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Catholic laity seek voice in choice of bishop

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.

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Commenting Guidelines

OK, VOTF, let's hear your side.

I have some experience similar to that of VOTF in Chicago. As Director of Fairfield University's Center for Catholic Studies I held a "Forum on Choosing a Bishop" at the university shortly after the announcement of Bishop Lori's transfer from Bridgeport, CT to the Archdiocese of Baltimore. I wrote to the Vicar-General inviting his involvement and assuring him of a fair hearing for all points of view. He ignored my letter and a Chancery official, later appointed Apostolic Administrator, sent an email to his clergy discouraging them from participating or encouraging their parishioners from doing so. I found out about the email indirectly. After the forum, which was calm, thoughtful and entirely non-controversial in its findings, I worked with a small committee to draft a letter to the Nuncio, copying the Apostolic Administrator. I have yet to receive so much as an acknowledgment of either. Borrowing famous words from Cornel West I am impelled to ask of both Chicago and Bridgeport: "Brother, what are you afraid of?" And I have to wonder how this corresponds to the fine words in Lumen Gentium and Apostolicam Actuositatem about the obligation of the clergy to take the laity seriously and the obligation of the laity to speak out for the good of the church. Evidently the powers-that-be are persuaded that the arcane and secretive process currently employed simply could not be improved upon by allowing a little open discussion.

Back to selection of bishops:I think whenever the PEOPLE assert themselves into the selection of bishops for their diocese, or priests for their parishes, it is a step in the right direction.Certainly, in the future, when priests are as rare as unicorns the hierarchy will have to open up the process. The hierarchy should get used to consulting the serfs.Not surprised that the hierarchy would discourage any group [like VOTF] from organizing this effort. I sure that the hierarchy doesn't want to do anything to create the expectation that the serfs have a voice in selection of pastoral leaders.The California VOTF branch conducted a public "discernment" event years ago when now Cardinal Levada left to go to Rome. Although the SF archdiocese officially ignored us, a good size crowd of PEOPLE from across the Bay Area gathered [in a parish hall] for a day to participate where possible candidates (both men and women) were identified. The results of the discernment were shared with the apostolic nuncio and archdiocesan officials, but there was never any acknowledgement of this event from the hierarchy - although chancellory spies were perched around the back of the room.Good luck, Chicago! Put some light and heat on the feudal Roman process of selecting autocratic bishops. It will be good to see how the hierarchy will seek to undermine and demean your efforts while at the same time try to distract from and cover-up any consideration of the provisions of canon law that require at least consultation with the PEOPLE.

Even if only to counter VOTF, the Chicago archdiocese appears to at least somewhat honor the very modest lay involvement called for in canon law. The next question to ask is why is there no formal meeting between the Nuncio and the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council? Here we have a body that exists by canon law, not elected but appointed by the Bishop, with no actual authority but only a consultative role, and supposedly representing the lay faithful. Still, even this extremely modest, non-threatening, advisory body is unworthy of a private meeting with the Nuncio to follow an agenda set by him to talk about the pastoral needs of the See. What are these people afraid of?

Are the laity even interested in who will be the next Chicago Cardinal ? The Chicago church is losing just like the Chicago Cubs.. Do the fans of a losing team clamor to have input into their next pitching ace ? No.. They usually call for new ownership.

From the Vatican's own canon law website:"Can. 212 1. Conscious of their own responsibility, the Christian faithful are bound to follow with Christian obedience those things which the sacred pastors, inasmuch as they represent Christ, declare as teachers of the faith or establish as rulers of the Church."2. The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires."3. According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons."May I propose we get realistic here?Let's ignore canon 212.2: It's fluff.Let's also ignore (for now) canon 212.1: It merely reminds the laity they are bound to "obey" the hierarchs (and, by extension, their parish pastor, aka, "Father"). That leaves us with canon 212.3. Liberal and progressive Catholics like to quote section 3 --- but only the part they consider relevant, to wit, the laity "have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful."A few years ago, I asked Louisville's archbishop, Joseph Kurtz, in writing about his policy regarding publication of readers' letters in THE RECORD, the local church newspaper. In a nutshell, besides making clear he would not sanction publication of letters expressing disagreement with church teaching, the archbishop expressly noted the phraseology in canon 212.3 that the rest of us prefer to ignore, to wit, "According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess..." Let's ignore, too, the section's reference to "without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons."Fact is the hierarchs do not want expression of opinion by the shekel-tossing riffraff. Canon law, as I've stated elsewhere many a time, is of the hierarchs, by the hierarchs, and for the hierarchs. "Them's who rites the rules, interprets the rules, and applys the rules."Canon 212's loopholes are so big that one could fly an Airbus A380 through it. If a local archbishop can deny lay input in what is supposed to be a *community* newspaper, do not think for a minute that he and his buddies give a tinker's dam for our opinion. It's "pray, pay, obey". Period. End of story.Money talks.The hierarchs know this fact of life.The laity must make its absence talk louder.(at last report, btw, louisville's cathedral --- once a vibrant downtown parish --- is no longer self-sustaining)

