VATICAN CITY (RNS) In another strongly worded message to the Catholic hierarchy, Pope Francis on Thursday (Feb. 27) told the Vatican body that vets nominees for bishops that they need to find him better candidates to send to dioceses around the world.

Pope Francis greets a crowd on his way to a meeting with cardinals at the Vatican on Friday (Feb. 21). RNS photo by David Gibson

Pope Francis greets a crowd on his way to a meeting with cardinals at the Vatican on Friday (Feb. 21). RNS photo by David Gibson


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“To choose such ministers we all need to raise our sights, to move to a higher level,” Francis told the Congregation for Bishops, the critical department of the Roman Curia that acts as a clearinghouse for bishop nominees. “We can’t do anything less, and we can’t be content with the bare minimum.”

On consecutive days last weekend, Francis delivered stern warnings to 19 new cardinals he appointed to join about 150 others in the College of Cardinals: On Saturday (Feb. 22),  he told them to avoid “rivalry, jealousy, factions,” and at a Mass in the Vatican on Sunday (Feb. 23),  he said they must reject “habits and ways of acting typical of a court: intrigue, gossip, cliques, favoritism and preferences.”

Francis also has repeatedly called on clerics to live simply and humbly, and in his address Thursday to the cardinals and staff who make up the Congregation for Bishops, Francis said that self-denial and sacrifice are written into the bishop’s DNA.

He exhorted them to find “authentic” pastors who display “professionalism, service and holiness of life.”

Bishops, he continued, should be “guardians of doctrine, not to measure how far the world lives from the truth it contains, but to fascinate the world, to enchant the world with the beauty of love, to seduce it with the free gift of the Gospel.”

“The church doesn’t need apologists for their own agendas or crusaders for their own battles,” he added, “but humble and faithful sowers of the truth.”

Since he was elected nearly a year ago, Francis has made it clear that he wants to improve the quality of bishops and that he will have no patience for ambitious ladder-climbers who are always looking for a bigger diocese or a cardinal’s hat.

Members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops gather for Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption on Monday (Nov. 11) at the start of their annual fall meeting in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo by Nancy Phelan Wiechec, courtesy Catholic News Service

Members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops gather for Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption on Monday (Nov. 11) at the start of their annual fall meeting in Baltimore. Photo by Nancy Phelan Wiechec, courtesy of Catholic News Service


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

The pope has blasted hierarchical “careerism” as “a form of cancer” and derided bishops who strut about in church finery as “peacocks.” He has called on bishops to be pastors who are close to the flock and not “airport bishops” who buzz around the world padding their resumes.

In his talk Thursday, Francis also repeated the words from a speech last June about the kind of bishops he wants, reiterating that candidates should not have the “psychology of princes” and they should not commit “adultery” by constantly seeking another diocese. He asked the congregation to prepare a new document about the rules on how much time bishops should spend in their dioceses.

Under the current system, when a diocese needs a new bishop the papal representative, or nuncio, in each country consults with clergy and others in the diocese and national hierarchy and sends a list of candidates and their dossiers to the Congregation for Bishops in Rome.

The congregation’s members — about 30 cardinals and bishops who work at the Vatican or fly in from their own dioceses — meet periodically to vet the candidates before sending a list of three names to the pope; he usually chooses from that list but can sometime pick another candidate.

Church officials in Rome say Francis has not always been satisfied with the nominees he’s been given and wants to push to change the type of candidates.

In December, Francis raised eyebrows in U.S. church circles when he dropped two influential conservatives from the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Raymond Burke and Cardinal Justin Rigali, both of whom reportedly wielded great influence in pushing appointments to the U.S. hierarchy under Pope Benedict XVI.

Francis added Washington’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who is considered a more moderate and pragmatic bishop, instead.

