Who could our next bishop be?
From the Aug. 4 edition of The Lumen: Canon Corner
by FATHER DAVID ESQUILIANO
Diocese of Sioux City
A common topic of conversation in our diocese these days is who will be next bishop. If you want to know the name of our next bishop, though, you will have to wait until the Holy Father appoints him. Anything else you hear right now is pure speculation. What we do know, is that the man that the Holy Father will select will fit these criteria laid out in canon law.
In Canon 378 §1 we find five requirements for a priest to be suitable for the episcopacy. The first one is, to be “outstanding in solid faith, good morals, piety, zeal for souls, wisdom, prudence, and human virtues, and endowed with other qualities which make him suitable to fulfill the office in question.”
Being a bishop is not a reward for people with these virtues; if that were to case, we would have so many bishops, because we are fortunate with many virtuous priests. Unfortunately, we also know of priests that are not as wise, pious, or prudent, and we know the damage they can cause in a parish. Imagine if one of those priests were in charge of a diocese! Therefore, it is necessary that bishops are virtuous men.
As part of the selection process, people that know the candidate are asked to provide testimony on how the priest lives out these virtues.
The second requirement present in Canon 378 §1 is, to be “of good reputation.” In the last few decades, we have read about the damage that a bishop’s bad reputation can cause to a diocese. In these days when social media is so prevalent, it is so easy for priests to tarnish their reputation by sowing confusion, so in some way it should be easier to determine the candidate’s reputation. But the church is not checking every priest’s social media, or television appearances, instead it relies on the testimony provided by the candidate’s bishop and those who know him.
The third requirement found in the canon is age, the candidate is to be “at least 35 years old.” The age at which bishops submit their resignation is 75, so in theory a bishop could serve in that capacity for about 40 years. Realistically, though, that is not the case. Most bishops in this country are appointed when they around 50 years old. A notable exception has been His Eminence Wilton Cardinal Gregory, who became Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago when he was just 36 years old.
The fourth requirement is that the priest has been “ordained to the presbyterate for at least five years.” The first thing to notice is that for a man to become a bishop, he needs to be a priest first. Furthermore, he cannot be a newly ordained priest, but someone who has been a priest for at least five years.
Just as in the case of age, though, most bishops are appointed after having completed 10 or more years of priesthood. Even Cardinal Gregory, who became a bishop at the age of 36, was ordained a priest at the age of 25, so he had been a priest over 10 years already. Waiting until a bishop has had more pastoral experience gives the church more time to see if the priest has the virtues needed for the responsibility.
The fifth and last requirement is studies, for a priest to become a bishop he is to be “in possession of a doctorate or at least a licentiate in sacred Scripture, theology, or canon law from an institute of higher studies approved by the Apostolic See, or at least truly expert in the same disciplines.”
A bishop is in charge of teaching, governing, and sanctifying in his diocese. It is, therefore, expected that he has the appropriate knowledge of theology and sacred Scripture to teach and sanctify, and the sufficient knowledge of canon law so he can govern.
With the scarcity of priests, and the need to get new priests in parishes, not many are able to get a licentiate or a doctorate, so the degree is not an absolute necessity, but as we see in this canon, the candidate should be truly an expert in these disciplines.
These are the five requirements, but there is one more paragraph to this canon, which says, “The definitive judgment concerning the suitability of the one to be promoted pertains to the Apostolic See.” That means that the Holy Father has the authority to overlook any of these requirements as he sees fit.
This rarely happens, so I can confidently tell you that our next bishop will be a priest outstanding in virtues, of good reputation, at least 35 years old, at least five years ordained, and truly an expert in theology, sacred Scripture and canon law.
From the July 7 edition of The Lumen:
It has been over a month since Bishop Walker Nickless submitted his resignation. Until the Holy Father accepts it, he continues to be our bishop. Most likely he will continue in that position until a new bishop is appointed, but who will choose that new bishop?
