Criteria to select a bishop

By Varghese Alengaden

Indore: “Father, how is the multinational Catholic company of India?” a visiting French social scientist asked me at the World Social Forum in Mumbai a few years ago.

I recalled the French man’s question when I read the news about the demand for a Dalit Punjabi bishop by some local priests and laity of Jalandhar diocese. It made me to reflect on the politics related to the leadership in the Church.

The demand for a local/Dalit bishop is neither new nor surprising. Since many years this has become the accepted practice. We have witnessed numerous appeals sent to the Vatican office by various groups, protest rallies in the streets, rebellion and even violence during the process prior to the appointment of a bishop.

Even the appointment of one after long years of negotiation, the reactions and group conflicts continue to damage the Church’s image. The Church is plagued with division in the name of caste, language, rite and many other conflicts. In reality politics to capture power, privileges and money have destroyed the Church’s credibility. No one seems to be in a position to heal these division and conflicts. The Church is threatened more by internal conflicts than external anti-Christian forces.

Before discussing the local Dalit or tribal bishop let us have some clarity about the Church’s mission and a bishop’s role in the Church. The present disaster has its origin from the time of Roman emperors who politicized and distorted the spiritual movement of Christ. When the Church became an empire there was need for emperors to rule the people and manage its large estates. Instead of the teachings of Christ, corporate style and rules became the deciding factor.

The wealth and imperial institutions became the first concern of the Church leaders who acted as their owners. In order to control people they converted the way of Christ into a cultic religion with numerous rituals and superstitious beliefs. Thus the unquestionable and unaccountable authority of leaders was perpetuated over the centuries. All kinds of corruption and scandals were covered by the political power, money and blind beliefs.

Power struggle which is part and parcel of the secular political world entered the Church administration because of the lust for the unaccounted wealth and unquestionable authority. Hence there is the rat race for power and position as found in secular world.

There is an urgent need to formulate criteria of leadership with transparent section process at every level of the church institutions before making claims for leadership in the name of caste, tribe, region and other considerations.

While deciding about the leadership it is important to pay attention to the criteria of leadership which Christ had set two thousand years ago. He was very crystal clear when he said that the leader should be the servant of all. There is no place for imperialism. He had clearly directed not to have any titles and ranks among his disciples and leaders. Why then we have the practice of addressing the bishops with titles like, Excellency, Grace, Eminence and Beatitude? Why do we have ranks like Bishop, Archbishop, Cardinal, Major Archbishop etc? Why do we construct palatial structures and royal life style for bishops and priests?

Jesus presented the leadership model of Good Shepherd who leads the sheep from the front. Calling the sheep by name means the leader knows everyone personally. He would be the first one to make sacrifices and risk to protect the people. He sets example by his words and deeds. There is no contraction in him.

Following the life and teachings of Jesus we shall review the office of bishop and propose some criteria by which a person could be selected to hold this important responsibility.