YS/MG END GIBSON

18 Comments

  1. As a Parochial Vicar who doesn’t even want to be a pastor, because of the administration duties (I want to do “priest stuff” instead of administrative “stuff,” it jars my teeth when I see the politicking going on with some of my brother priests who WANT to be noticed, who WANT to be assigned to the prestigious parishes, who WANT the items on their resumes, so that they will climb up the ladder. If it can be this bad, imho, at the “lower levels,” I would hate to see what goes on at the higher ones.

    From the bottom of the ladder, at last someone higher up us thinking what Ministry SHOULD be, caring for Jesus’ flock and not lording it over themselves and others, or having something that they can claim on their resume. I sometimes wonder, as a day to day, working in the mud priest, if some Bishops had any sense of what parish life is, since some of them may never have been in a parish setting for very long to begin with.

    Hopefully, Francis will help make my life a little less stressful now, appointing people who know what is going on.

    • You are so right, Pat. The Romans have a name for those young seminarians and priests studying at the schools in that city with the obvious ambition to climb the ladder. It’s called “Romanita.” It’s a scourge. Sadly, too many of those who have been chosen for centuries came from that batch of climbers. That’s precisely why diocesan bishops and order heads send select men there, to be recognized as a candidate who fills all the “peacock” conditions to be a parading bishop. It’s all such a disastrous,self-serving practice.

      Ad multos annos to your ambitions to remain close to the people who need good men like you.

    • But you know, Pat, you are exactly the type the church needs for a bishop, someone who is not ambitious to be a boss, a genuine shepherd, not an administrator. Parishes and dioceses can be managed, other than for spiritual leadership, by the lay people. In fact, sine the lay people pay the bills, that is how it should be done.

      There can and should be consultation with the spiritual leader when it comes to spiritual matters, but the clear administrative job of material aspects that most bishops spend their time performing can be performed by non-clergy who are serious members of the religious community.

    • How about people who show how Jesus sought goodness, that religion should be the endeavor to grow in goodness. Parts of the bible are rather evil. So selectivity is in order, And there are also many other guides to follow in the aim to grow in goodness.

  2. Francis has it right. He see the picture of the problem. And it all rests on what he refers to as “peacock” bishops strutting ” about in church finery.” “Airport bishops.” Climbing bishops. They are climbers because too many of them are such materialistic oafs who have absolutely nothing with religion as a way of life seeking goodness.

    Francis has given us a grand example of simplicity, moving closer to the notion of thoroughly ridding the sick church of its monarchical attitude that has besieged it ever since the non-Christian Emperor Constantine called many of the early bishops of the early Jesus communities to Nicaea in 325 where he held what came to be considered a council, at which he duped too many of them into thinking they were sharing some of his ill-gotten royalty.

    The unfit notion took. It has grown. Paul VI may have doffed the papal triple crown on the altar in St. Peter’s after his coronation, but it has taken Francis to finally obtain an admission that the destruction of the reforms of Vatican II by John Paul II and Ratzinger-Benedict were an even greater harm to the People of God than the damage of a shared monarchy by Constantine. The reforms aimed at truly following the precepts of Jesus had been replaced by plain, adulterated glamour.

    We have to hope Francis lives long enough and remains in good health to make sufficient strides in his efforts so that no pope after him can even entertain the notion of “reforming the reforms.”

    Changes should eventually include the “lay people” of parishes choosing their own clergy with the participating agreement of their bishop whom those same “lay people” and the diocesan clergy have chosen. As with the Episcopal Church, the choice of diocesan bishop could include the approval of the national bishops.

    That would put an end to the need for the Congregation for Bishops in the Curia, wouldn’t it? Popes could certainly count on all the People of God in a diocese making a better choice than their nuncios and other bishops or influential clergy. The clergy have become a separated, self-serving group that is removed from those People of God they are supposed to serve.

    I love Francis, both the pope and his name-sake, but “Jorge” would be just as “holy.” Why must popes change their names? Most religious orders have stopped that practice. Make one’s own name saintly!