Please, please, PLEASE: Let it be Salvatore Cordileone before he wreaks too much havoc in the Archdiocese of San Francisco!He wants a new pointy hat so bad he can taste it and has the backing of Raymond "Aren't My Duds So Very Very Pretty!" Burke. Sorry, Chicago ... San Francisco's loss will be your really BIG loss!

"Evidently the powers-that-be are persuaded that the arcane and secretive process currently employed simply could not be improved upon by allowing a little open discussion."Or could it be that the idea of actually consulting with the folks who are about to the "shepherded" is simply not an idea worth pursuing? Why should it be: this self-selected, self-centered, clericalist autocracy has managed to perpetuate itself since kings and other secular rulers were finally disinvited from having a say. The Boyos are on a roll and don't need no stinkin's pew potatoes sticking their 2 cents worth in.No siree Bob!

A young seminarian spoke at my parish in support of a collection for the diocesan seminary. He cutely explained the progress of his vocation and how happy he was to come visit us and see the church in action. He asked for our prayers and offered his. He got a loud round of applause.Thus is the continued serfdom of the laity set up since the Middle Ages when the church became Empire and people like Augustine of Hippo were its new ambassadors. Despite the massive failure of the church in protecting children the hierarchy is still able to keep the People of God from influencing policy. In fact the people in Augustine's day had more say than we have today. Mediocrity took over the church in the fourth century and the Fathers of the Church presided over it. Francis and Ignatius attempted reform but the Empire remained steadfast. As long as the church makes knights out of rich Catholics the system will remain. Bishops can call meetings of those who disagree and furtively lock the doors of the churches while the meeting goes on. And get away with it.Liberals within the church counteract organizations like VOTF which was formed to change the structure of the church. Mediocrity remains because there is no will among the laity to change it.

Let me suggest that the most important reform concerning bishops has to do with re-thinking what it means to say that they are "successors of the Apostles." I agree that they are the only successors we have or can have, but that neither makes them good nor wise successors. To claim that the successors we get are always good and wise flies in the face of history. So long as one takes a canon law approach to who exercises episcopal power, namely one appointed by the pope, we will not have any way to hold those appointed to account for what they do nor will we have any effective way to claim that those who need the ministry of bishops have every reason to concern themselves not only with who is appointed but also with the performance of those appointed. To demand anything less is, in the end, to trivialize the role of the bishop. To be answerable to no one is eventually a ticket to irrelevance.I have no idea just what process to select bishops ought to be constructed, but the present system is too bureaucratic to be taken seriously.

Bill Mazzella:Speaking of Augustine of Hippo:In 426, he appointed one of his priests, Eraclius, as his successor. He assembled his people along with his priests and two of his fellow bishops to obtain their consent to the arrangement. The event was recorded by notaries. When he asked the people to voice their approval: The people shouted, saying twenty-five times, Agreed! Agreed! then twenty-eight times, It is worthy, it is just! then fourteen times, Agreed! Agreed! then twenty-five times, He has long been worthy, he has long been deserving! then thirteen times, We give thanks for your decision! then eighteen times, O Christ, hear us; preserve Eraclius! (Letter 213).P.S. I think they were happy with the arrangement.

Helen, Good job. Note that I wrote above: " In fact the people in Augustines day had more say than we have today."

