Electing bishops is a Catholic tradition

SIR – In your leading article on the dispute over the appointment of a new bishop of Ahiara, Nigeria (June 16), you describe the Pope’s freedom to appoint bishops without local interference as “a fundamental principle”. If so, it is a fundamental principle of very recent origin.

The traditional practice was the election of bishops by the clergy and people of the diocese, with the duly elected bishop then being recognised by the Pope. Rome only came to play a leading role thanks to the interference of secular rulers in this process.

You will be aware of Rosmini’s magisterial survey of the question in the first chapter of The Five Wounds of the Church (published in 1848, placed on the Index in 1849, and solemnly removed from the Index just before the Index was abolished in the wake of Vatican II). In 1849 Rosmini went on to devise a practical system for the election of bishops – no mean feat in the somewhat undemocratic atmosphere of the Italy of his time.

Yours faithfully,

Robert Nowell

New Barnet, Hertfordshire

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