    A very great deal must be done over a long period of time to grow out of the concept of bishops as royal figures. We don’t need a “College of Cardinals.” The people from various nations can very adequately select their own representatives for any councils, national or international. They are very competent to send representatives to choose successor popes.

    The concept of the father of our families should not be reduced to a lower case letter by assigning that term to our clergy with a capital. Even “Reverend” is out of place because we know full well that they are no more “reverend” than the rest of us. They should not be put above us. Mr. is good enough. And while we’re at it, so is Miss, Ms, or Mrs. The need for deacons would be eliminated if we permitted marriage to our clergy and ordination to women. It would no doubt go a long way in reducing sexual problems presented by a clergy of whom celibacy is demanded.

    The whole notion of required celibacy is a Middle Age mistake. It reduces the natural beauty of sex to something that is a natural evil at best not indulged in. “If you can’t, you should marry.” But then what about John Paul II’s and Benedict’s “intrinsic evil” or “intrinsic disorder” of homosexuality. I guess God is evil since he created so much evil.

    I fully agree that Francis was wise and bold in eliminating Cardinals Raymond Burke and Justin Rigali from the Congregation for Bishops. I don’t think Burke would have his present job at the church’s “supreme court” if Francis had been bishop when he received that appointment.

    Rigali is one of the bishops who was left with dirty hands from the sex scandal in Philadelphia. Burke continues his snide asides through outlets like EWTN trying to box Francis into an antique dogma corner. Francis, a bright Jesuit, is too smart for Burke. All the while, Burke dares to “strut about in church finery as a peacock,” seeming to use it as an excuse to wear drag in pubic.

    As for Cardinal Wuerl, he was leading the US Bishops Conference department on doctrinal purity when Sister Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, was chased after for her publication of “The Search for the Living God.” The bishops went after Johnson who, in spite of her long and expert study of theology, dared to think and speak and write in ways that challenged us about our small thinking of the Infinite.

    Wuerl led that effort to stifle Johnson, promoted as he was by a purist Franciscan theologian in charge of the bishops’ doctrine committee. I don’t know how much Francis is aware of Wuerl’s past, or if Wuerl has become his own free man again now that he is not representing the bishops’ group when it was so conservative under the presidency of Cardinal Dolan of New York who had been forced into that overlording of the bishops in a very exceptional intervention by Benedict and his prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, William Levada.

    That was after Dolan was moved to New York from Milwaukee where he hid regular diocesan funds in the untouchable diocesan cemetery endowments to avoid paying court-ordered awards to victims of clerical sex abuse.

    Francis has done many great things in one year. There are many more great moves yet needed. He had a very admirable way of ignoring trouble makers like Raymond Burke under his very broad-brimmed cardinals’s galero with his twenty foot train dragging behind him. Burke buys those duds at a very fancy clerical outfitting store in Rome. Question is, who pays for them?

    • what you have written makes sense .Card.Bruke is really nauseating.Hope Francis over worked PR dept concentrates on some core revamping.Just by giving fancy homilies and taking enormous time to start working is going to take us nowhere.

    • You don’t believe a priest should be addressed as Reverend? The current issue with the Catholic Church to me seems to be that the lay people believe everything is about themselves. “I” should be able to do this,” I” should be more prominent in the Mass, “I” should not have to follow that Catholic Doctrine. The Catholic Church has rules, plain and simple. A priest should be labeled differently than you should, it is not all about you. He has devoted his life to Jesus, which includes many sacrifices such as not being married, being celibate and hopefully truly living a religious life as a proper priest should as an example to others in his congregation.
      “The destruction of the reforms of Vatican II by John Paul II and Ratzinger-Benedict were an even greater harm to the People of God than the damage of a shared monarchy by Constantine.” Are you kidding me? Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict tried to keep traditional values and reverence for the Eucharist. Since Vatican II, can you explain to me why communion is no longer received while kneeling and on the tongue? Why the tabernacle in now located off to the side of the altar? What is your opinion regarding the “Harvard” educated Nun who actively promotes abortion?
      In my opinion it is the progressive members of the Catholic Church that are leading us down the drain.

