New Zealand: forgotten to the Vatican?

New Zealand bishop appointments

Antipodean New Zealand is not in the Holy See’s neighbourhood, but it is no real excuse for having two dioceses without bishops for so long, says Luke Coppen, in The Pillar.

It is three years since Charles Drennan resigned as Bishop of Palmerston North.

Coppen points out it appointing bishops in New Zealand has not previously been too much of a problem.

He reports that outside observers of the Palmerston North diocese say the local Church has fared surprisingly well without a bishop for the past three years. But there are certain decisions that must wait until the arrival of a new bishop.

Speaking with local clergy, one mentioned to The Pillar he could name five good candidates for the vacant dioceses.

“The problem is not the availability of candidates, but rather the criteria by which they are chosen.”

He told Coppen the way bishops are chosen is “outmoded.”

He said he had been asked to fill in forms about potential bishops that asked questions such as whether there was any reason in the candidate’s family that would cause scandal to the Church.

How do we measure scandal these days; life and family life is complex today? he asked.

“We’re looking for these men who are pluperfect,” he said.

“The model still looks for men who are able to be subservient and at the same time almost be careerists. And so it becomes a sort of oxymoron that you’re looking for,” proffered another priest.

He told Coppen that he thought the group that probably suffers most from the Vatican’s inactivity is the diocesan team.

“They sort of work for the bishop.”

“They’re his people who do his bidding. And I would say of everybody, they’re a little bit lost.”

Looking for a reason for the delay Coppen says the Dicastery for Evangelisation that controls the process of appointing bishops in New Zealand is considered to be adequately staffed and is ‘fairly efficient.’

Noting that the Dicastery needs to cooperate with the powerful Secretariat of State, Coppen asks whether this interaction is slowing down the process, however, concluded there is no evidence to suggest this is the case.

Since 2019, the Tanzanian Archbishop Novatus Rugambwa has served as apostolic nuncio to New Zealand.

He is also the nuncio for a dizzying array of other territories, including Fiji, Tonga, and Samoa.

One of the priests interviewed by Coppen suggested that the problem seems to be the relationship between the New Zealand bishops and Apostolic Nuncio.

He opined they have different “visions of Church”.

At his installation as Bishop of Auckland in March, Bishop Lowe, the former Bishop of Hamilton, thanked Archbishop Rugambwa for his presence.

“Can I please ask you to work hard to find a great bishop for Hamilton? I think Palmerston North and Christchurch are looking for one too,” he remarked to laughter in the congregation.

Coppen says there was nothing in the light-hearted comment to suggest there was a gulf between the nuncio and the bishops. But it did imply that the lack of new bishops is weighing on Church leaders’ minds.

Archbishop Rugambwa has not responded to a request for comment at the time of publication.


Additional reading

News category: New Zealand, Palmerston.

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