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Who Appoints Bishops?
Why Fish on Friday?
Questions About Anointing the Sick
The Church and the Bible

Who Appoints Bishops?

Who in the Church appoints bishops and decides if a diocese gets an auxiliary bishop with right of succession? Our diocese has twice had to wait six months to hear who will be our new bishop.

Canon Law #377 states it clearly: "The Supreme Pontiff freely appoints bishops or confirms those lawfully elected."

Over the centuries there were different methods of election. Almost everyone, for instance, has heard how St. Ambrose was made bishop of Milan by acclamation of the people. And in some instances treaties between the Vatican and different countries gave their governments the right of nomination or presentation of candidates for bishop.

The Second Vatican Council determined that such rights should not be granted in the future. It also asked that, where rights of nomination or presentation had been granted in the past, the civil authorities would waive them.

The Code of Canon Law (Canon #377, 2) legislates that at least every three years the bishops of an ecclesiastical province or a bishops' conference are to draw up a list of priests suitable for the episcopate and send the list to Rome. And each bishop individually has the right to make known worthy candidates.

Also, according to the Code, in the case of appointing diocesan bishops the papal legate, after consultation with different people, suggests candidates (Canon #377, 3). Canon #377 further specifies that, in the case of an auxiliary bishop, the diocesan bishop proposes a list of at least three candidates.

The law further declares (Canon #403) that, when pastoral needs require it, a diocesan bishop may request one or more auxiliary bishops. It also states that, in serious circumstances, the Holy See may give a diocesan bishop an auxiliary with special faculties or a coadjutor with the right of succession. There is nothing to preclude the diocesan bishop's requesting such an appointment.

To sort through these lists and assist the pope in his decisionmaking, there is the Vatican Congregation for Bishops. But in the end, it is the pope who decides the appointment of bishops and the terms of their appointments.

I'm sure many factors affect the decision whether or not there is true pastoral necessity for an auxiliary bishop. But I doubt that there is a magic number of people that determines such appointments. The age and health of the ordinary, the geographical size and ethnic composition of a diocese may be among considerations.

It may be noted that a February 28, 1992, Catholic News Service item reported that requests of Cleveland, Ohio, and Joliet, Illinois, for auxiliary bishops had been refused. In the case of Joliet there was still one active auxiliary and in Cleveland's case there were three. In informing the Joliet diocesan bishop of the congregation's decision, Archbishop Agostino Cacciavillan reminded him that the Vatican was concerned to avoid a proliferation of auxiliary bishops in the United States.

Finally, the length of time it takes to appoint a diocesan bishop probably depends on the situation. Is the see open because of a sudden or unexpected death? Because of the previous bishop's retirement? Are special skills and talents necessary? Particular language abilities? Familiarity with the culture? Pastoral and administrative experience?

Considering the fact that a person appointed may be in office many years, the Holy See may well want to take its time in finding the right bishop.

Questions About Anointing the Sick

The catechumens in my RCIA group asked me these questions: Can permanent deacons administer the Sacrament of the Sick? Can a non-baptized person received the Sacrament of the Sick? Can a baptized person who is not a Catholic receive the Sacrament of the Sick? If not, why not?

One commentary, The Canon Law Letter and Spirit: A Practical Guide to the Code of Canon Law (prepared by the Canon Law Society of Great Britain and Ireland in association with the Canadian Canon Law Society), notes that the doctrinal question, whether someone not validly ordained a priest could validly confer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, has not been settled.

Canon #1003 states, "Every priest, but only a priest, can validly administer the Anointing of the Sick."

Those who argue that priesthood must be necessary cite the text of James 5:14, "Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters [italics mine] of the Church and they should pray over him and anoint [him] with oil in the name of the Lord."

So, at least in the present discipline of the Church, deacons cannot confer the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick.

People, including priests, can certainly pray for someone who is sick and not baptized. A person who has not been baptized, however, cannot receive the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick or any other sacrament. It is Baptism that initiates a person into the life of grace and the liturgical life of the Church. It is through Baptism that a person acquires the capacity to grow in grace.

Canon #842, therefore, states the constant teaching of the Church, "A person who has not received Baptism cannot validly be admitted to the other sacraments."

In order for a non-baptized person to receive the last rites (including Anointing of the Sick), the following conditions must be met: be seriously ill and in danger of death, be convinced of the teaching of the Church, wish to be incorporated into the Church and desire the last rites. That person would first be baptized and confirmed, then anointed and lastly given the Eucharist as viaticum.

