Updated: 25/06/12 : 05:25:30
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Bishop successor process can take two years

A Special Report

FIFTY TWO priests from Elphin recently concelebrated Mass with their Bishop, Christy Jones and the Papal Nuncio to mark a number of diamond and golden jubilees in the diocese.

The Nuncio, Archbishop Charles J Brown, will play a pivotal role in the process which will name -- or not name -- the replacement for Bishop Jones.

He submitted his resignation to Rome in line with Canon Law when he turned 75 in March 2011.

Bishop Jones marked his golden jubilee last week, and he has been Bishop for 18 years, since 1994.

Not Binding

Two full years are sometimes taken in the final part of the process of naming a new bishop in a Catholic diocese.

In its final stages an appointment is usually preceded by a short-list of three names, known as a terna. This is submitted by the Papal Nuncio in Ireland to the Roman Curia, which will prepare its own report and recommendation for the Pope. Their recommendation is not binding.

The consultation process after those names are submitted to the Curia can involve a retiring Bishop, selected priests and even lay persons of ''outstanding wisdom.'' All are expected to observe the strictest confidentiality.

The process at local and international level is watertight. Leaks are rare.

Layman's Guide

The Bishops Conference maintains lists of priests who might, generally, be suitable to be bishops. The lists for each diocese are revised every three years to keep them current, in the event of any sudden vacancy.

In strictly a layman's guide, those who could feature in the final shake-up if the local announcement is made inside the next few months include:-

1. Canon Niall Ahern is an author and broadcaster. He was also a speaker at the recent 50th International Eucharistic Congress. Canon Ahern is based at Strandhill.

2. Canon Tom Hever has held at least two responsibilities in common with the CV of the incumbent Bishop. He was full time Director of Sligo Social Services Council and is also currently Administrator of St Mary's, the Cathedral Parish.

3. Fr Michael Drumm is a priest of the Elphin Diocese currently living in Lucan Co Dublin and based at Maynooth in his role as Executive Chair of the Catholic Schools Partnership.

The Partnership is a joint initiative by the Irish Bishops and the Conference of Religious in Ireland (CORI). An experienced media performer, Fr Drumm also addressed the recent International Eucharistic Congress.

In the 1990s, it is believed there was a prominent name from outside the Elphin diocese appeared at one stage on the Congregation of Bishops' list. It is not known if that name was on the terna sent to Rome.

Well Versed

Candidates to be Bishop must be at least 35 years old and five years a priest, according to Canon Law.

They must also be ''outstanding in strong faith, good morals, piety, zeal for souls, wisdom, prudence and human virtues.''

Further requirements include being well versed in Scripture, theology and Canon Law. A doctorate is desirable in one of those spheres but not essential.

One other scenario is that the Diocese of Elphin could be amalgamated as the vocations shortfall shows no sign of abating.

Based on the model in Protestant churches, dioceses which could come into play in such a merger could be Elphin, Kilmore plus Ardagh & Clonmacnois.