This week, our friends Colleen Dulle and Gerard O’Connell of America did a “deep dive” into the selection process for Catholic bishops in the latest episode of their always-informative “Inside the Vatican” podcast.

During the podcast—which also featured interviews with former America editor Fr. Tom Reese, SJ, Archbishop John Wester of Santa Fe, and Kerry Robinson of the Leadership Roundtable—Dulle and O’Connell discussed how the McCarrick Report marked the first time in history that a detailed accounting of the entire process of the selection of a bishop has been revealed by the Vatican.

As the show notes explain:

The bishop selection process is perhaps the most secretive hiring process in the world, shielded from both the candidate and the priests and people he will serve. Those who are consulted about possible candidates are required to return the list of questions they’ve been sent, because even the questions, which reveal no particulars about a candidate, are protected under the Vatican’s top confidentiality classification: the “pontifical secret.”

They recall how back in 1984, former America editor Fr. Tom Reese, SJ, obtained and published a copy of the survey that the Vatican sent to bishops of that time about potential episcopal candidates.

The big scoop in this podcast was that O’Connell, America‘s Vatican correspondent, was able to get his hands on a copy of the current version of the questionnaire. Translating on the fly from Italian, O’Connell read out each of the questions on the document. Noting that the document had expanded from one page in 1984 to four pages today, it covers topics as varied as character assessment, intelligence, interpersonal qualities, temperance, handling of abuse, and personal morality. There were also doctrinal questions, such as support for the Church’s teaching on women’s ordination, priestly celibacy, sexuality, and marriage. It also asked whether the candidate supported the Magisterial teachings of the the Second Vatican Council, Amoris Laetitia, and Laudato Si’., and asked whether the candidate subscribes to any ideologies that are contrary to the faith.

It is no surprise that the document has expanded—we have learned a great deal since 1984. That said, the selection process is only as effective as those making the selection. Robinson of the Leadership Roundtable commented that while input from the lay faithful (including women) is encouraged, it’s incumbent on the nuncio and the bishops involved to seek their feedback.

Check out this fascinating program and subscribe to Inside the Vatican wherever you listen to podcasts.


Image: XV Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. © Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk. License: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). Via Flickr.


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Mike Lewis is a writer and graphic designer from Maryland, having worked for many years in Catholic publishing. He's a husband, father of four, and a lifelong Catholic. He's active in his parish and community. He is the founding managing editor for Where Peter Is.

Unraveling Pontifical Secrets
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