RC priests reluctant to become bishops

An intimate of the present Pope, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, a Canadian, has just completed his  first year as prefect of the congregation for bishops – the man who short lists possible bishops for appointment. In the interview with the Italian bishops’ newspaper he reveals that more priests turn down preferment that he could have expected.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet was interviewed for “Avvenire,” the newspaper owned by the Italian episcopal conference.

In the interview, he revealed among other things that it often happens, “more than I could have expected,” that the candidate chosen to be made a bishop does not accept the appointment.

He indicated the reasons for such refusals in the growing difficulty of fulfilling the role, in a society in which the bishops are under public attack, “in part as a result of the scandals and charges concerning sexual abuse.”

As for career ambitions – the cardinal cautioned – if a priest or a bishop aspires and maneuvers to be promoted to a prominent diocese, “it is better for him to stay where he is.”

And he concluded the interview by sketching the profile of the bishop the Church needs most today. A bishop who is at the same time a theologian and an apologist, a public defender of the faith:

“Today, especially in the context of our secularized societies, we need bishops who are the first evangelizers, and not mere administrators of dioceses. Who are capable of proclaiming the Gospel. Who are not only theologically faithful to the magisterium and the pope, but are also capable of expounding and, if need be, of defending the faith publicly.”

This profile of the bishop as theologian and “defensor fidei” fits Cardinal Ouellet himself perfectly.

A Canadian from Québec, 67, a member of the Society of Saint-Sulpice, Ouellet was part of the circle of the international theology journal “Communio,” founded by, among others, Joseph Ratzinger and Hans Urs von Balthasar, who were his intellectual mentors.

For many years, he shuttled back and forth between Canada and Colombia, as a seminary professor and educator. Then he moved to Rome, as a professor of systematic theology at the Pontifical Lateran University, when its rector was the future cardinal Angelo Scola, also part of the “Communio” circle.

In 2001, he was appointed secretary of the pontifical council for Christian unity. And the following year, archbishop of Québec and primate of Canada. He has been a cardinal since 2003.

In his Québec, Cardinal Ouellet was a direct witness of one of the most dizzying collapses of Catholicism in the past century. This region, which had a strong Catholic character until the middle of the twentieth century, is today one of the most secularized in the world.

As an archbishop, Ouellet fought energetically to give a voice and a body back to Christianity in his land. And Benedict XVI appreciated this so much that he called him to Rome first as a speaker at the synod of bishops in 2008, and then permanently,  since 2010, as prefect of the congregation for bishops.

Among the cardinals of the Roman curia, Ouellet is certainly the closest to pope Joseph Ratzinger, with whom he meets regularly, once a week. And he may be the only one in whom the pope confides without reservation.

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