich was bishop of Spokane for only 4 years before he was moved to Chicago.

    Which introduces a very serious problem: The standard practice in the Church today is to move a bishop to fill a slot somewhere else, even if only slightly larger. Indeed, it seems like few bishops stay in their first diocese unless they were (a) already quite old at first installation, or (b) put into a quite large diocese right from the start (which is rare). (Or (c) was a complete failure in the tiny diocese he started in – but it’s hard to define “failure” low enough to allow for explaining someone like Cupich.) Effectively NO large diocese ever gets as its bishop a home-grown priest.

    Someone needs to tell Rome that this is just wrong. A bishop is like a father to his priests. Would you pull a father out of a family to take over a larger family, because he was successful in a small family? No, that would be idiotic.

    A bishop, if he is doing it right, is a principal figure in leading a select (promising) group of priests toward a life of sanctity, of heroic virtue. But this takes time. A bishop must expect to BE there for many years to get this going well. You can’t pull the rug out from under him after 5 or 8 years and “move him up” , and expect this kind of result. The effect of constant moving around is to ensure that even top quality bishops have extraordinarily limited success in producing truly great priests. Mediocrity, at BEST. Usually, you get middle managers with middle manager mentality: don’t make waves, don’t upset corporate headquarters by taking a stand.

    Rome: STOP MOVING OUR BISHOPS AROUND for the heck of it!

  14. VonOrigen says:

    “If these rumors turn out to be true, perhaps it would not be all that terrible.”

    I would respectfully disagree. Allow me to explain why.

    St. Matthew’s Cathedral is my family’s parish, and I serve as a lector there. The place is a paradox, really–an often confusing melange of orthodox and unorthodox, devout and Chreaster. The actual number of cathedral parishioners is small, comprised of senior citizens, a few traditional families, and a percentage of the homosexual community living in the trendy neighborhoods nearby. It also appeals strongly to a sizable segment of the latino community, as well as small-c millennial catholics who define their faith primarily through social justice. On the liturgical side, the cathedral’s ornate appointments belie the fact that most Masses are, for the most part, barren; severely lacking in “smells and bells.” It could certainly benefit from a considerable infusion of the traditional Mass. And, I might add, a wrecking ball to the offensive memorial to John F. Kennedy on the floor right before the altar rail.

    Despite some really wacky priests–mostly nearby Jesuits brought in to augment the cathedral’s small clerical staff–the rector has done a good job keeping things from going the “full Martin.” I have served for many orthodox Vincentians, Dominicans, Franciscans, and diocesan priests. And this, I believe, reflects Cardinal Wuerl’s style, which is rather vanilla and merrily prosaic. Certainly, that comes with its own challenges, viz. Francis-fever tends to outweigh authentic preaching of orthodoxy. In my many years as a parishioner there, it is the rare priest indeed to who hectors the congregation from the pulpit. Say what you will about him, Wuerl is not prone to make waves in any direction.

    All of that would change if McElroy were appointed. Think of the cathedral–and the archdiocese writ large–as a delicate, Cold War balance: if tilted too far in one direction, cataclysm ensues. Keep in mind that Washington has become a very, very homosexual-friendly city–in fact, the HRC’s headquarters is half a block away from the cathedral (no accident). The LGBTers have, for the most part, left the cathedral alone, since Wuerl hasn’t given them a whole lot to agitate over. However, it’s a reasonable assumption that a recognized LGBT friend like McElroy would cause a wholesale change to the demographics of the cathedral, since that community would find its sense of legitimacy reinforced at the church that houses the episcopal chair.

    While that may not have a substantial impact on the latino community, which has its own Mass and ministries, the scenario I describe above would certainly tend to drive away families like mine, and like-minded lay volunteers, who are dedicated to keeping the cathedral as orthodox as possible. If an Archbishop McElroy were to continue his campaign to normalize deviancy through acceptance of homosexual relations and other irregular relations, receptivity in the archdiocese would probably be judged on a parish-by-parish basis: some of the known “liberal” parishes would feel unshackled, while others–like Twitter hero Fr. Kevin Cusick’s parish in Benedict, MD–would put up resistance.

    For parents like my wife and me, the McElroy scenario would be a real challenge for those of us who are struggling to raise our young children in an orthodox fashion. Although, to be candid, perhaps not in one respect: I am home-schooling my child in religious instruction because of the cathedral’s awful “faith formation” program. Nevertheless, it would cause us to think long and hard about what to do, and how much we could endure. We already cringe at the weekly announcement of “Always Our Children,” so I can’t imagine what would entail under McElroy’s reign.

    May it never come to pass, and here’s hoping that Archbishop Chaput would be the pope’s choice for Washington, D.C.

  15. mimicaterina says:

    Well I live in the Archdiocese of Washington. If Bergoglio appoints McElroy to DC well I’m out of here. Either I find a Marionite or Eastern rite church or I find an Orthodox church without converting to Orthodoxy but remaining Catholic. McElroy does not teach the Catholic Faith. How could I possibly remain faithful to Christ and be subject to this man? This is an honest question.

  16. Peter Stuart says:

    Praying this rumor is wrong. Archdiocese of Washington forced out the Courage Apostolate years ago. As a struggling SSA Catholic I have to travel to another diocese for this ministry. If McElroy comes to ADW there’s no telling if we’ll ever get it back. Doesn’t seem like the U.S. Bishops (based right here in DC) care to extend a hand either.

    I can empathize with other commenters’ frustration. It’s hard to not feel like I’m being rejected by my own church.

  17. Nani says:

    Peter, one of our San Diego Catholic group members asked Bishop McElroy after the celebratory Mass for Always Our Children Oct. 7 (some of us prayed the rosary outside and others were inside to take notes) about reinstating C/E since the priest who headed the SD ministry died last spring and has not been replaced. He skirted the issue so there’s no way he would reinstate it in your diocese IF he is appointed to replace Cardinal Wuerl. My suggestion is to check out St. Raymond’s in Springfield. Seems to be a solid parish and it’s close to DC.

  18. jflare says:

    “The conservative and intelligent Cardinal in DC has chosen to not be particularly vocal in the Church on a national level, and has shied away from direct confrontations with the politicians in DC. He has decreased the significance of his post in terms of the wider Church in America. ”

    If anything, Lavrans, I’d argue this to be a dramatic part of the problem. I do not consider Card Wuerl terribly conservative. I wish he were. I would have wanted him though to have established a much stronger voice than we have witnessed. Being assigned to Our nation’s capital, he could have been a profound and passionate voice for moral virtue. Instead, his being “pastoral” has been, to my thinking, much weaker at promoting virtue than it should have been.
    I do hope the next bishop of D.C. will have much more of a lion’s heart. One cannot, as a practical matter, expect jackals and vipers to think twice when one behaves like a hapless lamb.

  19. JesusFreak84 says:

    Cardinal Cupich leaving Chicago = good; the same in the Vatican = bad.

  20. kimberley jean says:

    The JFK memorial at the St. Matthews is not offensive.