How does a priest become a bishop?

Sorry if this has been asked before but I did a search and didn’t have any luck…

I understand that a bishop is appointed, but I am wondering who determines that a particular priest should become a bishop? Are there certain signs in a priest that lead his superiors to think he should become a bishop? I’m thinking for instance of my parish priest, who is a wonderful priest IMHO, but he’s getting older and I doubt he will ever advance to being a bishop. Yet, I do think he’s wonderful. Is it a special calling? Do priests request to be considered, or are they simply appointed as part of their vow of obedience?

Maybe this will answer some questions.

I fear that my pastor is “bishop material”. Selfishly, I would like for him to stay right where he is at.

Thanks very much, that did answer a lot of my questions!

Usually, but not always priests who are considered have a Masters or Doctorate sometimes several. Most in addition to parish experience serve in several diocesan positions. The faithful as well as their fellow priests might recomend them to a Bishop, who in turn might mention them to a Metropolitan or Cardinal, who might consider submitting their name to the Nuncio and then on to the Congregation of Bishops for consideration, to be passed on to the Holy Father. Some have studied or served in Rome where they have made personal contacts.

Ah OK thanks for the additional information. The extra education and contacts makes sense.

I have another small question. From what I read in the initial link given, it seems priests are permitted to refuse an appointment:

After the pope makes his decision, the nuncio is notified, who then approaches the nominee and asks if he will accept the appointment. When the candidate accepts, Rome is notified and a date is set for the announcement.

So becoming a bishop is voluntary then I take it, and not part of the priests’ vow of obedience? Why is that? I mean, why wouldn’t it fall under the same category as say, being assigned to a different parish?

A person cannot be compelled to accept a Sacrament, or, in the case of Holy Orders, a degree of Sacrament.

A Sacrament is always entered into freely and without obligation.

So you’re saying being a bishop is an extra part of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, rather than just an appointment? Sorry if that sounds dumb, I really just don’t know much about this at all.

That is correct. There is one Sacrament, Holy Orders, that is bestowed in three degrees, Deacon, Priest, Bishop

Each reception places a unique mark on the soul of the recipient, configuring that person’s soul to make present the particular gifts of the sacrament.

If a Deacon, for example, is appointed as a pastor of the parish, he could not say Mass or hear confessions, he needs the particular Sacerdotal (priestly) Order of Holy Orders to do that.

Like wise with a bishop, one is not a bishop until they are Ordained to the Episcopal Order of Holy Orders.

Yes - its a seperate ordination generally requiring 3 bishops to physically lay hands on a priest to ordain him specifically as “Bishop”. It has its own ordination rite that is different than the rites used to ordain a priest or deacon. It much more than a mere administrative change in title - it is a real spiritual elevation in authority and the Holy Spirit can also impart new gifts such as spiritual-healing, exorcism, or teaching-leading charisms to touch hard and disobedient hearts etc… Or The Holy Spirit may choose to just activate and bring to the forefront spiritual gifts that were already given at baptism/confirmation but remaining somewhat dormant in anticipation of this future role as Bishop.


I would imagine that even the hint that he might be raised to the Episcopate would be a terrifying idea for most priests. Particularly in today’s climate within and without the Church. It’s tough enough for a parish priest to satisfy his own parishoners but the added responsibility and public recognition that a bishop has to accept because of the office must be a thoroughly daunting and back-breaking task. We laymen and women can’t imagine the enormous pressures that these men face daily yet so many of us are only too quick to accuse them of failing in their duties or of being disloyal because they have’nt lived up to or met only our own desires. They are under attack constantly form one ideological side or another so is it any wonder that some either break under the burden or simply distance themselves in order to preserve their own sanity?

Even our present Holy Father quailed at the thought of becoming Archbishop of Munich when the post was offered to him. His first inclination was to decline . He had great reservations as to whether or not he was worthy enough or strong enough and worried over his lack of pastoral experience. It was only after he discussed the appointment with his confessor ( a man Father Ratzinger fully expected to tell his to turn down the offer) who told him that he must accept that Father Ratzinger hesitantly agreed. We owe a tremendous amount of thanks to that confessor!

