In the Catholic Church, Bishops and Archbishops are appointed by the Pope. When
a diocese falls vacant, the process for appointing a new bishop begins. The Apostolic
Nuncio (the Vatican ambassador) inquires for names, seeking opinions from bishops
and priests of the diocese, and anyone else he thinks appropriate. He compiles a
'ternus' - list of 3 names - of candidates and presents it, with his own opinions,
to the Holy See. The Pope may accept one of the candidates or consult further. The
whole process is confidential.
Church law (Canon 378) states that a suitable candidate must be:
"Outstanding in strong faith, good morals, piety, zeal, wisdom, prudence and human
virtues, and posses those other gifts which equip him to fulfill the office of the
"Held in good esteem"
At least 35 years of age;
A priest ordained for at least 5 years;
Hold a doctorate or a licentiate or at least be well versed sacred scripture, theology,
or canon law.
If the candidate chosen accepts his appointment, it is announced, and he must take
office within 3 months. It is recommended that there be a public church service
or Mass when he takes office.
Running a vacant diocese:
A bishop (or archbishop) is required to submit his resignation to the Holy See when
he reaches the age of 75. The Pope either accepts his resignation or asks him to
continue. Otherwise, a diocese normally becomes vacant because of a bishop's poor
health or his death.
What happens immediately? (Canon 419)
When a diocese becomes vacant, the Co-adjutor Bishop - if there is one becomes diocesan
bishop immediately. If there is no Co-adjutor, the following process takes place:
Syro-Malabar Church is one of the 21 Oriental Autonomous (sui iuris) Churches. It
is also a Major Archiepiscopal Church, i.e., having a Major Archbishop as its head
and father. Unlike the process of election in the Latin Church, in the Patriarchal
and Major Archiepiscopal Churches, the respective synods of Bishops are competent
to elect their own bishops, subject to the approval of the candidate by the Roman
Pontiff. In fact, according to the Code of Canons of the Oriental Churches (CCEO),
the sole organ to conduct the election of Bishops in the Patriarchal/Major Archiepiscopal
Churches is the Synod of Bishops of a Church sui iuris (Ref. cc. 110 § 3, 181-82).
Apart from this feature, which is a special characteristic of the autonomous status
of these Churches, other aspects of the election of bishops are similar and in the
case of dioceses constituted outside the proper territory of the Patriarch/Major
Archbishop, it is almost the same.
Even before there arises the necessity of filling a vacancy, a list of candidates
could be prepared in advance so that the candidates can obtain the assent of the
Pope beforehand and when the necessity comes, the vacancy could be filled immediately,
if the candidate elected is from the list already approved by the Pope. Therefore,
the particular law of the Syro-Malabar Church – the statutes on the Synod of Bishops
of the Syro-Malabar Church proposes that “as part of preparing the list of candidates,
every eparchial bishop may propose, every three years, three suitable candidates
from his eparchy” (Art. 11.2 §2). The procedure to be followed for preparing the
list of candidates is as follows:
Art. 11.2 §1: Only the members of the Synod of Bishops can propose Candidates suitable
for episcopate. The Major Archbishop and the bishops shall collect information and
documents that are necessary to establish the suitability of the candidates according
to the special procedural norms for this purpose, hearing, if they think it appropriate,
secretly and individually, certain presbyters or also other Christian faithful outstanding
in prudence and Christian life (CCEO c. 182 §1).
Art. 11.2 §3: The bishops are to report their findings to the Major Archbishop at
a suitable time before the convocation of the Synod. The Major Archbishop, if the
case warrants it, adding his own information, transmits the matter to all the members
of the Synod (CCEO c. 182 §2).
Art. 11.2 §4: The Synod is to examine the names of the candidates and compile a
list of the candidates by secret ballot, which is to be transmitted through the
Major Archbishop to the Apostolic See for the assent of the Roman Pontiff (CCEO
c. 182 §3).
Art. 11.2 §5: The assent of the Roman Pontiff once given for an individual candidate
is valid until it has been explicitly revoked, in which case the name of the candidate
is to be removed from the list (CCEO c. 182 §4).
