A recent post on someone else’s blog has enticed me to return to a topic which I have studying for the past five years: the nominations of Greek-Catholic bishops in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In researching these processes, I have had to examine the procedural differences that occurred in the selection of each candidate. Previous articles have outlined various stages and persons consulted in the nominations of Austro-Hungarian bishops. This post focuses on particular variations in the information requested about the candidates themselves based on two versions of a key document in the selection process: the questionnaire.
Particular issues have always been considered in the selection of each bishop, pertaining to a given time, place and situation. Nonetheless, one of the relatively static elements found all these processes was the official questionnaire, of which I have discovered two versions, both produced by the Sacred Consistorial Congregation (today called the Congregation of Bishops). The first questionnaire is undated but was certainly in use at the end of the nineteenth century. The second, published by the Vatican Polyglot Press in 1913, is the product of the reforms of the Roman Curia and of the selection process to posts of responsibility during the pontificate of St. Pius X.
The first questionnaire is entitled “Notiones ac quaestiones circa qualitates quae necessarie sunt in promovendis ad Episcopale munus ac dignitatem” or in translation, “Information and questions regarding the qualities that are necessary in promoting [someone] to the episcopal office and dignity.” The document contains fourteen short questions pertaining to the name, place of origin, age, family, health, studies, sacred orders received, ecclesiastical responsibilities exercised, the leadership and administrative as well as the the moral and personal qualities which he possessed. In at least one case, during a period of intense political unrest, the question “is he alien to political factions” was added to the list by hand. This first document is very general and perhaps was too concise, as is evident from the lack of revealing information that it gleaned about a particular churchman.
During the modernist crisis, which came to a head at the beginning the pontificate of Pius X, the Roman Curia sought more revealing information about those being proposed for positions of responsibility within the Church. With this intention, a new questionnaire was produced in 1913, bearing the heading: “Interrogationes de qualitatibus eligendi ad episcopatum” or “Questions regarding the qualities of one being chosen for the episcopacy”. The new version contains several innovations, one being the division of the questions into four headings, entitled “articles”. The first article is followed by seven questions regarding the personal information on the candidate. The second article, containing nine questions, pertained to the studies, sacred orders and ecclesiastical responsibilities which the candidate had exercised. The third had six questions on the prospective bishop’s moral qualities. And the fourth, with two questions, asked the recipient to provide a general opinion as to the worthiness of the candidate and if he would be capable of administering a diocese. With twenty-four in total, the new version contained ten more questions than its predecessor.
One of the most incisive aspects of the 1913 questionnaire consists in the addition of a preliminary question (number 1) which was placed before the first article. In the original Latin, this first question reads: “Utrum testis candidatum cognoscat, a quo tempore et quomodo. Signanter dicat utrum eidem aliquo consanguinitatis vel affinitatis gradu coniunctus sit; utrum cum ipso intima amicitia, an potius aversio aliqua obtineat”, or in translation: Whether the one giving testimony knows the candidate, how he knows him and for how long, expressly stating whether he is connected to him through any consanguinity or grade of relation through marriage; whether he has an intimate friendship with him or rather an aversion of any kind.
Such candid information was not previously required and is likely the fruit of difficulties encountered during previous interrogations. Saint Pius X, who approved the additions to this questionnaire, understood well that even the most worthy testimoniary labours under human weakness and could possess an unobjective view of the person he is asked to evaluate. He might even have a personal interest in seeing a candidate elevated to or blocked from a particular office. The 1913 version made it more difficult, in good conscience, for the one providing the information to push or to block a candidate for personal reasons.
Although produced by the Consistorial Congregation, the questionnaire was also used by the Oriental Congregation, which, after its creation in 1917, took over the responsability of processing the nominations of Eastern Catholic bishops.
Following the Second Vatican Council, changes in church legislation also necessitated modifications in the selection process of bishops. For example, whereas civil governments used to have a voice in such appointments (often through the royal prerogative of presentation), today prominent Catholic laypeople, acquainted with the nominee, are asked to provide an evaluation.
Episcopal questionnaires are confidential and those who receive them are bound to keep secret both the questions and their responses. For approximately seventy years, such documents continue to remain confidential until the Pope sanctions their release. Neither document cited above is any longer confidential nor in current usage. They are part of the series released in 1985 by Pope John Paul II, who permitted the consultation of documents of the pontificates of Pius X and Benedict XV (1903 to 1922) contained in the archives of the Apostolic See. In 2006, our happily reigning Pontiff extended this consultation to include the pontificate of Pius XI (1922 to 1939).
Today, questionnaires similar to those examined here are still utilized for each prospective episcopal candidate. Once the questionnaires have been completed, the candidates’ names are short-listed to three, a list known as a ternary or terna in Latin. Based on the information gleaned from all questionnaires, the ternary lists the candidates in order of most recommended to least recommended. After clearing the candidates with the papal Secretariat of State, the Vatican department in charge of the nomination (Congregation of Bishops for Latin dioceses, Propaganda Fide for mission territories, the Oriental Congregation for Eastern Catholics) presents to the Pope the name of the person whom it judges to be the most suitable candidate, together with the names of the other candidates. The Pope may confirm their judgment, choose one of the other two names from the ternary, or even appoint someone who is not on the list. Generally, however, the department’s recommendation prevails.
Present-day Ukrainian Greek-Catholic candidates are vetted at two levels: the level of the Patriarchia or office of the Major-Archiepiscopal Curia; and the level of the Apostolic See. Both levels send out their own distinctive questionnaires. The Permanent Synod, made up of the Major-Archbishop and four elected bishop, discusses the information contained in the received responses and then presents their findings to the general Synod of Ukrainian Bishops (or vice versa?). According to the system in force, bishops in the home territory (Ukraine) are directly elected by the Ukrainian Synod and confirmed by the Supreme Pontiff. In the diaspora, however, while the Synod still presents the ternary of candidates to the Apostolic See, it is the Oriental Congregation which examines the ternary and presents its findings to the Pope, who nominates the bishop. Such a distinction in the process arises from the fact that patriarchs/major-archbishops do not hold jurisdiction outside the home country, whereas the Supreme Pontiff enjoys universal jurisdiction worldwide.
Present-day questionnaires, whether Synodal or Vatican, remain under strict secrecy, currently making it impossible to compare them with previous versions. It would be interesting, however, to know whether or not they continue to require the testimoniary to disclose whether he harbors either sentiments of friendship or of enmity towards the prospective candidate.