Canon 377 §1 reads, “The Supreme Pontiff freely appoints bishops.” That is clear and simple, the pope appoints all bishops, including our future bishop. But, does the pope know all priests in the world? How can he appoint someone he does not know? Or does he only choose among those priests that have worked with him? What about the needs of the diocese? Will he even consider what kind of bishop we need?
According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops there were over 3,7000 priests working in this country in 2018. I would guess the number has not changed that much. It would, of course, be impossible for the Holy Father to know the thousands of priests working in the nation. But that does not mean he will make an uninformed decision. Church law establishes a process, in which several people are involved to help the pope choose the right man for the job.
The second paragraph of canon 377 says, “At least every three years, bishops of an ecclesiastical province or, where circumstances suggest it, of a conference of bishops, are in common counsel and in secret to compose a list of presbyters, even including members of institutes of consecrated life, who are more suitable for the episcopate. They are to send it to the Apostolic See, without prejudice to the right of each bishop individually to make known to the Apostolic See the names of presbyters whom he considers worthy of and suited to the episcopal function.”
Our ecclesiastical province is formed by the four dioceses of Iowa, that is, Davenport, Des Moines, Sioux City, and the Archdiocese of Dubuque. At least every three years the four bishops are to compose a list of priests that they think would be good bishops. They do not have to be priests from these dioceses, although it makes sense that those are the priests the bishops would know better, and therefore would be able to recommend.
This list, which is compiled and kept in secret, is then sent to the nuncio, or the representative of the Pope in the country. Additionally, each bishop may submit names directly to the nuncio without having to consult with his brother bishops.
The third paragraph of the same canon says, “Unless it is legitimately established otherwise, whenever a diocesan or coadjutor bishop must be appointed, as regards what is called the ternus to be proposed to the Apostolic See, the pontifical legate is to seek individually and to communicate to the Apostolic See together with his own opinion the suggestions of the metropolitan and suffragans of the province to which the diocese to be provided for belongs or with which it is joined in some grouping, and the suggestions of the president of the conference of bishops. The pontifical legate, moreover, is to hear some members of the college of consultors and cathedral chapter and, if he judges it expedient, is also to seek individually and in secret the opinion of others from both the secular and non-secular clergy and from laity outstanding in wisdom.”
This paragraph is applicable to our current situation. Bishop Nickless has submitted his resignation as required by canon law, so another bishop must be appointed. The nuncio will have to prepare a list of three names to submit to the Dicastery for Bishops in Rome. He will select among the names that have been submitted by different bishops in the nation, especially those in the region.
He will also consult with the College of Consultors of our diocese and, if he finds it necessary, with laity, deacons, and other priests. This is where the nuncio will hear about the kind of bishop that we need in our diocese. These consultations are under strict secrecy, known as pontifical secret.
Once the nuncio submits the ternus, or three names, to the Dicastery for Bishops, they will study those priests, and then present their recommendation to the Holy Father. The Holy Father will then decide if he wants to accept the recommendation of the dicastery, choose one of the other two priests on the list, or ask them to come back with a different list.
Most of us in the diocese will not have a say in any part of this process, but that does not mean there is nothing we can do. During this time, we should be praying that the Holy Spirit will guide the Holy Father and those who will assist him in selecting our new bishop.
¿Quién será la persona que está a cargo de elegir a nuestro próximo obispo?
Padre David Esquiliano
Vicario Judicial Diocesano
Ya ha pasado un poco más de un mes desde que el obispo Walker Nickless presentó su renuncia. Hasta que el Santo Padre la acepte, el seguirá siendo nuestro obispo. Lo más probable es que el continúe ejerciendo ese cargo hasta que un nuevo obispo sea nombrado, pero ¿quién elegirá a ese nuevo obispo?
El Canon 377 §1 Lee así: “El Sumo Pontífice nombra libremente a los obispos”. Eso es completamente claro y simple, el Papa es el que nombra a todos los obispos, incluyendo nuestro futuro obispo. ¿Conoce el Papa a todos los sacerdotes del mundo?
