Catholic group focuses on successor to Cardinal Francis George

An excerpt from a Chicago Tribune article; full text can be found at:,0,4753253.story

Note: bold is mine (comments/questions follow).

A group of Chicago-area Roman Catholics dedicated to reforming its church is asking parishioners which leader they would like to see at the helm of the Chicago Archdiocese once Cardinal Francis George retires.

Members of Voice of the Faithful, an organization of progressive Catholics focused on church accountability, have set up two websites to solicit suggestions from people in the pews.

**Activists said the unprecedented undertaking fulfills centuries-old canon law that calls on the faithful to communicate their needs and weigh in on major decisions.

“The average layman does not realize his duty according to canon law to make needs known when it comes to selecting bishops,” said Mary Jean Cardwell, a parishioner at Sts. Faith, Hope and Charity Catholic Church in Winnetka and one of the initiative’s organizers. “Who knows better the needs of the community than I do? I’ve lived here for 43 years. … So many things have been done by our current cardinal, but there are things that have been left undone. It’s a very important endeavor that we’re doing.”**

However, the archdiocese has told parish priests that they are not allowed to advertise the public initiative in their parish bulletins. Although the cardinal supports the group’s goal of energizing people in the pews, the creation of a clearinghouse for communication taints the process, the church said.

“Voice of the Faithful is an independent group that has no standing in the Catholic Church,” said Colleen Dolan, a spokeswoman for the cardinal. “The idea of encouraging people to send thoughts and ideas to the nuncio (papal representative) is in canon law and is a very good idea. … There’s no reason why it has to go through a separate group to be filtered.”

Activists contend that they aren’t breaking the rules by proposing such a democratic approach. They point to Canon Law 212, which states: "Christ’s faithful are at liberty to make known their needs, especially their spiritual needs, and their wishes to the pastors of the Church."

The canon adds: “They have the right, indeed at times the duty, in keeping with their knowledge, competence and position, to manifest to the sacred pastors their views on matters which concern the good of the Church. They have the right also to make their views known to others of Christ’s faithful.”

Activists cite church historians who wrote about bishop elections in the first millennium and the church’s creation of a more centralized internal process to keep emperors and other elites from hijacking the process for political gain.

“There’s been even more centralization by Rome over this process over the century,” said Paul Culhane, a retired political science professor at Northern Illinois University also leading the effort. “We want to inch it out just a little bit.”

Normally, prior to a bishop’s retirement, the apostolic nuncio, or U.S. papal ambassador in Washington, solicits suggestions from select parishioners. At a meeting with George in January, Cardwell, Culhane and another parishioner proposed casting a wider net with listening sessions, much like the system for assigning new parish pastors. They also proposed surveys of parishioners’ opinions.

George suggested they seek approval from the apostolic nuncio. They did. In a letter to Cardwell, the papal ambassador, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, vetoed the particulars of the proposal but affirmed the group’s intentions.

“The apostolic nuncio would willingly receive any expression of a lay Catholic in regard to his or her own concerns in regard to a new bishop or recommendations that he or she might propose,” Vigano wrote. “Members of the Voice of the Faithful are, therefore, free to encourage such communication to be addressed to the apostolic nuncio as a part of this process.”

Culhane, a member of St. James Parish in Arlington Heights, said he thinks those words gave the group the green light to proceed with at least part of its plan.

But when the group tried to get the word out in parish bulletins in June, the archdiocese stopped the presses.

“Canon law says the lay faithful are encouraged to provide their input,” the cardinal’s spokeswoman said. “But it does not say any organizations are asked to or approved to act as a conduit.”

This brings up several questions:

  • Are the references to canon law indeed a true interpretation?

  • Does the laity have a right (or a duty) to make their voices heard on the selection of a new bishop, or are the people in question trying to apply democracy to a process where it doesn’t belong?

  • In any democratic process, there are winners and losers. By going down the path described in the article, is the laity unintentionally planting the seeds of dissent when (ultimately) one or more groups don’t get “their” bishop?

