Former Jesuit/Theologian Criticizes Bishop Selection Process

A theologian at Fairfield University is criticizing the process of choosing a new bishop for the diocese of Bridgeport, according to The Connecticut Post.

Two previous bishops of Bridgeport were eventually elevated to Cardinal. And this time the position was left open when Bishop William Lori was elevated to archbishop of Baltimore in May, almost certainly to be a cardinal in the near future. This reportedly concerns Paul Lakeland, the Aloysius P. Kelley S.J. professor of religious studies at the Jesuit university (and a former Jesuit).

A month ago, Lakeland and Fairfield’s Center for Catholic Studies hosted a forum called “Choosing a Bishop: A Forum for the People and Clergy of the Diocese of Bridgeport“ in which he invited Catholics to discuss the qualities that would be desirable in the next bishop. Attendance was reportedly discouraged by Monsignor Jerald Doyle, who is acting as administrator of the diocese until a new bishop is appointed.

“Monsignor Doyle informed his clergy that they were not to participate, nor to encourage their parishioners to do so,” Lakeland reportedly complained in a May 31 letter to Apostolic Nuncio Carlo Maria Viganò, who is the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States. The Connecticut Post reports that about 65 Catholics attended the meeting, none of them priests.

“What people want is someone who wants to be here, not someone who’s interested in being somewhere else,” Lakeland reportedly said. Allegedly speaking for the people who attended his conference, he also seems to want to be able to tell the new bishop where he should live, saying “the feeling was that the bishop of Bridgeport ought to live in Bridgeport” and not in the suburbs.

This critical stance by Lakeland should hardly be a surprise as his 2004 book, The Liberation of the Laity, displays how little regard he has for the Catholic bishops: “What we have is an episcopate of men selected more for their commitment to the party line on outmoded ideas about contraception, ordination, and homosexuality, more for their administrative capabilities than for their stature as spiritual leaders.” In 2009 Lakeland  reportedly opposed Bishop William Lori and testified in support of Connecticut State legislation that would have wrested legal control of Catholic parishes away from the diocesan bishop.

The Connecticut Post reports that although Lakeland’s conference wasn’t well attended, he has his allies:

“We would like to see a more broad consultation with the laity on the selection process,” said Jack Doyle of the group Voice of the Faithful, which was formed in 2002 in Boston to prod the church on this and other issues, such as allowing priests to marry, supporting victims of sexual abuse by priests, increasing the involvement of women and recognizing priests with “integrity.”

And Joseph F. O’Callaghan, professor emeritus of history at Fordham University said that there’s no good reason as to why there can’t be more public input into bishop selection.

“In the 20th century, the Code of Canon Law declared that the pope appoints the bishops, so we became accustomed to him naming the bishops,” O’Callaghan said, “and it doesn’t involve the people in any significant way. But there are a lot of theologians who are saying that the church is in a bad way because of this process.”

He’s author of the 2007 book: “Electing Our Bishops: How the Catholic Church Should Choose Its Leaders.”

Another ally is Janet Ruffing, a Sister of Mercy nun who teaches at the Yale Divinity School.

“Paul is trying to make happen what should have happened by now,” she said. “There’s no transparency in these appointments, and there should be.”

Matthew Archbold


Matthew Archbold is a contributing writer to Campus Notes and to National Catholic Register, as well as the co-founder of the popular website, Creative Minority Report.

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  • joseph

    Not that I agree with any of Kelley’s view of the Church, it is true that bishop’s were selected historically by the people.  Many of our great saints were chosen this way.   Maybe the laity could be included in the process of helping submit names for consideration.   If their choices would align with the existing bishop’s recommendations of worthy priests considered by the Nuncio and Vatican for elevation, then that man would be a clear choice for consideration.  The way it is now, the “pool” is simply created by the bishops.   The article seems to indicate good bishops would be denied.  But we also know that there are bishops who are not so good.  But by using the laity as a “validation” of diocesan bishop recommendations, it could increase the quality of men being considered AND give the laity a role (not the final selection) helping identify priests worthy of elevation

  • Joe DeVet

    “Outmoded.”  “Party line.”  “theologians saying the Church is in a bad way.”

    The usual suspects saying their usual non-believer things.