    • A key reason for requiring priestly celibacy in the middle ages: property ownership and inheritance. Priests who were married could will real property and other material wealth to sons…who would themselves become priests. Who could marry and…

  3. this is so amazing….the pope has really spoken what is in the ground, and infact the same problem never begin when you are already a priest…no no no…the all issue is the seminary formation to priesthood, formators should help the candidates in formation houses and national seminaries to purify their intentions….self exultation by some of the formators will be copied by some of the students, having or driving very expensive cars has also some effects to the students, bishops having the very expensive and the latest phone, car, houses etc is a scar and a forever to our holy church, i reguest and call upon the pope to set some standard rules for the priest, to exercise humility, simplicity before the christians, bishops to be available in the diocese and more to be available to the students in formation. am shocked to get a seminarian who meets his bishop only on a ordination, and sometimes never especially those dioceses where ordination taks place after two years…your holiness, we have bishops enough bishops and priests in the field…but more so i agree with you that we need better bishops,,, not luxurious bishops and priests…i still repeat….everthing is how the seminarians are formed in the seminaries,,,,this is a new world, a new error, the church of tomorrow is in the hands of those being formed in the seminaries.

  4. William F. Fedor

    If there was any way I could, I would nominate our pastor, Fr. Ron Brickner to be considered far a Bishop’s position. At our small parish, St.Mary’s here in Vermilion, Ohio, we have had many excellent Priests, with two of them, Father Phil Feltman and Fr. Ron Brickner being outstanding. Their homilys left you with a message firmly implanted when you left Mass.
    But one of the things that I find fascinating is both of the above mentioned priests owned motorcycles, Fr Ron still has his Harley and rides it when he goes on vacation, all over the country. Wouldn’t that make a fine picture, Pope Francis with our two pastors all on their Harleys.
    Oh, by the way, I’m 71 years old and not a biker dude.

  5. Assuming the leadership role of any large institution or corporation is a daunting task. It is is exceptionally difficult if you are faced with changing a culture in the organization that is out of touch with the reality of those they serve and conducts business as they see fit and not in the best interest of those they serve. Many new CEO hire consultant to help them with that or in many cases the entire executive staff is replaced by the new leader. In the article below read what Pope Francis had to say to and about the current Bishops in the Catholic Church.

    Those that are my age remember what it was like as teenagers when we had to take our drivers license test and parallel park the car. Imagine doing that same maneuver with a cruise ship that can carry 6,296 passengers, a crew of 2,200, 21 swimming pools, 16 passenger decks and 24 restaurants. (The Allure of the Seas cruise liner). It takes time and people with the right skill set to successfully accomplish that maneuver. It can be done but it won’t be easy.

    I think that is a relative comparison to what Pope Francis is facing with the Catholic Church. Short of a miracle happening, St. Mary’s church will be demolished. That happening is a symptom of a much larger problem in the local Beaver Falls community. I believe that there is a disease that exists that will come to light and eventually the truth will be known.

    The demise of St. Mary’s has hurt people to the deepest depth of their heart. Personally for me, as strange as this may sound I have renewed optimism, that change will happen in the Catholic Church as a whole and also in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. That is a subjective statement based on what I have read and learned over the past several months about Pope Francis. Will it happen overnight? No. But I now have faith that was once lost. I also believe that the day will come when the presence of the Catholic Church in downtown Beaver Falls will come again.

    “People who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones that do”

    You should all be proud of what we have done and equally proud that the information provided by the local community has sent things in motion that I believe will force change to happen for the future and betterment of the community. The loss of St. Mary’s church is heartbreaking but I am convinced by all that I have learned that it will be the catalyst that changes the future for my hometown.

