Vatican City, Feb 3, 2021 / 17:52 pm
On January 30, Pope Francis met with Cardinal Blase Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago, who was in Rome for a meeting of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops.
The Holy See Press Office did not release any information on the meeting other than that it took place, and much of the press speculated that the meeting was probably to discuss what happened 10 days before, when the cardinal publicly criticized the U.S. bishops’ official statement on the inauguration of President Joe Biden.
But sources in Rome who spoke to CNA on background said that Cupich met the pope not to speak of what happened in the recent past, but what may happen in the near future: Blase Cupich replacing Cardinal Marc Ouellet as prefect of the Congregation for Bishops.
According to one source, Pope Francis was “seriously considering making a surprise appointment, a bishop from the peripheries” to replace Ouellet, one of the several heads of Vatican dicasteries that have reached retirement age.
The same source said the most likely candidate was Bishop Robert Francis Prevost, a Chicago-born Augustinian missionary of French and Spanish descent, who spent a significant amount of his pastoral life in the Northern Peruvian Andes before being appointed Bishop of Chiclayo, Peru by Pope Francis in 2015. Pope Francis also made Prevost one of the few non-Cardinal members of the Congregation for Bishops in November 2020.
But, according to the source, the pope has started to lean more toward Cardinal Cupich because of his higher profile and “the message that his appointment would deliver regarding the type of bishops he wants for the Church.”
The primary responsibility of the Congregation for Bishops is overseeing the selection and appointment of bishops. It also deals with the erection and suppression of dioceses, oversight of bishops, and the preparation for and response to bishops' ad limina visits to Rome.
The prefect of the Congregation for Bishops does not have unlimited power in bishop appointments. Rather, the process of appointing a bishop typically begins with a series of consultations at the local level, followed by recommendations made by the Apostolic Nuncio. Then a dossier is prepared, usually by dicastery officials, and discussed among all the members of the dicastery, with the prefect presiding. The process can go back to the Apostolic Nuncio if a suitable candidate is not found. Finally, a name or names are proposed to the Holy Father, who appoints the future bishop.