  • Pargontwin

    I knew where this article was going as soon as I saw the word “former” in front of “Jesuit.”  We live in a world where one’s word means nothing, and those precious few who actually honor their word are laughed at by everyone else.  Sadly, our priests are nothing more or less than products of a society that encourages the questioning of authority, ANY authority, right or wrong.  It makes the ones who actually remain true to their faith and their vows true heroes in every sense of the word.

  • Fr Chris Fontanini

    In one sense, Lakeland is right. It might be worth some reflection to consider involving the laity in the decision making process with the selection of a new bishop. It would bring a different perspective. There is a history of this with St. Ambrose. However, I do believe Bishops, being successors to the apostles are the primary teachers in the ways of the faith and are called to faithfully transmit the teachings of the Church as Chief Shepherds and Pastors of the dioceses they are encharged with. With a variety of people involved in this selection process, holiness of life,  good example of a prayer life, knowledge of church teaching, love for his flock,  the ability the transmission of the faith, good administrative talents, ought to be some of the  main criteria which comes into and takes on serious consideration.

  • rakeys

    If the laity
    has a hand in selecting who the next bishop is, how will they be selected? Lakeland seems to believe
    that the bishop selection process is wrong since bishops are “selected
    more for their commitment to the party line on outmoded ideas about contraception,
    ordination, and homosexuality, more for their administrative capabilities than
    for their stature as spiritual leaders.”

    It is obvious
    that he would prefer a bishop that believes women should take the Pill and men
    get a vasectomy, and  that women should be ordained priests, and  a
    bishop that believes in gay marriage. That is not spiritual leadership. A true
    leader leads us to the truth, and not to what we think we want to do. A
    spiritual leader is guided by the Holy Spirit, not by his next door neighbor.
     He tells us “no” if we are doing wrong, and encourages us to
    follow Jesus Christ, even if the decision is difficult.

    You would not
    want me, as a lay person, to select the next bishop. I would interview them and
    make sure they follow church teaching. I do not want a
    “cafeteria catholic” for a bishop.  I want a spiritual
    leader who brings me closer to Jesus Christ and teaches the teaching of Jesus
    Christ, even in the face of ridicule by Catholic “theologians”, either
    lay or “former”. Maybe this is why the Pope makes these decisions. I
    have much more trust in him than most of the lay people I know.

  • Terrygeorge

    there is history of laity having input at times into the selection of bishops.  that would not automatically make for any better selections (seems like a very good job being done of late).  consider flip side; downfall of popular selection, especially with the imperfectly catechized flock.  people might think the bishop should preach whatever they want vs the gospel truth.  we did get to have a session to help our bishop select our priest, just giving input.  seemed good.  anyone can write a letter to the nuncio making a suggestion they may have, but that is a bit more limited.  there is nothing patently wrong with asking for a forum for some input into the process, like wanting a bishop who will stay there.  just need discernment of valid propositions vs impossible ones (ie womens ordination)…

  • Mamsd

    In the diocese of Sioux Falls, we were invited by our Apostolic Administrator to participate in the selection of our next bishop by focussed daily prayer for the diocese and the bishop whom the Holy Spirit, with the help of the Holy Father et al, would call. We got a good and holy bishop, who is a father to us. Thanks to the people for prayer, the administrator, who was recently elevated to Denver, and above all to God for answering our needs.
    PS.  commitment to the party line = following the orthodox and unchanging teaching of the Church handed on by the Apostles, so I’ll take it!

  • Peter Nyikos

    I wonder how sincere Lakeland is in his complaint about bishops being selected “more for their administrative abilities….” I am sure he had no complaint about all the bishops of the olden days who did have strong administrative abilities but who toed HIS (Lakeland’s) party line, or something in its direction, such as former Archbishop Rembert Weakland. 

    On the same page 187 of his 2004 book that is linked in connection with his words about “contraception, [women’s] ordination, and homosexuality”, Lakeland mentions Weakland by name and expresses outrage at the interference of the Vatican in Weakland’s architectural modifications of a cathedral. That was Weakland displaying a tiny bit of his administrative abilities, which made him such a force to be reckoned with in the entire hierarchy of the Church in the United States. 

    This same Weakland is now in disgrace because of his insensitive (to put it mildly) handling of priestly abuse cases and his payment of $450,000 to a former male lover to prevent a lawsuit.  These events are related in the Wikipedia entry for him along with some information on how he was a man after Lakeland’s radical heart.

    How the mighty have fallen! 