I'm not certain that the commenters here are following the right scent.When Colleen Dolan says, Voice of the Faithful is an independent group that has no standing in the Catholic Church... 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. Theres no reason why it has to go through a separate group to be filtered ...... and when Cardinal Vigano notes 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 ...... it seems to me the most straightforward interpretation is that, in fact, and pace many of the comments here, input from the laity is welcome. It seems that the issue isn't with input with the laity, but with VOTF inserting itself as an intermediary between the people and the church hierarchy.I haven't been involved in VOTF. I read a bit about them when they were founded. My impression, which may be incorrect, is that in those days they desired a collaborative, cooperative relationship with the church hierarchy.For whatever reason, it seems that, in the judgment of senior church officials, it hasn't earned that place at the table.Does VOTF want that place at the table? Does it want to work with church officials in a spirit of open and trustworthy collaboration? Is it a dream of VOTF that it would be consulted on episcopal openings?If so, then VOTF needs to change. I don't know what specifically it needs to do. But it needs to convince bishops that it is a trustworthy partner.Planting this story in the Chicago Tribune, if that is what VOTF did in this case, is probably not the best way to go about that. In my opinion, that tactic relegates VOTF to gadfly status. Perhaps that is what it wants - to publicly comment on and criticize the church hierarchy. That is already a rather crowded category, and in my view, it is not the path to a trusted partnership.Every parish, every diocese, has trusted laypersons. Some of them are able to exert influence, I hope for the good. Earning the trust of church officials is not some impossible status to achieve.

You can have all the opinions you want sent to the nuncios you want and all the places at all the tables you want and it won't make much difference. The core problem is a structural one. The Church is an autocracy, governed as an eighteenth century royal court. That won't change until the nickel drops and the faithful choose to exercise the power of their voices and their pocketbooks to drag Church governance into the third millennium. The bishops will not change until the faithful give them some extremely strong reasons to change.

Jim P "...they (VOTF) desired a collaborative, cooperative relationship with the church hierarchy."My impression from the very beginning was that VOTF wanted such and made overtures that were repeatedly rebuffed. Read "Keep The Faith, Change The Church: The Battle By Catholics For The Soul Of Their Church" by VOTF founder Dr. James Muller and journalist Charles Kenney.There are revealing accounts of those exchanges. Even money we raised in a Voice of Compassion Fund was rejected by Law --- about 50K as I recall.From my long experience as survivor support chairman of our affiliate, I found little to recommend our bishops' conduct, but much to cheer from the Attorney General's office.This was especially true during the long obstruction of state audits by the diocese; audits it had agreed to in exchange for not being criminally prosecuted. Finally, McCormack apparently got the message it was better to cooperate than obstruct. The AG subsequently became our US Senator Kelly Ayotte, who commented at one of our VOTF meetings that she had "to drag them kicking and screaming" into compliance.When McCormack finally resigned, we sent our recommendations to the nuncio anyway; this despite an understandable but elegant "get lost" letter from the chancery. That's just the prevailing reality for however long it lasts. We aren't major donors or well-placed insiders likely to be solicited for our views.Interestingly, Cardinal George wrote our national office in 2010 noting, "an individual, whether a cleric or lay person, is always free to communicate with his or her bishop regarding the merits of a particular priest for service in the Church as a bishop. Such advice is much appreciated."Actually, we commented only on the characteristics we felt would address the needs of the diocese as we see them. We want to establish some precedent over time for lay input, even it it is unwanted and unread. Someday in the far future maybe there will be restoration of a more formal role for laity; maybe not, but when I approach the pearly gate, hopefully action scores better than silence. It's for the long haul...I got the impression from the Tribune reporter when she called that there was no "plant" for the story, but I don't know. More VOTF affiliates are following the issue of lay input in episcopal appointments so more recommendations and news articles may be generated as a result. I believe it's a relatively new idea since no one of my acquaintance ever considered offering anything in the past. A process for lay consultation in the appointment of pastors is effective in NH, and it is a natural development to take it one step up the line.

Jeanne,I more than suspect you are correct but the current rate of implosion might have unplanned consequences. Cardinal Martini's last interview indicates there are shafts of light in the blue surround.

1) Why doesn't VOTF also gather opinions from the priests of the diocese? They, by and large, do not have a voice either. 2) Even though people's opinion will be ignored, still, if VOTF sees people's opinions, then they might be able to identify a priest of the diocese who would seem like a suitable leader, and then he could be like a shadow bishop: he would be the person that people would go to for advice, direction and support, the person around which the community would gather in difficult times, the person who would give some unity to the diocese.

The Code of Canon Law put the appointment of bishops firmly in the Pope's hands, a dangerous innovation in line with the dictatorships that would make the century so memorable.John Paul II radicalized this, quashing traditional hold-outs against the Vatican monopoly. I'm reading Hans Kng's book, Ist die Kirche noch zu retten? What a blessing the Piper-Verlag has been for him!