Según la Conferencia de Obispos Católicos de los Estados Unidos, en el año 2018 habían más de 37.000 sacerdotes trabajando en este país. Sería imposible que el Santo Padre conozca a los miles de sacerdotes dentro de los Estados Unidos. La ley de la Iglesia establece un proceso, en el cual están involucradas varias personas para brindar ayuda al Papa para poder elegir al hombre adecuado para el trabajo.
El segundo párrafo del canon 377 lee: “Por lo menos cada tres años los obispos de una provincia eclesiástica o cuando las circunstancias lo ameritan de formar una conferencia de obispos, en consejo común y en secreto, redactan una lista de presbíteros, en la cual también incluyen miembros de institutos de vida consagrada, más idóneos para el episcopado. Estos deben ser enviados a la Sede Apostólica, sin perjuicio del derecho de cada obispo individualmente de dar a conocer a la Sede Apostólica los nombres de los presbíteros que sean considerados merecedores y que estén aptos para la función episcopal.”
Nuestra provincia está compuesta por las cuatro diócesis de Iowa. Por lo menos cada tres años, los cuatro obispos redactan una lista de sacerdotes que ellos creen que serían buenos obispos. Los candidatos no tienen que ser sacerdotes de estas diócesis, aunque tiene mucho sentido que sean los sacerdotes que los obispos conocen mejor y por lo tanto podrían recomendarlos mejor.
Esta lista es recopilada y es mantenida en secreto, luego se le es enviada al Nuncio o al representante del Papa en el país. Cada obispo puede presentar estos nombres directamente al Nuncio sin tener que consultar con sus hermanos obispos.
El tercer párrafo del mismo canon dice: “Salvo que sea establecida otra cosa legítimamente, siempre que deba nombrarse un obispo diocesano o coadjutor, en lo que se refiere a lo que se llama ternus para ser propuesto a la Sede Apostólica, el enviado Papal debe buscar individualmente y junto con su propia opinión comunicar a la Sede Apostólica las sugerencias del Obispo metropolitano y sufragáneos de la provincia a la que pertenece la diócesis o con las cuales están participando en alguna agrupación, y también las sugerencias del presidente de la conferencia episcopal.
El enviado Papal, además de oír a algunos miembros del colegio de asesores y del cabildo catedralicio, tendrá, si lo juzga conveniente, recabar también individualmente y en secreto las opiniones de los demás, tanto del clero secular como no secular y de fieles sobresalientes en sabiduría.”
El obispo Nickless ya ha presentado su renuncia según lo exige el derecho canónico, por lo que se debe nombrar a otro obispo. El nuncio tendrá que preparar una lista de tres nombres para poder presentar las al Dicasterio para los Obispos en Roma. Él estará acargo de seleccionar entre los nombres que le han sido presentados por diferentes obispos de la nación, especialmente los de la región.
Consultará también con el Colegio de Asesores de nuestra diócesis y, si lo considera necesario, con los fieles, diáconos y otros sacerdotes. Aquí es donde el nuncio escuchará sobre el tipo de obispo que necesitamos en nuestra diócesis. Estas consultas se realizan bajo estricto secreto, conocido como secreto Papal.
Una vez que el nuncio envíe el ternus, o tres nombres al Dicasterio para los Obispos, estudiará la lista y presentará su recomendación al Santo Padre. El Santo Padre decidirá entonces si quiere aceptar las recomendaciones, elegir a uno de los otros dos sacerdotes de la lista o solicitar una lista diferente.
Durante este tiempo, debemos orar para que el Espíritu Santo guíe al Santo Padre y a quienes lo asistirán en la selección de nuestro nuevo obispo.
From the April 28 edition of The Lumen:
By RENEE WEBB
Content and Design Coordinator
Bishop Walker Nickless turns 75 years old on May 28 and that means the time to submit to Pope Francis his resignation letter as Bishop of the Diocese of Sioux City is fast approaching.
According to Father David Esquiliano, judicial vicar of the diocesan tribunal, church law requires that bishops submit a letter of resignation to the Holy Father when they reach the age of 75.
