The Most Reverend Eusebius Beltran, Archbishop of Oklahoma City, has reached the mandatory retirement age of 75, and presumably has submitted his letter of resignation to Pope Benedict XVI. Generally, unless there is a health or scandal reason, such letters are not acted on immediately.
But this letter does set in motion the ultra-secretive process of selecting a new archbishop.
The practice of Rome choosing all bishops is a relatively recent development in the Catholic Church. Originally, bishops were elected by the people. This evolved over the years, and after Constantine, governments became involved in the selection and removal of bishops. In the 13th century, papal involvement in the selection of bishops increased. In response to the Protestant Reformation, the Council of Trent affirmed the authority of the pope over the selection of bishops, and the next three centuries saw a steady increase in the involvement of the papacy in selecting bishops. This reached its culmination in the First Vatican Council, which in 1870 affirmed the doctrines of the supreme authority of the Roman pontiff and his infallibility on issues of doctrine and morals. In 1917, the canon law of the Catholic Church was amended to make papal appointment of bishops the norm.
The process of selecting a new archbishop begins when the present archbishop conducts secret consultations with clergy and selected laity to get ideas as to who the new archbishop should be. These names are sent to the other bishops of the province over which the archbishop provides. These bishops (in this case, the bishops of Tulsa, Little Rock and Oklahoma City) vet the list and send it, together with the minutes of their discussions and the votes, to the apostolic nuncio (the pope’s ambassador).
The nuncio then conducts a detailed study of the diocese, to determine what is needed with a new bishop, and also investigates the names sent to him by the bishops of the province. Ultimately, the nuncio narrows the field of candidates to three, which is called the “terna”. He sends his report to the Congregation for Bishops in Rome.
The Congregation for Bishops consists of about 35 cardinals and archbishops. It studies the situation, and decides on its recommendation, which could include adding names to the list, or requesting a completely new terna from the province and nuncio. The meetings of this congregation are conducted in Italian, and it is said that the American representatives rarely attend its meetings because of the language barrier.
After deciding on a recommendation, the Congregation of Bishops reports its recommendation to the pope. The pope may accept their choice, or select someone completely new.
It appears however that most diocesan bishops end up skipping the first stage of this, as 2/3rds of the present bishops of the United States were auxiliary bishops in other dioceses, and then transferred to be in charge of a diocese or archdiocese elsewhere.
It should also be noted that the Congregation of Bishops includes the infamous Cardinal Law of Boston, who is informally known as a “kingmaker” because of his success in getting his “favorites” appointed as diocesan bishops. Cardinal Law, of course, is one of the most egregious enablers of child sexual abuse in the United States, and his involvement in the selection of bishops does not give credibility to the process.
So the process is secretive and hierarchal, and we would be hard pressed to say that this has overall resulted in the appointment of holy bishops who are faithful to the teachings of the Church. Most US bishops are cafeteria Catholics, who are selective in their choice of doctrines to teach. A significant proportion seem to be in captivity to the Republican Party, and this political allegiance distorts their episcopal teaching. They will all affirm the right to life of unborn children, but their practice is to deny the right to life of the poor who get in the way of the activities of the United States government in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. With one exception, the present leadership of the US Church is guilty of material cooperative with the objective evil of unjust war.
And then there is the decades long conspiracy between Rome and the US bishops to cover up the clergy sexual abuse problem and in fact to enable the abuse of more children. The bishops are quick to say, after the fact, and only after extensive publicity and the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in lawsuits, that they are sorry, but most of those who were guilty of these crimes remain in office, a fact which does not lend much credence to the role of Rome in selecting, forming and supervising the bishops. The evidence is clear– instead of sending devout pastors to the United States, the Vatican has sent us wolves in shepherd’s clothing.
The Vatican will always say that the bishop has a special relationship with his diocese, and thus if he creates a mess, he should stay there and clean it up. The bishop is like a “father” to the diocese, and “divorce” is not an option. . . except, of course, when they want to send a bishop elsewhere, perhaps to head a larger and more important diocese. Then all the “father” talk goes out the window, the “diocesan divorce” is quickly arranged, and the bishop moves on to his new assignment. So the Vatican’s argument as to why these bishops were not retired or removed for office is at best inconsistent.
All of which is to say. . . the selection of a new archbishop for Oklahoma City is a decision which will impact the church in Oklahoma for decades. The welcoming of a new archbishop should be a time of joy. But the decision of the Vatican to shroud it in secrecy, and to involve criminals like Cardinal Law in the process, to stand by silent when bishops betray the cause of life, makes this a time of uncertainty and concern.