For a candidate to be eligible as the next Prelate they must be a priest who is at least 40 years old, has been a part of the prelature for at least 10 years, has been ordained for at least five years, and is a member of the Congress of electors.
Currently there are 94 priests from 45 countries who fit the bill, including many who serve as regional vicars, meaning they represent the Prelate in the countries in which they serve. Other eligible priests have either spent long tenures working in Rome or in one of the 49 circumscriptions that make up the prelature.
According to Opus Dei's statutes, which list a set of qualities desirable in a prelate, their leader must in short stand out in terms of how he lives the virtues of piety, charity, and prudence, his love for the Church and the Magisterium, as well as his fidelity to the spirit of Opus Dei.
Studies, both civil and ecclesial, are also factors, as well as having competence in pastoral government.
Elections for a new prelate begin with a plenary meeting of the Central Advisory, the prelature's women's council, which will take place Jan. 21.
During this initial stage, each of the women participating will submit the name or names from among the priests in the electoral congress whom they think is best suited for the job. They will then pass these recommendations to the congress, who will vote for a candidate with these suggestions in mind.
The official election process is set to begin Jan. 23.
A total of 194 faithful, all men, involved in Opus Dei pastoral work throughout the world will participate in the actual elections, including both priests and lay people who are at least 32 years old and have been a part of the prelature for at least nine years.
In comments at a Jan. 16 press briefing on the elections, Professor Ines Llorens, a canonist and member of Opus Dei, stressed the importance of the women's contribution at the start of the process, saying the Central Advisory council "is the central department and has an important role in the government of Opus Dei."
Referencing their founder, she said St. Josemaria Escriva "wanted women to have a specific part to say things and he wanted this to be manifested in the prelature's statutes."
(Story continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
"The fact that we are the first to say our opinions is important. That voice is always listened to."
Once the elections are over and the new prelate has accepted the position, either he or a representative of the prelature will ask Pope Francis for his confirmation of the candidate, since it is technically the Pope who appoints the Prelate of Opus Dei.
The Pope can reject the new prelate, in which case the electoral congress would go back to the drawing board and propose a new candidate.
However, should Francis accept the new prelate, participants in the congress will then meet for several more days in order to select members of the central councils that assist the prelate in his governance.
Professor Eduardo Baura, also a canonist and member of the prelature who was present at the Jan. 16 briefing, told journalists that "being a personal prelature, Opus Dei is not like dioceses where there is a procedure – the proposals of the nuncios, the relationship with the episcopal conference, the proposals of the Congregation for Bishops."
"This process isn't there for the Opus Dei Prelate," he said, noting that when the Pope gave the prelature its statutes, "he chose the canonical method of an electoral congress with an election and then a nomination from the Pope."