An excerpt from a Chicago Tribune article; full text can be found at:
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?