Carolyn, I do think the nickel-dropping may come sooner than we think. It is really quite ridiculous that a royal court governance structure still exists. It is even stranger that we accept it as normal. It is stranger still that most of us fail to measure the harm that it directly inflicts on the Church and its ability to carry out its mission. When that changes, when the average parishioner **sees** the structural ridiculousness, very interesting things will start happening. In that sense, its a good thing that serious people write serious news items about how 2.3 million Catholics in the Chicago archdiocese have essentially no input into who their next bishop will be.The author of the piece in the Chicago Tribune, Manya Brachear, is the religion reporter. I've been reading her stuff for years, news big and small on the faith scene in the city. She is not a blob upon whom stories can be "planted." The fact that VOTF is attempting to organize input from the 2.3 million Catholics in the area is indeed news, as is the response from the Archdiocese: that the Church loves input from the faithful but no organizing, please, and keep your efforts out of the Church bulletins!

"A process for lay consultation in the appointment of pastors is effective in NH, and it is a natural development to take it one step up the line."Carolyn - I agree. We have lay consultation in this archdiocese as well when it comes to pastor appointments. My experience is that it is to gather the sort of thing that you put in your chancery letter: a description of the characteristics that the people think are needed in that pastoral situation. To what extent that advice is followed in pastor appointments, I don't know, but I do think the church officials listen sincerely, at least around here, and within the constraints of the thin bench that all dioceses face in pastor appointments, I think they do try to make a good match. I agree with you that there is no reason that a process couldn't be developed for episcopal appointments as well. Listening/conversation sessions could be arranged in each deanery or vicariate, and the people could weigh in. (For all I know, such things may already be in place, although I'm not aware of it around here.)In what I just described, it's not clear what VOTF's role would be. Rightly or wrongly, I think VOTF may be perceived as a political party for progressives in the Church. I suspect that the sort of candidate advocacy that Claire described in her 9/18 6:31 am comment would not be welcome, if for no other reason than that it is susceptible to manipulation by potential candidates. There are other paths for priests with a thirst to be bishop than leading a popular political campaign.

Jim: you're in Chicago, right? So you should participate: send a letter to the official channel, and give a copy to VOTF. I'm sure that you have some opinions about the needs of the diocese.

Some paragraphs I wrote a decade or so ago:Both of the Codes of Canon Law (1917 and 1983) describe the reasons for which a bishop may remove a pastor. The general principle is that a bishop may act when there is any cause that is rendering a pastor's ministry harmful or at least ineffective. Both Codes make a point that such a situation might arise even without any serious guilt on the part of the pastor. They then offer examples of the more important of such causes. The first of these is fairly obvious: incompetence or permanent infirmity of mind or body which makes the pastor incapable of properly fulfilling his duties. But then come some reasons that might not be so obvious. A pastor can also be removed if he loses his good reputation among upright and serious people; if he has earned the hatred of his people (odium plebis in the old Code; the new Code says aversio in parochum, which might seem a lesser matter, although one of the classical meanings of the Latin word is "loathing"), even if this alienation, said the old Code, is unjust and not universal, as long, say both Codes, as it is not expected to end any time soon; if, even after warnings, he seriously neglects or violates his parochial duties; if he has poorly administered temporal (that is, financial) matters with serious harm to the Church.In short the Codes make it clear that a pastor who has lost his reputation, from whom the people turn away, no longer seeking his ministry, who seriously neglects his duties, who causes serious financial loss to the Church, is a pastor who has lost his effective authority. It might be noted that, although these criteria are not applied to the cases of bishops (the process for removing bishops is nowhere mentioned in the Code), it recently became quite clear in several cases in our country that they hold also in the case of bishops. The admiration, esteem, love, and trust of the people co-constitute genuine authority.Does it need to be said that these are not attitudes, affections, that can be coerced? You cant order people to admire someone, to trust someone, to love someone. Now if, in fact, Church law provides a place for the judgements and attitudes of the people to have a say in the removal of a pastor or a bishop, the question will naturally arise whether they should not have a say in the appointment of a bishop or a pastor. This should not be dismissed as revolutionary, something aimed at turning the Church into a democracy. It was once considered a normative, even an apostolic norm that the clergy and the people have a voice in the selection of their bishops. St. Cyprian gave the reason: the people know the candidates and can testify to their worthiness or can refuse the unworthy. Pope after pope, council after council, reaffirmed this norm until well into the Middle Ages. St. Celestine I, noted that a bishop had been appointed from outside a local church and without its participation, and he coined the often repeated axiom: Nullus invitis detur episcopus, No bishop is to be imposed on an unwilling people. The consent and desires of the clergy and people must be sought out. The same pope said that it should be very rare that a bishop is not chosen from among the clergy of the local Church, and that the local clergy had a right to refuse a bishop imposed from without. It was another pope, Leo I, no slouch when it came to defending papal and episcopal power, who made his own an axiom of Roman law: The one who is to preside over all should be chosen by all. And he gave a reason: No bishop is to be ordained for an unwilling people, who have not asked for him. Otherwise the city may either despise or hate the undesired one and may become less religious than it should because they were not permitted to have the one they wanted (Ep. 14; PL 54, 673).A question: What has changed in the conception of the Church that what was enjoined by popes in the fifth century should be regarded as revolutionary by many churchmen in the twenty-first century?