Comments welcome!!! :slight_smile:

God bless,

I think there is enough politics in the Church as it is, we don’t need any more. I think it’s a bad idea. We do not want our priests and bishops affraid to stand up for the truth because some people don’t want to hear the truth.

To me, this is the key piece from the news story to focus on:

“Voice of the Faithful is an independent group that has no standing in the Catholic Church,” said Colleen Dolan, a spokeswoman for the cardinal. “The idea of encouraging people to send thoughts and ideas to the nuncio (papal representative) is in canon law and is a very good idea. … There’s no reason why it has to go through a separate group to be filtered.”

Catholics can certainly make their thoughts known to the nuncio. That’s what he’s there for. :slight_smile: But to have an outside group with no standing in the Church coordinate such an effort is unnecessary and potentially problematic. All you will get is the slanted agenda of this particular group, not the true feelings of the Catholics in the pews.

And of course, such comments are, of their nature, advisory. We do not have the final say. We do not get to vote for our bishops like they are running for political office. I thank God for that. The last thing our Church needs is for our shepherds to become more like politiicians.

Canon Law does allow for, and even encourage, the faithful to bring their spiritual needs to their pastors and bishops.

The heiarchy is under no obligation to act upon it, as the Church is not a democracy.

I have every right, for example, to ask my pastor to say Mass in Klingon. He is under no obligation to do so, simply because I requested it.

Likewise, a person can request that an unothordox wacko be appointed as Archbishop of Chicago. The Pope is under no obligation to do so. :rolleyes:


I think we make a grave mistake when we inflate our own sense of importance and assume that our own personal perspective carries more weight than those (like the nuncio) who are involved in this process. Who has more perspecitve? The person who lived in Chicago for 43 years? Or the person who has spoken with dozens of people who have lived in Chicago for varying lengths of times in varying parts of the Archdiocese from varying backgrounds with varying questions and concerns?

The Holy Father knows what he’s doing. The Congregation for Bishops knows what they’re doing. The Apostolic Nuncio knows what he’s doing. They’re not just picking names out of a hat. I guarantee you that picking a replacement for Cardinal George has been on the radar screen for years already. These things are in motion behind the scenes for quite some time before we ever hear about it.

I thought the ‘Voice of the [so-called] Faithful’ was dead and gone, off the radar screen.

Guess not. :rolleyes:

Anyway, it’s stupid what they want to do.

I want to shout to them, ‘THE CHURCH IS NOT A DEMOCRACY!’ Can’t they get that through their thick skulls?


Let the Holy Father, with the Congregation of Bishops (good choices of new shepherds, Your Eminence Cardinal Ouellet :thumbsup:) make the choice as to who will succeed Cardinal George!

Buzz off, ‘Voice of the [so-called] Faithful’! If you want a ‘democratic church’, then go to the Episcopalians!

Since my OP, I’ve been reading more on the Voice of the Faithful (I, personally, have not heard of the group beforehand). In case you’re interested, here is their website for “bishop elections”:

I have to admit that while I disagree with their goals, they make a good argument. However, I was shocked at the arrogance of one of the things on their ‘News’ page. It is a letter that they sent to the Pope in 2010; while a couple years old, it is directly relevant to the current discussion. Here is an excerpt (again, bold is mine)…

March 22, 2010
His Holiness
Pope Benedict XVI
Vatican City

Holy Father:
On behalf of Voice of the Faithful, and in constructive response to the damage done to our Church as a result of the ongoing global sexual abuse crisis, I request that you require the formal participation of lay men and women in the Episcopal recommendation processes held at archdiocesan and diocesan levels, preliminary to your appointment of new bishops.

In support of this request, I enclose a document entitled “Consulting the Laity on Candidates for the Episcopacy.” This analysis reviews the history of selecting bishops in the Roman Catholic Church; argues the timeliness and benefits of restoring the role of lay men and women in the recommendation processes at this critical time; and, finally, offers a model for implementing this lay participation, which the Holy See may find useful.

As you so well know, Holy Father, the participation of all members of a local church, clergy and laity, in the selection of their new bishop was regarded as a sine qua non by the Fathers of the Church throughout the first millennium and well into the second. But major abuses by the nobility in the appointment of bishops led Church authorities gradually to restrict and eliminate any substantive role for the laity in the selection of their bishops.

