Voice of the Faithful is trying to make sure parishioners have a meaningful say in the choice of the next archbishop of Chicago. To that end, VOTF has set up a Web site to solicit comments on who should succeed Cardinal Francis George (who turned 75 on Jan. 16). It says this effort is based on canon law 212, which states, "The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires."The Archdiocese of Chicago is not exactly bubbling over with enthusiasm for this project and has barred parishes from referring to it in their bulletins. According to the Chicago Tribune:

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."

Canon law 377 permits the papal nuncio, "if he judges it expedient," to "seek individually and in secret the opinion of others from both the secular and non-secular clergy and from laity outstanding in wisdom." VOTF argues for an expansive consultation, pointing to the practice of electing bishops in the early church and to the role assigned to the laity at the Second Vatican Council.Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, the papal nuncio who will recommend three candidates to the pope, welcomed individual comments but did not want VOTF to serve as an intermediary.Voice of the Faithful has opened up the discussion in a way that would not have occurred had the matter been left strictly to officials of the Chicago archdiocese. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops makes no specific mention of the role of the laity in a description of the process posted on its Web site. Retiring bishops report to the nuncio about potential successors, it says, adding that "Broad consultation within the diocese is encouraged with regard to the needs of the diocese, but not the names of candidates." The bishop is to give the papal emissary "the names of individuals in the diocese with whom the Nuncio might consult and how to contact them."It should not go unnoticed that Archbishop Vigano has opened the process somewhat by telling Voice of the Faithful that he "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." (Maybe the USCCB should update its Web page, specifically addressing the role and rights of the laity.)To find out more, go to www.votf.org/bishop.

Paul Moses is the author, most recently, of The Italian Squad: The True Story of the Immigrant Cops Who Fought the Rise of the Mafia (NYU Press, 2023). He is a contributing writer. Twitter: @PaulBMoses.

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