1. A bishop shall have personal credibility of practicing what he preaches.
2. He shall be a person who blends contemplation and action.
3. As a leader of the diocese a Bishop shall have thorough knowledge about the sociopolitical scenario of the country through regular reading and study about the developments in the country. Much of the problems the Church today faces are due to the alienation from the sociopolitical realities. A vast majority of the bishops do not have the habit of serious reading.
4. The present criteria of selecting a bishop on the basis of blind loyalty to the laws and policies imposed by Vatican ignoring other important leadership qualities should be stopped.
5. Bishop shall consider equally responsible to all sections in the diocese and society. He should be free from all kinds of prejudice and exclusive mentality.
6. He shall have skills of communication, ability to manage crisis with maturity and intelligence.
7. Instead of being an autocrat a bishop shall practice team work, participation of all concerned in planning and decision making.
8. Bishop shall be a person with who respects women, recognize and honor their committed service by giving them equal importance in all planning and decision making process? He shall ensure the dignity and freedom of all women who are working in his diocese.
9. Instead of following the traditional routine practices he shall encourage creative ventures and experiments with the aim of producing LASTING fruits.
10. In no situation he shall make any compromise on ethics and morals? Truthfulness and transparency shall be his hallmark. He shall follow zero tolerance with regard to any corrupt practices.
11. Being the leader of the diocese bishop shall never show any favoritism to any person or groups. He shall give equal opportunities and support to all groups. Promotion of pluralism of caste, tribe, language and culture shall be his policy because pluralism was the way of Christ.
12. As a follower of Christ his priority shall be making all disciples of Christ who follow His values than taking the short cut of worshiping Him. Priority shall be for the teaching of the kingdom values of justice, love, peace, fellowship, reconciliation, dialogue respecting the diversity than multiplying cultic practices and expensive celebrations.
13. Clergy, religious and laity will be educated to become the part of the larger society by integrating in to it as SALT to add flavor, prevent corruption and facilitate healing and reconciliation.
14. During the formation and later as priests and professed religious priority shall be given for education and ongoing training in professionalism, developing skills of public relations and equipping oneself through self-education through reading books, attending various courses in India.
15. The age old practice of sending priests and religious to Rome and other countries in Europe and America shall be discouraged. More importance and priority shall be given for studies in India. Bishops, his priests and religious shall be in touch with the soul of India and “smell of the sheep”.
16. Bishop shall make efforts to remove the traditional image of the Church as ‘welfare agency’ of distributing charity to propagate Christianity. Church should be transformed to be an agent of social change through its institutions and activities. Bishop shall initiate the process of educating and equipping the priests, sisters and laity to this purpose.
17. Following the instruction of prophetic Pope a bishop shall not be an ‘airport bishop’ and avoid all kinds of unproductive and unnecessary trips in India and abroad.
18. A bishop shall not go around Europe and America collecting funds like a beggar in the name of the poor people of India .He shall spend his time in the diocese with his sheep to get the “smell of the sheep” and plan programs to raise funds locally.
19. Instead of keeping a few sycophants and coterie around him bishop shall appoint competent priests, religious and experienced lay persons as in charge of various departments. He shall ensure transparency, regular evaluation and coordination of different departments. People with intelligence, critical thinking and experience shall be made members of his core team.
20. While following the participatory style he shall be an assertive leader who will demand discipline and order from all. Today many bishops and leaders of the congregations are helpless in getting the co operation of some VIP priests and religious. They lack competence and credibility to demand and command.
21. Bishop shall be aware of their call to be prophet to the nations. He shall train his priests, religious and laity to be prophetic leaders and act as conscience of society and voice of the voiceless.
22. Bishop should take the role of a facilitator among various groups and prevent conflicts in the bud and solve them through facilitating dialogue.
23. Bishop shall settle the conflicts in the spirit of the Gospel and avoid any possibility of gossips and negative publicity within the diocese or dragging the case into court and media.
24. The mark of an enlightened leader is to accept the mistakes and even apologize. There shall be no room for false ego and victimizing the critics by misuse of God-given authority.
25. To live and work as good shepherd and make right decisions a bishop should spend one full hour in contemplating on his call, vision and mission. This one hour should be purely an appointment with God and himself. This should not be filled with formal prayers and reading. This one hour appointment should be the first priority of every bishop and those who are in leadership positions.
26. The process and method of selecting a bishop need radical change. Instead of the present method of appointing a person by those who are sitting in the Vatican he shall be selected through democratic way following strictly the above mentioned criteria. There shall he a transparent participation of priests, religious and laity of the diocese. What we needed is a system and process which ensure the criteria of the candidate.
27. Bishop shall organize regular evaluation meeting with priests, nuns and lay collaborators about the various ministries. The evaluation shall be based on the accepted vision, goals, policies and priories. The vision shall be formulate based on the teachings of Christ .Following the example of Christ bishop shall ask the participants questions, “who do people say that I am? He should include the question, “who do you say that I am?” In other words he should get feedback about himself and his leadership style. Evaluation shall be conducted in a free and fearless atmosphere. Instead of reacting over any critical remarks by any one bishop shall be humble to accept the observations promise to improve himself. The success of many secular organizations and companies is due their regular evaluation.
28. Since the post of a bishop is one of leadership anyone who fulfills the above mentioned criteria shall be selected to take up the responsibility irrespective of sex, caste and status. Let us apply the direction of Jesus to put the new wine in new wine skins. Merit based on ethics and competence should matter more than politics of number, caste and blind loyalty to those in the Vatican in the selection of a bishop. Same principles can be applied to the leadership of religious congregations.

Making anyone a leader without developing competence and character will be disaster. The Church is already suffering with various problems due to lack of enlightened leaders. Let us neither play politics nor indulge in business with the sacred mission of Christ. Church in India has bigger challenges to face. Only a united Church can accomplish the mission of Christ.

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3 thoughts on “Criteria to select a bishop

  1. Even for papal elections I have sent my suggestions to the cardinal electors from indIn. Don’t wait for things to happen. Make them happen. That is true leadership.

  2. Canon Law provides for lay consultation in appointments. I have never waited to be consulted. Whenever there was a vacancy I sent my list to the Nuncio with some degree of success.

  3. Everything that Varghese has said is absolutely true. To begin with we should choose those with pastoral experience rather than seminary professors or those with doctorates from Rome etc.

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