  • choose_life_now

    from  Second Vatican Council the DOGMATIC CONSTITUTION ON THE CHURCH (LUMEN GENTIUM) Chpt 1: … …This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd,and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority, which He erected for all ages as “the pillar and mainstay of the truth”. This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, …

    Chapter 2: The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole peoples’ supernatural discernment in matters of faith when “from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful” they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals. …It is exercised under the guidance of the sacred teaching authority, in faithful and respectful obedience to which the people of God accepts that which is not just the word of men but truly the word of God. Through it, the people of God adheres unwaveringly to the faith given once and for all to the saints, penetrates it more deeply with right thinking, and applies it more fully in its life. … 

    Chapter 3: That divine mission, entrusted by Christ to the apostles, will last until the end of the world, since the Gospel they are to teach is for all time the source of all life for the Church. And for this reason the apostles, appointed as rulers in this society, took care to appoint successors. For they not only had helpers in their ministry, but also, in order that the mission assigned to them might continue after their death, they passed on to their immediate cooperators, …that they attend to the whole flock in which the Holy Spirit placed them to shepherd the Church of God … For the discharging of such great duties, the apostles were enriched by Christ with a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit coming upon them, and they passed on this spiritual gift to their helpers by the imposition of hands, and it has been transmitted down to us in Episcopal consecration. And the Sacred Council teaches that by Episcopal consecration the fullness of the sacrament of Orders is conferred, that fullness of power, namely, which both in the Church’s liturgical practice and in the language of the Fathers of the Church is called the high priesthood, the supreme power of the sacred ministry.

  • markeyjoe

    Jesus warns us concerning the Apostolic teaching of  Paul Lakeland’s Church in Luke 10:16 “He who hears you hears Me, and he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.” He is speaking about the Apostles and their successors, your Pope and the Bishops united with him. And the Apostle Paul writes to the Romans Chpt 13 “1. Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2. Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. …8. Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law….14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh,…Chpt 14 vs. 1. As for the man who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not for disputes over opinions. 10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God;…12 So each of us shall give account of himself to God. 13 Then let us no more pass judgment on one another…And the Apostle Paul writes in 2Cor. 5:20 “So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

  • pp00ty

    I have reason to believe that if the laity chooses the Bishops, these will be voted in so to speak in accordance with the way some of the laity wants the Church today. So many of the laity, who consider themselves Catholics and only talk the talk but don’t walk the walk, who would want the Catholic Church to turn over a new leaf and go with their beliefs that include such things as: the priest should be able to marry, women should be allowed to be priests, gay mariages should be allowed, abortions should be left to the choice of the women, etc. etc. These are so-called Catholics who want to rule the Church in their own way and therefore, would certainly elect a candidate who would best serve their purpose. These are people who wish to dictate to the Catholic Church what to do. THE  POPE IS THE HEAD OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH, and he makes the laws. These laws are in accordance with the examples of GOD. The POPE goes by what GOD wants us to do. Not what the people want, but what GOD wants. If we are truly Catholics and believe in the “Ten Commandments” then we will let the POPE do his job.

    The world is in turmoil and for the most part, the so-called Catholics of our time are to blame. We have stopped going to MASS on Sundays, we have stopped praying, we have no idea what the ROSARY is for, etc. etc. I could go on for days. The lack of respect that Catholics have for their priests and their church is abominable. If there is dissention in our Catholic Religion across the United States, and elsewhere, we only have to look at ourselves in the mirror and say: ” … through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault …..” Instead of arguing about who should choose a Bishop, why don’t you go home and say the ROSARY.

  • C Donaldson

    I will probably be burnt at the stake for saying this. History shows that the popes took the authority away from the people. The civil authorities and the church officials often fought to control appointment of bishops and popes while ignoring the people. This is understandable in the dark ages when literacy was very limited with the priests barely able to read.

    Today, most of the faithful are literate so the people need to reclaim their rights as shown in the rite. Much of the recent financial and sexual abuses comes from secretive behavior of the management of the Church. The time has come for the people to be involved in the selection of bishops. However, I am not delusional. The present management will fight to hold their power until the crozier is taken from their cold dead hand. That is unfortunate since the laity will have to demonstrate long and hard to get the necessary concessions.

    In addition there needs to be an end to Corporation Sole. The dioceses and parishes should have independent boards to manage their assets and have accepted accounting practices. Taking oaths of allegience to a foreign ruler should be discontinued and sinful if allowed to trump the Gospel.

