Lay role in choosing bishops hits legal ‘snag’

lay role

A call from Germany’s “synodal way” to give lay Catholics a clearly defined role in choosing bishops has run into problems.

The Southern German Archdiocese of Bamberg says the decision seems incompatible with a concordat governing the appointment of bishops.

In their document “Involvement of the faithful in the appointment of the diocesan bishop,” synodal way members called on cathedral chapters — which play a significant role in selecting German bishops — to work with an elected body representing “the entire people of God in the diocese”.

Between them, they would determine the list of suitable candidates the chapter sends to the Vatican.

Old laws cast long shadows

Implementing the synodal way’s directive has hit a few legal snags.

German dioceses are bound by different rules.

This is because individual German states signed concordats with the Holy See both before and after the unification of Germany in 1871.

As an example, Bamberg archdiocese, which was founded in the year 1007, operates under the Bavarian Concordat of 1924.

Under this, bishops and cathedral chapters submit a list of suitable candidates every three years. When a See falls vacant (as is currently the case), the chapter draws up and sends a shortlist to the pope to select a candidate from. The Bavarian state government usually rubber-stamps nominations.

“Due to the currently existing legal situation in the dioceses subject to the Bavarian Concordat, the cathedral chapter unfortunately sees no possibility of implementing the decision … when drawing up the lists,” the Bamberg archdiocese says.

While Bamberg’s cathedral chapter supports giving lay people a role in principle, a change in the law will be needed before they can be included in the selection process. The chapter hopes to explore options with the local diocesan council.

Other German archdioceses, like Paderborn, operate under the Prussian Concordat of 1929. This gives its cathedral chapter a leading role in selecting a new archbishop.

However, a majority of cathedral chapter members must elect the new archbishop.

What can be done?

The synodal way text suggests cathedral chapters could voluntarily involve lay people in the process.

“Under the Church’s current law and concordats, the following forms of participation are open to the diocesan people of God,” the text says.

“A right of co-decision in the preparation of the list of candidates, and a right to be heard prior to the selection being made from the list of candidates.

“These two rights can be realised through a voluntary undertaking on the part of the respective cathedral chapter.”

Recently, the Pope named three women as members of the Dicastery for Bishops, the Vatican department overseeing bishops’ appointments. Innovation is therefore possible, supporters say.

But the Vatican says “prior to an agreed understanding at the level of the universal Church, it would not be permissible to initiate new official structures or doctrines in the dioceses, which would represent a wound to ecclesial communion and a threat to the unity of the Church.”


Additional reading

News category: Great reads, Palmerston, Top Story, World.

Tags: , , ,