I find it appalling to somehow connect lack of participation by the laity with sexual abuse. Perhaps I’m reading to much in to this, but it is essentially saying, “We don’t trust you guys to choose bishops that won’t sexually abuse us, so we’re taking over.”

I try to remain open minded about things, but… Really?!? :mad:

LOL, The Church clearly invites and encourages individual members of the faithful to write the nuncio and make recommendations. VOT(u)F doesn’t want that. THEY want to the be clearinghouse of such letters so that they can assemble, summarize and spin the results into a political advocacy position, aka ‘hit plan.’

Nice try guys.

That’s pretty much what it boils down to. I can undertsand their motivations, but it’s not the most constructive way to deal with the sex abuse scandal.

Plus, who is to say that lay people are not consulted? Just because they aren’t consulted (and who would consult a group with such an obvious agenda and expect to get useful feedback?) doesn’t mean it does not happen at all.

When a priest is on the radar screen to be raised (potentially) to the episcopacy, you can be sure they vet the guy by asking people who know him to share their thoughts.

I’d stand up and clap if I ever heard a homily about spending eternity in Stovokor.

I think that Voice of the Faithful has the Church confused with Episcopalianism. :smiley:

Picking prelates isn’t the job of the laity. Where do they come up with this stuff?

Interesting that you should say this. The early Church was quite comfortable with it.

Election–In the Early Church, bishops were elected by the entire local church over which they were to preside. Bishops in neighboring dioceses would assemble the local clergy and laity, and all together would elect the new bishop. It should not be thought, however, that such elections were merely democratic—the emphasis was upon consensus rather than majority rule—and election by acclamation was not unheard of. In time, with the danger of so sacred an undertaking descending into base electoral politics, it became the custom for episcopal nominations to be performed by a Synod of bishops.

Certainly in the normal course of things ordinary lay people speak to their pastors about things that bother them, things they like, concerns they have, etc. The pastors then speak together in deanery meetings and with the bishop. The bishop talks to his adjuncts and neighboring bishops. The nuncio hears all of this.

The bishop who is retiring, the vicar general, senior pastors, all contribute to whatever information is put together about the needs of the diocese (and the relative merits of any candidates from that diocese), but all of this information is drawn from the comments of the lay faithful who actually talk to their pastors.

Too bad for VotF, those people are likely to be the head usher, KofC, youth group or CCD volunteers, and other people who probably don’t have quite the same agenda that VotF does.

That seems to be the attitude of the papal nuncio. He welcomes letters from individual Catholics expressing their concerns or suggestions, but does not welcome letters from organizations claiming to the representatives of lay Catholics.

BTW, here is the Canon Law in question

Can. 212 §1. Conscious of their own responsibility, the Christian faithful are bound to follow with Christian obedience those things which the sacred pastors, inasmuch as they represent Christ, declare as teachers of the faith or establish as rulers of the Church.

§2. The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires.

§3. According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.

The Church evolves. In the Middle Ages there were nine year-old Bishops so. . . .

A yes, another bout of verbal flatulence from Vice of the Faithful.

While it is fine for Catholics to make sure the Nuncio knows of their concerns, it almost sounds like VOTF wants to present its own slate of candidates. Not only do I doubt that anyone in VOTF has the knowledge of the backgrounds of the various priests who could be considered, the letterhead of VOTF is going to taint the chances of anyone they list.

The practical issue is that any list of characteristics desired or candidates preferred is going to be very locally based. Appointments of Bishops is a national project - especially for large dioceses such as Chicago. This is where appeal to how it was done in the first centuries of the Church breaks down.

Are you referring to the profane tradition of the “boy bishop” or do you have some kind of evidence that nine-year-olds were ordained and consecrated to a diocese?

Oh, who cares? This is irrelevant, dated and old, old, old.

The survey site and the recommendation page are active, and I am taking it upon myself to register my own opinions with the survey so that they have a clearer picture of what Catholics really think.

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