    I also have a renewed faith in the possibility of change in the local Beaver County region. Shane Fitzgerald the Executive Editor at the Beaver County Times wrote in his article on April 6th “Keeping the public in mind with public service”,

    ” Just in the past decade, several now-former legislators are in or spent time in jail for various improprieties. This state is a political ethics mess, and it’s no wonder the public has such a jaundiced view of politicians and a perception that they have one of the cushiest jobs around. This is a Pennsylvania culture problem. The aura of “This is the way things always have been done, so why change?” permeates throughout the state and beyond the state Legislature and into our local politics…Character is defined by how you conduct yourself when no one is watching. But that doesn’t mean lawmakers shouldn’t show character in the most public of ways. How many more of them will have to go to jail or be embarrassed before they show those who put them in office that they should trust again?”

    That thinking is refreshing and revolutionary. In my mind, that is exactly what needs to happen in Beaver Falls in particular and Beaver County in general for a future filled with the glory days of my youth.

    I received a couple of emails in the last several days from old friends. Slightly edited one said ,” …continue your fight. Remember nothing, absolutely nothing is not in vain. …..believe God is sovereign. He sees all, knows all, put all your trust in him. Not man. ….. GOD (bless) you and your efforts.”

    The other wrote me a life story as told to them by their priest years ago.…. A man in a small town was lucky enough to win 2 ring side tickets in the “big city” to a Heavyweight Championship boxing event. He loved prize fighting but his wife didn’t. His parish priest who had counseled him through many a crisis in life also “liked” the fights. With his wife’s permission, he asked Father if he would like to be his guest at the boxing match. “Sure” said the priest.

    So off they went to the big city on a Saturday night to see the Championship fight. They got there early to see the prelims and WOW, their seats WERE at ring side.

    Excitement built as the main event approached. When the main event time came the challenger and the World Heavyweight Champ touched gloves. The challenger walked backed to his corner, genuflected and made the sign of the cross. The man was so excited and impressed by this he whispered to the priest “LOOK AT THAT FATHER – he made the sign of the cross!” Isn’t that GREAT?

    The Priest replied in a soft but firm way “Well Joe, all well and good, but CAN HE FIGHT??”

    Change will happen and the truth will be told. Let today be the first day of optimism for a brighter future for Beaver Falls. I am convinced that history will show that the effort to save Saint Mary’s church was the catalyst that set events in motion that changed the course of history for my hometown. You all should be proud of what we have done and equally proud that it was the local community who stepped up with information that has started what I believe will change the future of my hometown. The loss of St. Mary’s church is heartbreaking but I am convinced by all that I have learned that what we started will have that ocean liner parked right where it was meant to be.

  6. What you write goes against what our Lord taught us. The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or girl is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband (1 Cor. 7:32-34). So that he who marries his betrothed does well; and he who refrains from marriage will do better” (1 Cor. 7:38). Paul gets this thinking neither from the Dark Ages nor as the result of repression but from a consecrated virgin named Jesus of Nazareth. He, like Paul, was unmarried and commended consecrated celibacy as a gift of God. That’s what he’s getting at in this incident from Matthew 19:9-12:

    “And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery; and he who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry.” But he said to them, “Not all men can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it.”

    Note how similar Paul’s thinking is to Jesus’. Marriage is a good thing but a difficult thing, to the degree that, when Jesus describes what Christian marriage really entails, the apostles blanch and declare it is not expedient to marry. The summary of this passage: Not everyone can choose to be celibate, but those who can should, for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. It’s exactly the same admonition as in 1 Corinthians: Marriage is good, but celibacy is better.

    Since Jesus is celibate, and since, as Paul says, celibacy for the sake of Christ is a higher state than marriage, and since a priest is an alter Christus (“other Christ”) when he is standing in the place of Christ to celebrate the Eucharist (i.e., the marriage supper of the Lamb), we should not be surprised that in antiquity the discipline grew up (spontaneously, from the grass roots) of more and more priests likewise choosing to be celibate.

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