As the choice of a bishop potentially can guide and shape the journey of a given diocese or archdiocese for sometimes decades at a time, the nomination and appointment of bishops in the Catholic Church is one that has a significant impact on the lives and ministerial focus of Catholics in almost every segment of the Church.
The appointment of bishops in the Catholic Church is a complicated process. Outgoing bishops , neighbouring bishops, the faithful, the apostolic nuncio, various members of the Roman Curia, and the pope all have a role in the selection.
The exact process varies based upon a number of factors, including whether the bishop is from the Latin Church or one of the Eastern Catholic Churches , the geographic location of the diocese, what office the candidate is being chosen to fill, and whether the candidate has previously been ordained to the episcopate .
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).
Stage 2: The Apostolic Nuncio
By overseeing the final list of names forwarded to Rome, the apostolic nuncio plays a decisive role in the selection process. He not only gathers facts and information about potential candidates, but also interprets that information for the Congregation. Great weight is given to the nuncio’s recommendations, but it is important to remember that his “gatekeeper” role, however, does not mean that his recommendations are always followed.
For Diocesan Bishops
After receiving the list of candidates forwarded by a province, the apostolic nuncio conducts his own investigation into the suitability of the candidates.
A report is requested from the current bishop or the administrator of a diocese on the conditions and needs of the diocese. If the appointment is a replacement for a diocesan bishop or archbishop about to retire, consideration will be given to the incumbent’s recommendations. Broad consultation within the diocese is encouraged with regard to the needs of the diocese, but not the names of candidates
The report is to include the names of individuals in the diocese with whom the Nuncio might consult and how to contact them.
Previous bishops of the diocese are consulted.
Bishops of the province are consulted
The president and vice president of the USCCB are consulted.
If the vacancy to be filled is an archdiocese, other archbishops in the United States may be consulted.
At this point, the nuncio narrows his list and a questionnaire is sent to 20 or 30 people who know each of the candidates for their input.
All material is collected and reviewed by the nuncio, and a report (approximately 20 pages) is prepared. Three candidates are listed alphabetically – the terna – with the nuncio’s preference noted. All materials are then forwarded to the Congregation for Bishops in Rome.