Father Richard P. McBrien is a professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame. He writes a weekly column and in the one I just read he discusses the history of the naming of bishops. He notes that throughout most of the history of the Catholic Church bishops were elected. They were elected from the local diocese clergy and voted on by both the clergy as well as the laity. The Pope had no direct role at all in this process during most of the Church history. He was simply informed of the results of the election.

Fr. McBrien points out that it wasn't until the 19th Century that popes first began to claim they had an exclusive right to name bishops throughout the Catholic world contrary to centuries of tradition and practice. McBrien also says that throughout Church history a bishop of one diocese could not be elected to be bishop of another diocese even though the Pope now moves bishops around in just that fashion. McBrien says that this practice is in violation of the First council of Nicaea of 325 which decreed that …neither bishops…or decaons shall transfer from city to city…" and went on to decree that such a transfer was null and void. One hundred and twenty six years later the Council of Chalcedon reaffirmed this decree. This decree was consistently observed until the present practice of Popes and has never been revoked McBrien says. So what we have now is a process where the bishops are appointed by the bishop of Rome for people and places he has never even visited. Bishops are now  moved around like corporations transfer management from one place to another. Totally left out in the process are the local clergy and laity who have no role at all, contrary to centuries of tradition

A recent survey of 35,000 American adults by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life revealed some interesting statistics. Americans are strongly religious. Some ninety two percent believe in God. But, most Americans don’t feel their particular religion is the only way to obtain salvation even if their religion teaches otherwise. Seventy percent of Americans with religious affiliation share the view that there is more than one Bishops.2 true way to interpret the teachings of their religion. According to the survey, Catholics, more than most groups, break with the church on it’s teachings including those about abortion, homosexuality and contraception.

It was not until 1968 that Pope Paul 6th issued Humanae Vitae declaring artificial birth control means sinful and even then it primarily rested upon a claim of papal authority. However, before issuing the decree he had created the Pontifical Commission on birth control, but he also had imposed on it total secrecy. According to Church historian Gary Willis in his book Papal Sins, it turns out the vote of the theologians who presented their findings to the bishops on the commission was fifteen to four against the idea that contraception as intrinsically evil. The vote of the larger group was thirty to five against the idea. But, the pope then issued his encyclical and declared the entire proceedings secret. Catholics responded with an unparalleled refusal to accept the teaching, especially in America. Theologians disagreed with as well, at least until theological debate was prohibited. This particular papal position has spawned nothing but controversy as well as pain. For young married couples, it has represented an enormous hardship. In schools, the Church’s position is that teaching birth control is sinful, even as a means of preventing teenage pregnancies. In Africa, the Church’s position is that the use of condoms is sinful even as a means of preventing AIDS. In general, the Church has spent more time, effort and wasted preaching on matters relating to sex than it has on disease, poverty and war. I wonder if it is because it is a church of celibate men who prohibit married or women priests?

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