Fr K: wonderful!

"Jim: youre in Chicago, right? So you should participate: send a letter to the official channel, and give a copy to VOTF. Im sure that you have some opinions about the needs of the diocese."Hi, Claire, yes, I am in Chicago. FWIW - one of the things that's kind of interesting about this VOTF initiative is the timing. Cardinal George is 75. He is also a cancer patient. When he turned 75, he submitted his resignation to the Holy Father, as is required by canon law. At that time (before he learned that he has cancer again), he stated pretty openly that he expected that he'd have a couple of years more in leadership before his resignation is accepted, as apparently that is customary for guys in his position. Now he has announced that he has cancer, but it's not yet publicly known how serious it is nor what the prognosis is. As far as I know, his resignation still hasn't been accepted.What I'm pointing out here are the optics of the situation. He is an elderly cancer patient in a demanding position who is trying to fulfill his duties - and here is VOTF running a campaign to choose his successor, as though he has one foot or more out the door - or in the grave. There is an element of the vultures circling. If I develop an opinion that I want to share, I'll wait until there is an actual opening. Until then - he's my guy.

Great post, Fr. Joe. The reality I hope we come to accept is that an organization can't be run autocratically AND run according to the rule of law at the same time. Either the rule of kings (i.e., popes, bishops) trumps the rule of law or the rule of law trumps the rule of kings. It's one or the other. The experience of the sexual abuse crisis points out that even canon law can be easily circumvented, used when it is useful and ignored when it is not.

"It seems that the issue isn't with input [from] the laity, but with VOTF inserting itself as an intermediary between the people and the church hierarchy."VOTF is comprised of individual human beings, all of whom share, inter alia, a common goal, namely, meaningful lay input into episcopal selections. True, the nuncio or even the current local ordinary can receive input from one person, but there is strength in numbers. People organize precisely because they know they have a better chance of being acknowledged and *listened to* by institutional leadership than if each person were acting alone. Absent organized lay effort, the only avenue is withholding monetary support to pastor and bishop (admittedly not a bad idea in its own right).In the meantime, we see a Midwest bishop remaining in office even though he was convicted --- twelve days ago!!! --- of failing to report sexual child abuse to law enforcement. The bishop put institutional (and, no doubt, personal) considerations ahead of his duty to safeguard children entrusted to his pastoral care by the Vatican. And what is Rome doing in response? We don't know. So much for episcopal and papal transparency and accountability!Canon law be damned!It's long past time for Catholics in every local church to organize *confidence/no confidence* votes regarding episcopal leadership or lack of same. If Rome refuses to listen, refuses to heed the voice of the laity, then the people must grab the proverbial bull by the horns and take action.If Catholic laity do not stand up to the hierarchs, the people deserve all the institutional crap that comes their way!!!

