The ultimate decision in appointing bishops rests with the pope, and he is free to select anyone he chooses. But how does he know whom to select?
The process for selecting candidates for the episcopacy normally begins at the diocesan level and
works its way through a series of consultations until it reaches Rome. It is a process bound by
strict confidentiality and involves a number of important players the most influential being the
apostolic nuncio, the Congregation for Bishops, and the pope. It can be a time consuming
process, often taking eight months or more to complete. While there are distinctions between the
first appointment of a priest as a bishop and a bishop's later transfer to another diocese or his
promotion to archbishop, the basic outlines of the process remain the same.
The pope's representative to both the government and to the hierarchy of a given nation; a key
person in deciding what names are recommended to the Congregation for Bishops for possible
A bishop appointed to assist a diocesan bishop. Whether in a diocese or archdiocese, his title is
A bishop appointed to a Catholic diocese or archdiocese to assist the diocesan bishop. Unlike an
auxiliary bishop, he has the right of succession, meaning that he automatically becomes the new
bishop when the diocesan bishop retires or dies. By canon law, he is also vicar general of the
diocese. If the diocese is an archdiocese, he is called coadjutor archbishop instead of coadjutor
bishop. In recent years, a growing number of U.S. bishops in larger dioceses or archdioceses
have requested and received a coadjutor in their final year or two before their retirement, in order
to familiarize their successor with the workings of the (arch)diocese before he has to take over
the reins. This minimizes the learning curve of a new bishop and eliminates completely the
possibility of the diocese being vacant following the old bishop's retirement.
Congregation for Bishops
A department of the Roman Curia, headed by a Cardinal. The head of the Congregation, called
the "prefect," is presently Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re of Italy. Among the congregation's
responsibilities are moderating all aspects of episcopal appointments; assisting bishops in the
correct exercise of their pastoral functions; handling ad limina visits (regular visits to Rome by
bishops every five years); and establishing episcopal conferences and reviewing their decrees as
required by canon law. Its membership consists of approximately 35 cardinals and archbishops
from around the world. U.S. Cardinals on the Congregation are Justin Rigali, William Levada,
Bernard Law and Francis Stafford.
Pastoral and legal head and representative of a diocese.
A territory comprising one archdiocese, called the metropolitan see, and one or more dioceses,
called suffragan sees. The Code of Canon Law spells out certain limited obligations and
authority that the metropolitan archbishop has with respect to the dioceses within his province.
The United States is divided into 33 ecclesiastical provinces.
A list of three candidates for a vacant office, including the office of bishop.
Stage 1: Bishops' Recommendations
Every bishop may submit to the archbishop of his province the names of priests he thinks would
make good bishops. Prior to the regular province meeting (usually annually), the archbishop
distributes to all the bishops of the province the names and curricula vitae of priests which have
been submitted to him. Following a discussion among the bishops at the province meeting, a vote
is taken on which names to recommend. The number of names on this provincial list may vary.
The vote tally, together with the minutes of the meeting, is then forwarded by the archbishop to
the apostolic nuncio in Washington. The list is also submitted to the United States Conference of
Catholic Bishops (USCCB).
How Bishops are Appointed
We've upgraded our reader commenting system. Learn more about the new features.
The Baltimore Sun encourages civil dialogue related to our stories; you must register and log-in to our site in order to participate. We reserve the right to remove any user and to delete comments that violate our Terms of Service. By commenting, you agree to these terms. Please flag inappropriate comments.