A cardinal has reassured Catholics in New Zealand that the process of finding new bishops for two vacant dioceses is “underway.”
Cardinal John Dew, the Archbishop of Wellington, told the news website Stuff that the search for new leaders for the dioceses of Hamilton and Palmerston North was being conducted in “the standard way.”
“The process to appoint new bishops for the two dioceses is underway and under the supervision of the apostolic nuncio, which is the standard way bishops are appointed,” said Cardinal Dew, who has served as apostolic administrator of Palmerston North diocese since 2019.
The two vacancies mean that a third of New Zealand’s dioceses are currently vacant. Local Catholics have expressed concern at the time taken to identify their new bishops.
The Diocese of Palmerston North has lain vacant for more than three years, while the neighboring Diocese of Hamilton has lacked a bishop for almost a year. Together, the two dioceses serve roughly 134,000 baptized Catholics.
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Bishop Stephen Lowe, the vice president and secretary of the New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference (NZCBC), also insisted that the appointment process was working, reported CathNews New Zealand.
The Catholic news site said that the bishop was responding to an analysis published by The Pillar in October exploring possible reasons for the delay in the appointments.
“The process of appointing a bishop is not fast, and this can lead to frustration and speculation on what is happening. Behind the scenes, however, the process is happening,” said Bishop Lowe, who was named the bishop of Auckland last December after serving for almost seven years as the bishop of Hamilton.
While the Dicastery for Bishops is the main Vatican department involved in the selection of bishops in Europe and North America, the former Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (now incorporated into the Dicastery for Evangelization) takes charge of the process in New Zealand.
Bishop Lowe, who is also the apostolic administrator of Hamilton diocese, described the steps that must be taken to fill an episcopal vacancy.
“When a diocese requires a new bishop, the apostolic nuncio starts a process of consultations with a range of lay people and clergy to look at the pastoral needs of the diocese and suggest names of potential candidates,” he said.
“The nuncio passes this information on to the Vatican, which confirms a short list of candidates called a terna. The nuncio then starts a second consultation process with a wide variety of people on the specific candidates who are being considered. These people are also asked to suggest others who might be consulted.
“When this process is complete the nuncio sends his report to the Vatican and ultimately to the pope, who is the one who appoints bishops. When the pope nominates a new bishop, the nuncio informs the nominated priest and asks whether he is willing to accept.”
The Tanzanian Archbishop Novatus Rugambwa has served as the apostolic nuncio to New Zealand since 2019.
At his installation Mass in Auckland in March, Bishop Lowe thanked Archbishop Rugambwa for his presence.
“Can I please ask you to work hard to find a great bishop for Hamilton? I think Palmerston North and Christchurch are looking for one too,” the bishop said, to laughter in the congregation.
Bishop Michael Gielen, an auxiliary in the Diocese of Auckland, was named bishop of Christchurch in May this year.