New Hope for Francis-style Bishops with the Appointment of a New Apostolic Nuncio

Archbishop Vigano washes the feet of a religious sister on Holy Thursday.

Media outlets have reported that Pope Francis has chosen Archbishop Christophe Pierre, now the Vatican’s representative to Mexico, to be his next envoy to the  United States replacing the retiring Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano.

Michael Sean Winters shows how this role functions and predicts the new Francis appointment could produce changes for the U.S. Church including a new wave of Francis bishops.

  1.  The nuncio, like all ambassadors, is charged with maintaining relations with the U.S. government. The Vatican and the U.S. government collaborate on a host of issues around the world, even when tensions exist between the local Church and the government.
  2. The Vatican is concerned about the candidacy of Donald Trump.  Because opposition to immigrants is such a central part of Trump’s political rise, and concern for immigrants has been such a central focus of Pope Francis’ articulation of the Church’s social doctrine, it surely occurred to the Vatican leadership that an archbishop who has spent the last nine years in Mexico could be uniquely valuable at this point in time. As well, immigration is one issue on which the U.S. bishops are not only united, but on which they are totally in sync with the Vatican.
  3. A lot of routine and non-routine business is either handled by the nuncio. He  forwards petitions and other information, and is free to comment thereon, and shape the Vatican’s response with those comments.
  4. Nowhere is a nuncio’s influence more obvious, and more enduring, than in the selection of new bishops. When a diocese becomes vacant, the nuncio is charged with investigating the needs of the diocese and then proposing the names of three candidates who could meet those needs. That list of candidates, a terna, is sent to the Congregation for Bishops, which can pass it along to the pope as is, change the rankings of the three names on the list, or even reject the list and ask for a new one. Different nuncios handle this task differently, with varying levels of attention to the actual needs of a given diocese.  And although the Pope has his own method for finding bishops as is the case with Archbishop Blaise Cupich, in most cases, the nuncio draws up the first list of potential nominees.Right now are about a third of the U.S. bishops are very supportive of Pope Francis, a third harbor grave reservations about his leadership, and a third are not sure what to think.The new appointment will be instrumental in making Francis appointments. According to Winters, if the pope wants a bishops’ conference that will support him, he needs his new nuncio to name about twenty to thirty bishops who are with the program. Winters notes that in the past couple of years, when reading the lists of appointments at the Vatican website each morning, the new bishops in Mexico have all been pastors. Archbishop Pierre got the memo and, if he is indeed coming to Washington, we can hope he will appoint pastors to lead U.S. dioceses too.To learn more, read Winters’ article in full.

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