Ordinarily only Catholics may lawfully receive the sacraments from Catholic ministers. Canon #844 states, "Catholic ministers may lawfully administer the sacraments only to Catholic members of Christ's faithful, who equally may lawfully receive them only from Catholic members, except as provided in numbers 2, 3 and 4 of this Canon and in Canon #861, 2."

These numbers in Canon #844 regulate the exceptional circumstances in which the Sacraments of Reconciliation, Eucharist and Anointing of the Sick may be received by Catholics from non-Catholic ministers in whose Churches these sacraments are valid. They also regulate Catholic ministers administering these sacraments in exceptional circumstances to members of the Eastern Churches or other Churches in the same position so far as the sacraments are concerned.

Canon #844, 4, specifically legislates, "If there is danger of death or if, in the judgment of the diocesan bishop or of the bishops' conference, there is some other grave and pressing need, Catholic ministers may lawfully administer these same sacraments to other Christians not in full communion with the Catholic Church who cannot approach a minister of their own community and who spontaneously ask for them, provided that they demonstrate the Catholic faith in respect of these sacraments and are properly disposed."

For more details, you can consult the various commentaries on Canon Law and the Vatican's Directory for the Application of Principles and Norms on Ecumenism (1993).

Why Fish on Friday?

Why do Catholics eat fish on Friday? How did this tradition start? I have been told that at one time the Italian fishing industry was in a depression, so the pope made a law mandating eating fish once a week. Also, that it was a practical concern as meat that had been preserved was beginning to spoil and animals should not be slaughtered during the spring birthing season.

There is no law, nor do I know of any law in the past, that Catholics must eat fish on Friday or anytime. Over the centuries custom has dictated that Catholics abstain from meat (the flesh of warm-blooded animals) on certain days (chiefly Friday).

Many eat fish in the place of meat, but that is a matter of choice. They might just as well eat eggs, cheese or beans if they want protein in the diet on days of abstinence.

I've come across the suggestion that some pope wanted to give the fishermen a boost, but I've never found any historical proof for that. And, de facto, abstinence of one kind or another has its roots in the Old Testament and the forbidden foods in the Mosaic law.

The entry on fast and abstinence in the New Catholic Encyclopedia will tell you that abstinence among Christians is mentioned in the Didache, written in or around 90 A.D. So it is hardly an invention of a pope in the Middle Ages.

The reason for observing Friday as a day of penance (abstinence) should be fairly obvious. It was the day of Christ's death.

The days of fasting and abstaining, however, have changed from place to place and from one set of times and days to another.

Besides penance and mortification, I can't tell you what motivations for some laws may have been. But I would think fish would spoil even more quickly than meat. Wise hunters and stock breeders have long known enough to protect animals in the breeding season.

The Church and the Bible

I'm sending along a clipping that says the Church has defined the meaning of few Bible texts. Is that correct?

The clipping you sent is correct in that the meaning of few texts of the Bible has been infallibly defined by the Church.

The essay by Father Raymond E. Brown, S.S., and Sandra Schneiders, H.M., on hermeneutics (interpretation) in the New Jerome Biblical Commentary speaks at some length on this topic.

The authors make at least six points in speaking of the Church's role as keeper of the Scriptures:

1) In some instances the Church simply gives directives or guidelines how to interpret or understand the Scriptures. Later findings and research in biblical criticism may lead to revised or new directives for better understanding.

2) The magisterium sometimes uses particular texts to support or illustrate its teaching without intending to define their literal meaning. One example of this would be Genesis 3:15, "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers," in Ineffabilis Dei on the Immaculate Conception.

3) The Church doesn't claim the power to determine infallibly details of geography, chronology, etc. The scope of its authority is matters pertaining to faith and morals.

4) The Church has officially commented on the meaning of very few passages.

5) When the Church has commented on the meaning of certain passages, it has most often done so in negative fashion--to reject as false an interpretation because of its implications for faith and/or morals. The Council of Trent, for instance, rejected the Calvinist interpretation of John 3:5, "No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit," that would make it only a metaphor.

So, too, did the Church condemn those who disassociated John 20:23, "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained," from the power to forgive sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

6) Using some texts to support Church teaching doesn't mean the Church intends to define their meaning.

The Wise Man welcomes your questions. If you have a question, please submit it here. Include your street address for personal replies enclosing a stamped, self-addressed envelope, please. Some answer material must be mailed since it is not available in digital form. You can still send questions to: Wise Man, 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202.
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