FYI, only one bishop is needed to consecrate (ordain) another bishop. Normally three bishops are present, though.

Right - I agree.


Thanks so much, I knew nothing about the different degrees of Holy Orders. I’ve really learned a lot from this thread! If anyone cares to answer further (if not I will google it, so no worries)… does it follow then that only cardinals can ordain other cardinals? And the pope? I know they vote for him, but is he permitted to refuse, as I read a priest can refuse to become a bishop?

The office of cardinal is not a part of the sacrament of holy orders. It is simply an honor bestowed (usually) on a bishop by the pope. Becoming a cardinal is not a further progression of the sacrament of holy orders. As mentioned before, the three degrees of Holy Orders are: Deacon, Priest, Bishop.

Cardinals act as electors of a pope. The person elected may decline. The papacy, like the cardinalate, is not a further degree of holy orders. The pope is already a bishop and remains a bishop–bishop of Rome–when elected.

Ah OK… thanks for the explanation!

It must be extremely hard to become a bishop in my diocese as there must be 50 priests under the bishop although some progress to dean. I don’t know how anybody progresses to Pope. The fact is if you enter the priesthood, most priests won’t progress in terms of career in any case and stay on the bottom rung. This doesn’t mean to say they can’t be saints and the first will be last and the last will be first.


It’s hard enough for a life long priest to get the an honorary title of Monsignor after being a priest for 30-40 years even. Non Catholics like to bemoan the Catholic Church for being too hierarchical but the truth is the ecclesial structure is the flattest organization in the world: 1 Pope at top and 5000 or so bishops reporting directly to him and his committees and each bishop having a priest in parishes in his dioceses and each parish having a few attached deacons, possibly a few relgious sisters/brothers and lay member volunteers helping them. That is FLAT. Even the Cardinals are just honorary titles - not an advancement in spiritual authority; albeit they get some relational clout for being near the Pope’s inner circle.

But if world governments could all manage their nation’s governments anywhere near as efficiently as the Vatican does with as small a budget per capita and with as few people and low bureaucracy overhead (overseeing and governing 1.2 billion Catholics) governments would be very small and there would be a lot less tax for government.

As well the Church just does not hand out many gratuitous honors and titles - its HARD to get recognition in the Catholic Church. I think its easier for laiety to get recognized than it is clergy through a few lay awards of recognition. Basically a priest gets only a title change from assistant priest to pastor if he gets his own parish then nothing more unless he lands a late life title of Monsignor or gets put forward for Bishop. Statistically its very hard to become a Bishop and one must really be known and highly recommended.


On refusing the episcopate – while certainly any priest selected to be a bishop has the right to refuse, I have the impression that this is fairly rare, and that it is generally expected they will accept. For example, my own bishop (soon to be an archbishop) loves to tell how he can still remember the exact words the papal nuncio used to inform him – “The Holy Father has selected you to be a bishop and I am sure you will want to please the Holy Father and I am sure you will accept”.

Also, did I see someone use “efficient” and “the Vatican” in the same sentence?
Just kidding, please don’t send your secret albino monk assassins after me! :wink:

The title of Monsignor is of course an honorary title given to priests for exceptional or lengthy service. However, in the recent past, there were some (many?) dioceses in which priests’ councils voted to cease giving such titles, and at their request, the bishops did not bestow many monsignor titles. That seems to have changed now.

[quote="CentralFLJames]But if world governments could all manage their nation’s governments anywhere near as efficiently as the Vatican does with as small a budget per capita and with as few people and low bureaucracy overhead (overseeing and governing 1.2 billion Catholics) governments would be very small and there would be a lot less tax for government.

Haha, Mr. Central Florida, the Vatican doesn’t need to worry about plowing snow…quite the priority up here in Canada!

Hehe (again!), don’t mistake inefficiency when they’re just trying to investigate the matter thoroughly :wink:

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