VATICAN CITY. The U.S.-born archbishop tapped by Pope Francis to help find new bishops said a good candidate is “a pastor, capable of being close to the members of the community, starting with the priests for whom the bishop is father and brother.”
He must be able “to live this closeness to all, without excluding anyone,” said Archbishop Robert F. Prevost, 67, who took the helm at the Dicastery for Bishops in mid-April.
The archbishop, who was born in Chicago, had served as bishop of Chiclayo, Peru, for more than eight years before being appointed head of the office that vets candidates to lead most of the Latin-rite dioceses around the world.
In an interview published May 4 by Vatican News, Archbishop Prevost said that while nuncios around the world already are asked to consult with some laypeople when identifying potential candidates to serve as bishops, that consultation should expand.
“We had an interesting reflection among the members of the dicastery on this issue,” he said. Because a bishop is called to serve an entire diocese, not just the priests, “listening to the people of God is also important.”
“If a candidate is not known by anyone among his people, it is difficult – not impossible, but difficult – for him to truly become pastor of a community, of a local church. So, it is important that the process is a little more open to listening to different members of the community,” the archbishop said.
“This does not mean that the local church chooses its pastor, as if being called to be a bishop was the result of a democratic vote,” he said. “A much broader view is needed, and the apostolic nunciatures help a lot in this. I believe that little by little we need to open up more, to listen a little more to the religious (and) the laity.”
A good bishop, he said, does not “give in to the temptation to live isolated, separated in a palace, satisfied with a certain social level or a certain level within the Church.”
“And we must not hide behind an idea of authority that no longer makes sense today,” Archbishop Prevost said. “The authority we have is to serve, to accompany priests, to be pastors and teachers.”
“We are often preoccupied with teaching doctrine, the way of living our faith, but we risk forgetting that our first task is to teach what it means to know Jesus Christ and to bear witness to our closeness to the Lord,” he said. “This comes first: to communicate the beauty of the faith, the beauty and joy of knowing Jesus. It means that we ourselves are living it and sharing this experience.”
Bishops, he said, also have a special mission of promoting the unity of the Church.
The three words that are part of the theme of the ongoing synod on synodality – participation, communion, and mission – describe a bishop’s role in the Church, he said.
“The bishop is called to this charism, to live the spirit of communion, to promote unity in the Church, unity with the pope,” the archbishop said. That is part of being Catholic, “because without Peter, where is the Church? Jesus prayed for this at the Last Supper, ‘That all may be one,’ and it is this unity that we wish to see in the Church.”
“The lack of unity is a wound that the Church suffers, a very painful one,” he said. “Divisions and polemics in the Church do not help anything. We bishops especially must accelerate this movement toward unity, toward communion in the Church.”