A distinction to be made with regard to the election process is between 1. the election
of Bishops in the proper territory of the Major Archbishop, and 2. the election
of Bishops outside the proper territory of the Major Archbishop. As it stands today,
the proper territory of the Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church consists
of the 15 dioceses in Kerala and in the areas of the Syro-Malabar dioceses in the
adjacent States of Kerala, namely, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. There are 11 dioceses
constituted outside the proper territory of the Major Archbishop, i.e., in the rest
of India and in the United States of America (one diocese, the diocese of Chicago).
When an Eparchial See is vacant within the territorial boundaries of the Major Archbishop,
1º The Major Archbishop is to inform the Apostolic See as soon as possible of the
vacancy of the Eparchial See; 2º until the appointment of an administrator of the
eparchy, the ordinary power of the eparchial bishop transfers to the Major Archbishop,
3º it is for the Major Archbishop to appoint an administrator of the eparchy within
a month of useful time from the reception of notice of the vacancy of the Eparchial
See, after consulting the bishops of the Major Archiepiscopal Curia, if there are
any, otherwise after consulting the permanent synod.
The administrator of the eparchy, after making the profession of faith in the presence
of the Major Archbishop obtains his power, but is not to exercise it without taking
canonical possession of the office by presenting his letter of appointment to the
college of eparchial consultors;
Outside the territorial boundaries of the Major Archbishop,
1. He who presides over the college of consultors is to inform the Apostolic See
as soon as possible of the vacancy of the Eparchial See, and also the Major Archbishop;
2. Unless otherwise provided by the Apostolic See, until the appointment of an administrator,
the governance of the eparchy transfers to the auxiliary bishop, if there is one;
otherwise to the college of eparchial consultors; 3. The college of consultors must
elect an administrator within eight days from the reception of the notification
of the vacancy of the Eparchial See. If the college of consultors fails to elect
an administrator, the appointment of the administrator devolves to the Apostolic
See. The administrator once legitimately elected or appointed obtains immediately
his power and does not need any confirmation. He is to inform the Apostolic See
as soon as possible of his election and also the Major Archbishop.
Upon the vacancy of the Eparchial See, the coadjutor bishop, provided that he has
already taken canonical possession of his office, becomes by law itself, the administrator
of the eparchy until his enthronement as eparchial bishop (CCEO c. 222).
The administrator of an eparchy should be a person who is outstanding in integrity,
piety, sound doctrine and prudence. He should not be bound by the bond of matrimony,
should have completed thirty five years of age and who has not already been elected,
proposed, appointed or transferred to the same vacant see. The administrator retains
power until a new bishop is elected and takes canonical possession of the eparchy.
For the election of a Bishop, within the proper territory of the Major Archbishop,
the Major Archbishop canonically convokes the Synod of the Bishops of the Syro-Malabar
Church and the Bishops assembled elect the candidate. For election, an absolute
majority of votes of those present is required. If the one elected is on the list
of candidates that the Roman Pontiff has already approved, he is to be informed
secretly of the results of the election by the Major Archbishop. If the one elected
accepts the election as per CCEO c. 957 §2, the Major Archbishop is to notify the
Apostolic See immediately of the acceptance of the election and of the day of proclamation.
If the one elected is not on the list of candidates already approved by the Roman
Pontiff, the Major Archbishop is immediately to notify the Apostolic See of the
election in order to obtain the assent of the Roman Pontiff, secrecy being observed
by all who in any way know the result of the election, even toward the one elected,
until notification of the assent has reached the Major Archbishop.
When an Eparchial See is vacant outside the proper territory of the Major Archbishop,
the Synod of Bishops, fulfilling the norms of the canons on the election of Bishops,
is to elect at least three candidates for filling the office of eparchial bishop,
coadjutor or auxiliary bishop and propose them through the Major Archbishop to the
Roman Pontiff for appointment.
The qualifications for being elected a bishop are almost the same in both the Latin
as well as the Oriental Codes, except the one regarding their state of being married
or not. This is because the Oriental Code allows married clergy. The qualifications
are given in CCEO c. 180, numbers 1-6. They must:
Be outstanding in solid faith, good morals, piety, zeal for souls and prudence;
Have a good reputation
Not be bound by a marriage bond
Be at least thirty-five years old
Be constituted in the order of presbyter for at least five years
Hold a doctorate or licentiate or at least have expertise in some sacred science.