Fr. K @ 8:52AM today:"It might be noted that, although these criteria are not applied to the cases of bishops (the process for removing bishops is nowhere mentioned in the Code), it recently became quite clear in several cases in our country that they hold also in the case of bishops."Sniff, we quoted such passages in our canon law case in 2003 against NH bishops to no avail. Any enablers of abuse amongst those mentioned above? Good news. Names?"III. Applicable CanonsThis appeal is brought forward in the light of specific canons. Of particular relevance to our understanding of the law in this case are the canons governing the resignation of ecclesiastical officials, the resignations of diocesan bishops in particular, the canons that instruct on the reasons a pastor may be removed from a parish (which we interpret to apply by analogy, and which we read in light of the canons defining the role and pastoral responsibility of diocesan bishops), and the canon that addresses punishment for one who abuses ecclesiastical power or an office." Pages of citations and evidence followed. Let's see if the Finn case penetrates papal inaction.I learned from a canon lawyer that all executive, legislative and judicial power resides in the PERSON of the bishop. No balance/separation of powers is operable. The deck is mostly stacked, no? Quotations from the historical record bring yawns or approval from today's officials? Fr. K: "A question: What has changed in the conception of the Church that what was enjoined by popes in the fifth century should be regarded as revolutionary by many churchmen in the twenty-first century?"Please do offer your views of what has changed. I'm truly interested in the answers.

Thanks, Fr. Komonchak.I don't know enough to frame the following question very well. But could it be that the pope's present status as both the successor of Peter and as the head of a political entity, namely Vatican State, muddles how curial officials, or perhaps some particular popes themselves, understand their work and their relationship to Catholic people who are citizens of a variety of other political states?If there is such a confusion of roles, then it is not unlikely that how one understands appriopriate obedience will be adversely affected.

Again, this discourse and the VOTF initative is one big waste of time. Until such time as there are not enough Catholics to pay their parish's and the chancery's bills, Catholic bishops will continue to do as they have always done. They will reign supreme. This exercise may allow people to show each other their brilliance regarding church law, but other than that, nothing is going to change. I remember reading many years ago about a black nun who lived and worked in Harlem helping others at a time when Harlem was riddled with disease, high unemployment, unsanitary living conditions and extreme poverty, much like a third world country.When this particular nun would speak, the room would be filled to standing room only. The Sister was hard on the people she spoke to, mostly priests and religious. Nonetheless, they kept coming back in droves.Her resounding message went something like this: "If you really love Jesus and you know about the pain and suffering of the people of Harlem -- if you really love Jesus -- you will leave your homes and jobs to help in Harlem."Helping to establish the Kingdom of God in the here and now is full-time work. There's not a moment to waste.

Newsflash: Roman Catholic bishops are not elected by the laity. And this; the Roman Catholic Church is not a democracy.Just trying to help clarify the matter - no need to thank me - glad I could help!;-)

Ken,Your delighted assistance may be premature (grin). Since the church prides itself on taking centuries to change, and returning to the sources of prior eras is acceptable, who knows when the precedents of Cyprian, Celestine and Leo may again be au courant?

"Newsflash: Roman Catholic bishops are not elected by the laity..."No crap, Ken! (i could have written "no kiddin'!" or have used the "$-word", instead)As my Protestant momma used to remind us from time to time: "Those who laugh last --- laugh best!"Keep on a' laughin', sir.Ain't over till it's over!!!

...and it ain't over!!!

Please do offer your views of what has changed. I second that.

"If so, then VOTF needs to change. I dont know what specifically it needs to do. But it needs to convince bishops that it is a trustworthy partner."Until and unless VOTF agrees to play second fiddle and acquiesce to the ordained in all decisions, that won't happen. Bishops will NOT accept laity as equal partners in non-dogma related decisions.All you have to do is look at the relationship of Pastoral and Finance Councils to the ordained: advisory only. Advice - not consent.

I sometimes wonder if Archbishop Chaput is starting to see that there is something dreadfully wrong in the culture of the hierarchy. Since he has had to solve the problems caused by Cardinals Bevilaqua and Rigali he seems to realize that maybe something was dreadfully wrong in the governance of Philadelphia. If he is honest enough, he might even do some self-criticism. He strikes me as a very smart and truthful man. We'll see.

