Call for laity to be involved in appointment of bishops

bishops appointments

Swiss bishop of Basel, Felix Gmür, is calling for the laity to be involved in the appointment of bishops.

Gmür says the Church’s history shows that over time there have been different election procedures for bishops.

“It was only with the publication of the ecclesiastical code of law (CIC) in 1917 that the right to elect bishops was expressly granted to the Pope.”

It is simply not true that while the 1917 Code tried to create the impression that the papal right of appointment was ancient and other models were based purely on an act of grace by the pope.

“So the development is only a hundred years old,” Gmür writes in an article for Forum.

Since the earliest days of the Church, the broadest possible participation of lay people and other Church bodies were considered necessary in episcopal appointments.

“He who is to preside over all must be elected by all,” writes Gmür, quoting fifth-century pope Leo the Great.

Gmür went through an uncommon election process to become Bishop of Basel.

Appointed bishop on the basis of a vote of the cathedral chapter that was subsequently confirmed by the Pope, a privilege that dates back to the Vienna Concordat of 1448, a similar procedure also applies in the St Gallen diocese.

However, Gmür wants a new process that goes past the models used in these dioceses.

He says that while these processes are wider than a papal appointment, the processes also suffer from shortcomings including a veto on priests not incardinated into those dioceses and the informal understanding – not institutionalised – that the cathedral chapters will take into account the perspectives of diocesan priests and laity in their voting.

“Mechanisms need to be found, according to the respective cultural sensitivities, to ensure that the whole diocesan people of God is adequately represented” in the appointment of its shepherds, Gmür underlined.

The Swiss bishop also warned of other possible pitfalls.

Gmür is of the view the procedure for selecting candidates and electing the bishop must not “under any circumstances” be organised as a democratic election campaign.

It must be designed as “a process of spiritual discernment leading to a decision that is as unanimous as possible” he insists.

“Here the Church can learn from those religious orders which have been practising this for a long time.”

“Models for the election of bishops, supported locally by the faithful and at the same time supported by the universal Church, should not be the exception, but the rule.” he reiterated.


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