Not much news to report since it is a closed process and very tightly controlled, but I reached out to the Diocese of Harrisburg this week for an update on its bishop search.Bishop Joseph McFadden died suddenly in Philadelphia on May 2 while attending a meeting of the Catholic bishops of Pennsylvania. Father Robert Gillelan Jr. was installed as administrator of the diocese while the long search process plays out.
Diocese spokesman Joe Aponick said “the process is bound by strict confidentiality” and he offered no news on the search.
“It can be a time consuming process to ascertain and match up both the needs of the Diocese and the gifts of the candidates available,” he said via email.
Aponick added that the previous three bishops of Harrisburg were named after seven-month searches. However, the Diocese of Bridgeport (Conn.) recently had a new bishop named after a 16-month vacancy.
“It is impossible to predict when we will hear the good news of an appointment,” Aponick said.
Here is an explanation of the process:
According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, every bishop may submit to the archbishop of his province the names of priests he thinks would make good bishops.
Following a discussion among the bishops at the province meeting, a vote is taken on which names to recommend. The number of names on this provincial list may vary.
The vote tally and the minutes of the meeting are then forwarded by the archbishop to the apostolic nuncio in Washington, D.C. During the next stage, the apostolic nuncio conducts his own background checks of the candidates.
A report also is requested from the administrator of a diocese on the conditions and needs of the diocese. Broad consultation within the diocese is encouraged with regard to the needs of the diocese, but not the names of candidates.
At this point, the nuncio narrows his list and a questionnaire is sent to 20 or 30 people who know each of the candidates. All material is collected and reviewed by the nuncio, and a report is prepared.
Three candidates are listed with the nuncio’s recommendation noted. All materials are then forwarded to the Congregation for Bishops in Rome.
A cardinal relator is chosen to summarize the documentation and make a report to the full congregation, which generally meets twice a month. After hearing the cardinal relator’s report, the congregation discusses the appointment and then votes.
At a private audience with the pope, the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops presents the recommendations of the congregation to him. The pope is not bound to accept the recommendation.
A few days later, the pope informs the congregation of his decision. The congregation then notifies the nuncio, who in turn contacts the candidate and asks if he will accept.