ABSOLUTE PAPAL CONTROL VIA YES-MEN BISHOPS Ever since the late Pope John Paul II assumed the papacy, there has been a concerted effort to gain absolute papal control of the church via the appointment of only yes-men bishops. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) learned a valuable management lesson in the 1980s when serving as the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He was then frustrated by his inability to crush liberation theology and dictate terms to South American bishops who were not only blessed with rare combinations of skills, but also had the backing of base communities of the non-elite -- especially in Brazil. His frustrations were eliminated over time via appointment of Opus Dei and other yes-men bishops. Fr. Thomas Reese, a fellow at Georgetown University's Woodstock Theological Center commented on the recent passing of Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini: "He had a "rare combination of skills as a scholar, pastor, communicator and holy man. If there was a young Martini in the church today, he would not be made a bishop or cardinal. Sad to say, neither would Chicagos beloved former archbishop, the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin. I believe that the organizers of the initiative do not suffer from the mistaken notion that their input would really influence the archbishop selection process. The overall goal of the VOTF bishop selection initiative is likely to educate Catholics about their rights and responsibilities. So, a potentially valuable spin-off of the effort would be an awakening of pew-sitting Catholics to the fact that THEY ARE THE CHURCH."For where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." Matthew 18:20

Further to the above, in a comment on the May 18, 2012, COMMONWEAL Editorial, "Rome & Women Religious," at (http://www.commonwealmagazine.org/rome-women-religious), I referenced the late Penney Lernoux's 1989 book, People of God: The Struggle for World Catholicism, that was based on her years of research in Latin America and the United States. Toward the end of Lernoux's tragically short life (January 6, 1940 October 9, 1989) she focused on the clamping down on dissent by John Paul II and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI). Lernoux described John Paul II's attempt to fortify an authoritarian model of the church as an effort to restore pre-Vatican II Roman Catholicism. and documented the church's dismissal of scholars who questioned John Paul II's papacy. Lernoux also dissected various groups struggling for control of the church telling readers that prior to the advent of liberation theology, Latin American cardinals and bishops aligned themselves with the rich and the powerful -- right-wing government officials, landowners, the wealthy elite, and American business interests. This behavior provides a fitting metaphor for the roles being played by U.S. Cardinals Wuerl Timothy Dolan, and their fellow papal yes-men members of the USCCB who are faithful to the Vatican but not to poor and disenfranchised Americans, as well as women religious . BTW, the last apostolic nuncio to recommend a progressive candidate for elevation as a bishop was the Belgian prelate Jean Adopt who served from May 23, 1974 until June 27, 1980. Jadot was considered a progressive leader in the American Church and was seen favorably by the Vatican under Pope Paul VI, who rejected Jadot's initial offer to resign. Paul's second successor, Pope John Paul II, accepted Jadot's subsequent resignation in 1980. It is quite well known that, especially under John Paul II, Jadots quite progressive views were the main obstacle for him to be made a cardinal. To be sure, our present Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, is no Jean Jadot.

CORRECTIONS AND MORE: 1. The last sentence of the next-to-last paragraph above should read: This behavior provides a fitting metaphor for the roles being played by U.S. Cardinals Donald Wuerl, Timothy Dolan, and their fellow papal yes-men members of the USCCB who are faithful to the Vatican but not to poor and disenfranchised Americans, as well as women religious .2. The first sentence in the last paragraph should read: BTW, the last apostolic nuncio to recommend a progressive candidate for elevation as a bishop was the Belgian prelate Jean Jadot who served from May 23, 1974 until June 27, 1980. Also, the reader's attention is called to my related comments on E.J. Dionnes May 23, 2012, Commonweal article, "All Aboard? -- Not Every Bishop Agrees with the USCCB Religious Freedom Strategy, (http://commonwealmagazine.org/all-aboard?) and on Sister X's October 09, 2009,Commonweal article, "Cross Examination: Why Is Rome Investigating U.S. Nuns?" at (http://commonwealmagazine.org/cross-examination).

Frank, you are absolutely correct. Thank you for your wisdom; Voice of the Faithful (VOTF) chose this project deliberately to educate the laity on their rights and responsibilities. We engaged more in an educational action than to change the governance system. We began this project nearly two years ago and with all things Catholic, things move slowly but our experience has been that as Catholics give themselves permission to step out and question, comment or dialogue with other Catholics, timidity is replaced by a strong sense of enthusiasm and empowerment. It is one step, a small one perhaps, but a step. We are hoping that others jump on the bandwagon and this could occur in other places. We've stirred the expected negative reaction from the Archdiocese which means we have hit a nerve, a sensitivity around their need for absolute control, which, at this juncture, is myth.

I don't know whether anyone is still checking this topic, but Paul Culhane, who was mentioned in the Chicago Tribune story in Paul Moses' original post, has had a guest column published in the Daily Herald, which serves the suburban area where I live.Whether this is behind a paywall or not, I'm not certain.http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20120927/discuss/709279985/