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The participation of lay Catholics in bishop selection has a rich history and tradition in the Catholic Church from its earliest days through modern times. The Voice of the Faithful (VOTF) Bishop Selection Iniiative seeks to revitalize this storied Church practice.

In the early Church, all members - both clergy and laity - elected their bishops. St. Cyprian described a "practice based on divine teaching and apostolic observance [and] faithfully followed among us and in practically every province."  Pope Celestine I insisted on the right of the faithful to elect their bishop, declaring, “The one who is to be head over all should be elected by all.  No one should be made a bishop over the unwilling…”

Church authorities gradually wrested more control over bishop selection, beginning in the Middle Ages as emperors and kings interfered - at times abusively - in Church affairs. Dioceses still retained wide latitude in choosing their bishops, however, throughout the balance of Church history; and it was not until 1917 that Canon Law reserved the appointment of bishops solely to the Pope with few exceptions. The first bishop in the US, John Carroll of Baltimore, for example, was locally elected.

Today a bishop must submit his resignation to the Pope upon reaching 75 years of age.  The Pope appoints his successor guided by recommendations the Apostolic Nuncio submits to the Congregation for Bishops.  The Nuncio's recommendations are generally based on information gathered from neighboring bishops, some diocesan priests and, at his discretion, select lay men and women individually and confidentially consulted. 

VOTF believes all the laity in a diocese should be encouraged and enabled to offer input on their next bishop to ensure the Nuncio's recommendations enjoy a breadth and depth of information and insight. The ecclesial role of the laity promulgated by the Second Vatican Council surely requires a more formal and public role for the laity.

In 2010, VOTF requested Pope Benedict XVI to “require the formal participation of lay men and women in the Episcopal recommendation processes...”, and we have made a similar request to Pope Francis (see News). 

Meanwhile, in Fall 2012, VOTF launched this web portal by which Catholics in the Archdiocese of Chicago could offer input on their next bishop as a pilot project, with nearly 200 Catholics participating and an additional 200 submitting a related survey. In March 2013, a few days before Pope Benedict XVI resigned, VOTF launched this portal to allow input from any diocese across the US.

In 2012 the US Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, said he would welcome "any expressions of a lay Catholic in regard to his or her own concerns in regard to a new bishop or recommendation(s) that he or she might propose.  Members of Voice of the Faithful are, therefore, free to encourage such communications..." In 2013 he assured VOTF that any input would be reviewed. 

Canon 212 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.”  It 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…” (212:2.3) 

The appointment of their new bishop surely ranks high among those “matters which concern the good of the Church," and this website provides a conduit for Catholics in dioceses with a pending vacancy to offer their input on it.


Click here to Participate