“It doesn’t mean he will retire right at 75, just that he will submit his letter,” explained the canon lawyer. “In practice, the position of the bishop will not change until his resignation is accepted. The bishop is still the bishop. He does not change his title and everything remains in place. He maintains his authority and at Mass we will still pray for him.”
As his 75th birthday draws closer, Bishop Nickless said he feels that his time here as Bishop has passed quickly. “While there have been some challenges, these 16 years have been filled with so many blessings. I feel fortunate serving with many great clergy, religious and laity to continue the mission of evangelization in this diocese.” Bishop acknowledged that change brings with it new opportunities and possibilities. “I’m looking forward to that both on a personal level and for the Diocese of Sioux City.”
By canon law, Bishop Nickless was required to send his resignation to the Holy Father when he reached his 75th birthday (May 28). Left, he signs his resignation letter in his office prior to mailing to Rome. The bishop does not anticipate it will be accepted for many months. Read the articles below for more information about the process.
Prayer for Bishops
Consider praying on Thursdays, the day of the institution of the priesthood:
The faithful of the Diocese of Sioux City are invited to join together in prayer during this time of transition of leadership in the diocese:
* in thanksgiving for Bishop Nickless and his love of Christ and the people of the diocese
* for Bishop Nickless's peaceful retirement
* for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as Pope Francis and the Dicastery for Bishops discern the selection of the best man to serve as our next bishop
* for our next bishop and the future of the Diocese of Sioux City
Let us pray...
Heavenly Father, eternal Shepherd of the faithful, who tend your flock in countless ways and watch over us in love, we come to you with hearts filled with gratitude for providing us with a true shepherd after Christ's own heart, our beloved Bishop Walker Nickless.
We give thanks for the gift of his episcopal ministry, for his wise leadership, for his integrity and faithfulness, for his steadfast care and solicitude and for all the spiritual blessings that we and so many others have received through our Bishop's generous self-giving service throughout these 16 years. We ask that you continue to bless him as he has generously blessed us with his love and service.
As we await your will for the future of our diocese, we renew our faith and trust in your loving providence, confident that you will once again bless us with a shepherd who will inspire us to commit ourselves to living and bearing witness to the Gospel. Draw us ever closer to you, O Lord, that your light may shine and radiate from us as a beacon of faith, hope and love for the world. Together, may we always glorify you and open our hearts to embrace your holy will. We ask this through Christ Our Lord.
La Diócesis de Sioux City invita a toda la feligresía a unirse en oración durante este tiempo de transición de liderazgo en la diócesis:
En acción de gracias por el obispo Nickless y su amor por Cristo y la gente de la diócesis
Por la apacible jubilación del obispo Nickless
Por la inspiración del Espíritu Santo mientras el Papa Francisco y la Congregación para los Obispos disciernen la selección del mejor hombre para servir como nuestro próximo obispo
Por nuestro próximo obispo y el futuro de la Diócesis de Sioux City.
Padre Celestial, eterno Pastor de los fieles, que cuidas tu rebaño de innumerables maneras y nos cuidas con amor, venimos a ti con corazones llenos de gratitud por brindarnos un verdadero pastor según el corazón de Cristo, nuestro amado obispo Walker Nickless.
Damos gracias por el don de su ministerio episcopal, por su sabia dirección, por su integridad y fidelidad, por su constante cuidado y solicitud y por todas las bendiciones espirituales que nosotros y muchos más hemos recibido a través del generoso servicio de entrega de nuestro Obispo a lo largo de estos 16 años. Te pedimos que lo sigas bendiciendo como él nos ha bendecido generosamente con su amor y servicio.
Mientras esperamos tu voluntad para el futuro de nuestra diócesis, renovamos nuestra fe y confianza en tu amorosa providencia, seguros de que una vez más nos bendecirás con un pastor que nos inspirará a comprometernos a vivir y dar testimonio del Evangelio. Acércanos cada vez más a ti, oh Señor, para que tu luz brille e irradie en nosotros como un faro de fe, esperanza y amor para el mundo. Que juntos podamos siempre glorificarte y abrir nuestros corazones para abrazar tu santa voluntad. Te lo pedimos por Cristo Nuestro Señor.
