To choose a bishop: a man for the Church, not a “ladder-climber”

The criteria is not to seek perfection, “saints” to put on a pedestal, but men who certainly possess human and spiritual virtues.

May 08, 2021

Cardinale Marc Ouellet (Vatican Media)


By Benedetta Capelli

The criteria is not to seek perfection, “saints” to put on a pedestal,  but men who certainly possess human and spiritual virtues. The  first of these is prudence which does not mean “reticence or timidity” but “balance between action and reflection while exercising a  responsibility that requires great dedication and courage”. Cardinal  Marc Ouellet succinctly outlines the typical profile of a candidate for  the ministry of bishop. The Vatican Congregation he has guided for  years has this responsibility which is carried out according to welldefined norms and practices. The objective is to help the Pope choose  pastors to whom the ecclesial communities throughout the world will  be entrusted. It is a task, he explains, that is conducted collegially  “with a spirit of faith, and not with a calculating spirit”.

Pope Francis has used a strong expression to describe the great responsibility that belongs to the Dicastery called  to choose Successors of the Apostles:  “This Congregation exists to ensure  that the name of the one who is chosen has first been spoken by the Lord”.  What do you do to remain faithful to  such an exalted and demanding task?
The task the Church entrusts to this Dicastery is that of helping the Holy Father decide. Our task is that of making a  prior discernment. Concerning this “first  stage”, I can synthesise this enormous  task in three verbs: prayer, consultation,  verification. Prayer: prayer is the first and  last thing done. It is an act of an initial  and final entrusting of our intentions to  the Heavenly Father. It is not by chance  that the Chapel with the Blessed Sacrament is at the centre of the offices of the  Congregation. Every time anyone walks  the halls, we find ourselves in front of  this mysterious Presence to whom every  action must refer. Consultation: this preparatory stage we carry out reaches its  peak after an intense undertaking using  a synodal method in consultation with  the People of God, Nuncios, Members  of the Plenary Assembly. What has been  distilled from all this is what arrives on  the Pope’s desk. Verification: this means  we try to achieve the greatest certainty  possible that the person who has been  indicated possesses the necessary qualities.

Behind each episcopal appointment is  a discernment made on the part of the  Congregation. But it also consults and  involves the Apostolic Nunciatures and  the local Churches. Can you explain  the method used to carry this out and  what financial resources this entails regarding your mission budget?
Identifying and evaluating a candidate  is the fruit of a collaboration between  several players. Every three years, a  list of promovendis is compiled by the  Metropolitan Bishops. This is a list of  priests who may be suitable for the office of bishop, according to the indications of the Bishops of the Metropolitan  dioceses. The Nunciature evaluates each  candidate using a consultative process  with the people of God. This process is  carried out with utmost confidentiality.  Those who are consulted in this process  are asked to keep strict confidentiality  to guarantee the truthfulness of the information and, above all, to protect the  reputation of the person being evaluated. Once the best candidates who fit  the needs of the moment have been  identified, the information is transmitted to the Holy See. It then, through the  Congregation for Bishops, considers the  candidates in the light of general criteria  and, with the help of an Assembly of its  members designated for this purpose by  the Holy Father – which currently consists of 23 members between Cardinals  and Bishops from all over the world.  This Assembly carries out the final evaluation that will be offered to the Pope for  his final decision.

Isn’t there a risk that the selection process of bishops might be affected by  certain commonalities or conditions?  How can this be avoided?
As in all human matters, those involved  might be moved by ambition, envy, personal interests. To avoid this, it is necessary to cultivate the spirit of detachment  in the people of God and in the formation of priests. The Church has no need  of people who want to “climb the ladder”, of people who seek the first places,  but of men who sincerely want to serve  their brothers and sisters and show them  the path of faith and conversion.

What counts most in the pastoral profile of a bishop: natural gifts, spiritual  virtues, or the capability to govern a  diocese?
The Congregation for Bishops, unlike  the Congregation for Saints, deals with  the pastoral profiles of candidates who  are not yet perfect, but of men on the  way of perfection. What certainly counts  in a priest proposed for the episcopate  are the theological and cardinal virtues,  the so-called principal human virtues.  Above all, what is most important for  this office is prudence. This should not  be understood as reticence or timidity,  but as balance between action and reflection while exercising a responsibility  that requires great dedication and courage.

What influence has the personality  and sensibilities of various Pontiffs had  on the criteria used to select bishops?
The sensibilities of a pontificate certainly have a notable influence on the choices. Each Pope has received a particular  “vision” from the Holy Spirit regarding  the Church’s problems and priorities it  should have. Anyone who collaborates  with him is called to enter into the perspective of the Chief Shepherd with  the spirit of faith, and not a calculating spirit.

The ad limina visits which the bishops  from around the world make every five  years are an important moment for exchange between the local Churches,  the Pope and the Roman Curia. What  can be done so these visits become an  opportunity for awareness and enrichment for the lay faithful and parish  communities?
The ad limina visits are a concrete  synodal moment which the bishops  throughout the world experience with  the Pope and the Dicasteries that assist  him in his ministry. The “presentations”  the Episcopal Conferences bring from  their territories create a fascinating mosaic through which one can glimpse how  God is working in every corner of the  globe. Prior to the visit, each individual  bishop should have listened to his people. Once he has returned to his diocese  after this series of meetings that culminates with the celebration of the Eucharist with the Holy Father on the Tomb of  Peter, he should recount this experience  so everyone is informed about what was  received.

You are also President of the Pontifical  Commission for Latin America, established by Pius XII in 1958. Why was this  Commission placed under the Congregation for Bishops and what role does  it play within the context of the pontificate of the first Latin American Pope in  history?
Historically speaking, the Pontifical  Commission for Latin America (C.A.L.)  was established as a body meant to facilitate the sending of missionaries from  Europe to South America. Throughout  the years, its physiognomy has changed  as the face of the Church has changed.  Currently, the flow of missionaries is going in the opposite direction. So, priests  from the Latin American continent are  treading in reverse the paths taken by  the first missionaries to bring the Good  News to many European countries. Today, the C.A.L. is a dynamic entity that  fosters awareness of the Continent to the  Curia and vice versa. Above all it offers  its availability regarding the needs of  those lands, follows them directly and  promotes small direct interventions. In  the past few years, the Commission has  focused primarily on dialogue and promotes reflection on the priorities regarding the future of this Catholic Continent  under the direction of Pope Francis.

An Assembly of 20 members collaborates with the C.A.L. They participate  in the Plenaries that reflect on and provide orientations for the future of this  territory. I would like to recall the Plenary Assembly of 2018 in a particular  way. Its theme was: Woman: a pillar in  constructing the Church and society in  Latin America. It was a truly beautiful  moment, a moment accompanied by the  Holy Spirit. ––Vatican News

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