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.”
“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.”
“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.”