Even though cardinals also submit their letter of resignation from their diocese at 75, Father Esquiliano said they typically continue to work until they are 80. While the time it takes the pope to accept resignations from bishops and archbishops can range in length, it happens sooner than for cardinals.
The website for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops – usccb.org - states that it can take six to eight months or longer for a new bishop to be appointed by the Holy Father.
Generally, the resignation of a bishop is not accepted until the Holy Father’s appointee is ordained or installed a new bishop for the diocese. However, the canon lawyer said, “If there is a health issue, the pope may consider accepting the resignation earlier and then the process continues of looking for a new bishop and an administrator is appointed or elected.”
When the Diocese of Sioux City’s previous bishop was appointed to the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, this diocese became a vacant see and an administrator was elected to serve until a new bishop was in place. After Cardinal DiNardo was reassigned, the late Msgr. Roger Augustine was elected on March 30, 2004, as administrator of the diocese by a group of diocesan priests serving on the College of Consultors. Nineteen months later, on Oct. 31, 2005, then Msgr. Nickless was named bishop of Sioux City and his episcopal ordination was Jan. 20, 2006. This diocese was a vacant see for nearly 22 months.
Given that Bishop Nickless is in good health, he will remain in his position until a new bishop is ordained, or if already a bishop, is installed so this time around, the Diocese of Sioux City will not become a vacant see and no administrator will need to be appointed. Bishop said he is willing to serve as long as the Holy Father desires.
The time it takes for selecting and appointing a new bishop, noted Father Esquiliano, can vary because some dioceses have diverse and specific needs, especially larger dioceses. For the Diocese of Sioux City, they may try to select a leader who is fluent in Spanish and be a good fit for a rural diocese.
The ultimate decision in appointing a bishop will come directly from Pope Francis. Nevertheless, the process for selecting candidates starts at the diocesan level.
“All bishops are required with certain frequency to submit names of priests they think would make good bishops,” explained Father Esquiliano. This is done on a regular basis prior to provincial or statewide meetings of bishops. The bishops discuss the potential candidates and determine which to recommend to the apostolic nuncio, the papal representative in the United States.
After receiving the list of candidates forwarded by a province, the Vatican through the apostolic nuncio conducts their own investigation into the needs of the diocese and suitability of the candidates.
“The bishop will report on the priorities of the diocese and let them know what they might want to look for in a new bishop, such as should be able to speak Spanish,” he said. Input as to the needs of the diocese is sought by others as well.
The nuncio will submit a list of names to the Congregation of Bishops (which will be called the Dicastery of Bishops beginning June 2022).
“They will conduct research at that point. They will send out questionnaires about the candidates to different priests and people who may know them, especially from the chancery or a seminary director. All this is done under pontifical secrecy,” said Father Esquiliano. “They ask questions about the candidate’s theology, pastoral skills and even their health.”
After the research has been completed and they determine the final candidates are ideal for that particular diocese, the congregation will submit a list of three names to the pope and he selects the bishop.
“It is not unheard of that the candidate would be from the state or even diocese – although the state is more common,” said the canon lawyer. “The bishops in Des Moines and Davenport were both priests in the Archdiocese of Dubuque.”
It is highly possible the candidates would come from a neighboring diocese, neighboring state or anywhere from the Midwest. The Diocese of Sioux City’s fourth ordinary, Bishop Frank Greteman was a native of the diocese, and its first bishop, Bishop Phillip Garrigan, was from the Diocese of Springfield in Massachusetts.
Presently, there are 10 superannuated dioceses – dioceses where the bishop has surpassed 75 years of age: Boston, St. Cloud, Camden, Kalamazoo, Winona-Rochester, St. Augustine, Portland, Rochester, Phoenix and Wheeling-Charleston. Plus, three more bishops will reach retirement age this year after Bishop Nickless.
This is first in a series of articles outlining the retirement process of Bishop Nickless and the transition to a new bishop.