Becoming a Bishop: How Successors of the Apostles are Chosen

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Currents News Staff

It’s been two years since Bishop DiMarzio submitted his resignation, a requirement when a bishop reaches the age of 75. Naming a replacement for a diocesan bishop is obviously not something that happens overnight.

The entire process can take months, even years. It all starts right in the local diocese and ends with a decision at the Vatican.

We spoke with those in the know to find out what happens in between.

Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Brooklyn Octavio Cisneros has been at the receiving end of a similar process and was part of the process in choosing Brooklyn’s newest bishop.

“One does not become a bishop, one is chosen a bishop. It’s not a lot of steps but it involves a lot of people,” said Bishop Cisneros.

It starts with a meeting of the bishops in an ecclesiastical province. New York’s eight dioceses make up the empire state’s province. Each bishop in a province can nominate someone.

“Why are you chosen? Because you are doing that which you were meant to do as a priest. Be a good priest- do what you were ordained to do… and do it with love, do it with freedom, do it with a fidelity to the church and to the diocese and to the people who you are ministering,” said Bishop Cisneros.

The bishops take a vote and send the top names to the Apostolic Nuncio, Christophe Pierre.  This is the part of the process where a lot of the research is done.

The nuncio gets information about the diocese from the current bishop. He also contacts priests and even lay people to find out more about a nominee.  He then narrows the list down to three, which is called the Terna, and sends it to the USCCB for input. Then to Rome, to the Congregation of Bishops at the Vatican. Bishops and cardinals from around the world meet to vote on the candidates and put them in order of preference.

Editor Emeritus of The Tablet, Ed Wilkinson, says the congregation does its due diligence.

“They look at the slots that are available. It’s almost like a chess game – who fits where – who’s got the talents that would be best used whether in the state or outside of the province. They want to pick the right person they want to find the person who has the right talent, the right resource for a particular diocese,” said Wilkinson.

The names of the top three candidates are presented to the pope who makes the final decision.

“It’s the Holy Father. He may like all 3 names. He may like none of the names. He may add another name,” said Bishop Cisneros.

Whoever the pope chooses is notified by the nuncio and asked if he will accept the appointment.

“Oh, it’s an exciting time. It’s always exciting. You get the new bishop and you want to get to learn more about him and you see him in action and you see his new style. It’s going to be a very exciting time,” said Wilkinson.

Once accepted, an announcement is made, an ordination or installation is scheduled, and the excitement begins.