    Maybe Italy could absorb the Holy See. The church would be much better off not trying to be a kingdom on this earth.

    For those shocked by this statement, remember things taken from the people can be returned and restored. Time to restore democracy to the Catholic Church so it can do the mission Christ wants it to do.

  • C Donaldson

    What I think would work is this. Have the religious and laity select representatives. The representatives would seek out candidates and select three to five. I prefer more than two since it eliminates either or thinking in the next step.

    Following the nomination, would come a period of discernment. This would include prayer and a modern twist, close circuit television where the candidates would answer questions. Then the laity and religious would vote. If there was not two-thirds, there would be a run off to select the designee.

    The designee would then be presented to the other bishops in the province and the national conference. Finally the pope would make the acclamation. Ordinarily, the other bishops would accept the designee unless there are serious reasons.

    The system we have now is fraught with cronyism and secrecy. There are several bishops who would not be elected given their earlier behavior.

    The present system fits a feudal system with bishops as barons and archbishops as dukes.

  • C Donaldson

    Before 1829 the pope appointed only the bishops in the Papal States. The eastern rites are not subject to the pope making appointments. Frankly the ordinary in the diocese is an office. Five year terms would be a good thing. Bishops who are liked by their people would be retained. Also, if a diocese rejected a bishop, another one could elect him.

  • C Donaldson

    The story of Weakland is a story that supports the election and retention of bishop by the laity and the placing our donations in the hands of an independent board that uses accepted accounting methods. The system is 180 degrees backward and reorganizing it will be a chore. Still the time is now to do something about the structure of the Church and bring it back in line.

  • C Donaldson

    The problem with the party line is that unless one studies history, one does not realize when the party line is used for someone’s own benefit. The history of the papacy and the college of cardinals shows many examples Jason Berry’s “Render Unto Rome…” gives more recent examples. What is needed here is balancing power. The Archdiocese of Detroit should have had some kind of check before the ordinary there wasted their money on the John Paul II Center in Washington DC.Bishop George Patrick Ziemann of Santa Rosa committed terrible sex crimes includlng rape on the altar and misappropriated millions from building funds. Only when the conduct became so blatant, did the pope send in Levada. Ziemann was sent to a monastery in Arizona. The sex crimes were not prosecuted and I doubt that the misappropriation of funds would hold up in civil court due to Corporation Sole that gave Ziemann the right to spend the money the way he wanted.

    Time to use modern methods for administration.

  • C Donaldson

    Yes the people will vote the way they want the church and that would be a good thing. Remember one person does not decide and the new bishop would need to be accepted by the other bishops.

    Stop being afraid and embrace the concept that Christ wanted his church to be democratic. The early councils were an exercise in finding agreement and consensus. The history of the papacy is one where there is constant recurring stories of abuse and corruption. The papacy aligned the church with the most repressive regimes for fear.

    The problem with the Church is that the leadership is always so negative. Negative people fear positive people and do anything they can do stop positive people. The biggest mistake the negatives did was to elect John XXIII who must have hiddent his positive nature with his ambassadorial experience. He frustrated the negative curia when they wanted to postpone the council, he moved it up. Trust God and become positive!!

  • charlesrfd3

    We might do well to re-convene a third session of the Eighth Council. As you may remember there was a western and eastern session that reached different decisions. By reinstating the eighth council with Orthodox, Roman, plus bringing in the Coptic, Anglican and Lutherans we might be able to purge the Church of some evil and re-establish communion between the branches. The papacy would be a little less primate. We then could use the 9th century norms for selecting bishops. Crazy as it sounds, maybe doing over would help.

  • charlesrfd3

    Sorry, but the theology requires acceptance by the community. Given the current acclamation is really a joke, we would do well to put in a real acclamation. That probably would entail voting in each parish to accept or reject the candidate. With the electronic age, we could teleconference the candidate speech and answering questions. We have moved past the day that all Christians can fit into the Cathedral. One might even say the current system is invalid since there is no real acclamation.

  • charlesrfd3

    In the 19th century the pope appointed bishops in the Papal States. What we have here is a self-serving statements from the Vatican that enlarges their self importance. I suggest we all look at the acclamation that takes place during consecration and/or installation of a bishop. The ceremonial hand clap is really scandalous face slap to the laity. This is one thing that Pope Francis must restore and modernize if there is to be any permanent reform in the Church.

  • charlesrfd3

    Or teaches us to be sheep.