In the Archdiocese of Cologne, Germany (one of the most ancient European sees) Joachim Cardinal Meisner is in the last months of his reign as Archbishop. As the close of his episcopate draws closer, lay folk and some priests are voicing criticism over the way the Archbishop is appointed.
Currently, I understand, Cologne is one of the few sees that don’t get a Bishop assigned directly, but which send lists with candidates to the Pope, who reviews the list and sends three suggestions back. The Pope’s suggestions are to take into account the Chapter’s list, but he isn’t obliged to stick with it. The chapter then secretly votes on who will be the new Archbishop, one of the three suggestions is chosen. I understand there is opportunity to send the Pope’s suggestions back again for another round. For more on this, read about the Prussian Concordat.
Now, however, the Kölner Kircheninitiative (Cologne Church initiative) is causing a fuss by demanding sweeping changes to the method. They demand that no candidate be placed on the list who has not been democratically elected by the laypeople of the diocese. They cite quotes from Pope St. Celestine I and Pope St. Leo the Great.
You can find the Open Letter to His Holiness and the Chapter here, in German: kki.he-hosting.de/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Handzettel_web_1113.pdf
They have even created a checklist for people to check off which qualities they want the future Archbishop of Cologne to possess. Among them: “tolerance towards those of other opinion”, “Transparency”, “Authority, but not authoritarian” and “Open to the future”. Another section of the document (link below) addresses wishes as to what the new Archbishop address first in his episcopate: “Delegate more responsibility to the local parishes”, “more synodical structures”, “Less focus on priests”, “Enable parish governance by non-priests”, “More pastoral responsibility for women”, “Lingually and liturgically closer-to-real life (realistic) Masses and preaching” and “Reduction of authoritative structures and fear”.
The latter form ends with a field in which people can propose candidates for the Episcopate.
So, basically there are two questions for discussion:
- Is this theoretically possible?
- What are the pros and cons?
My view is that we should not turn to radical democracy for the appointment of Bishops. While that may have worked in ancient times, nowadays it would cause great problems.