A leaked questionnaire on potential bishops has pointed up shortcomings in the Vatican appointments process.

– A procedure shrouded in secrecy

Portuguese Catholic news website 7Margens published September 17 the full text of what it claimed was a questionnaire the Vatican Congregation for Bishops sends through nunciatures around the world to individuals – in overwhelming part, ordained men – invited to give their opinion on potential candidates for the episcopate.

7Margens pointed out that the questionnaire it published can be used by Church authorities on its own or preceded or succeeded by other surveys or individual questions to referees. The website also explained that in the Vatican process of appointing bishops questionnaires and surveys go hand-in-hand with periodic consultations of nuncios, bishops and priests for men they think would make suitable shepherds.

Those disclaimers aside, however, 7Margens claimed its questionnaire is the one the Vatican uses in the process of appointing diocesan bishops. The website spoke to priests who have answered the survey in recent years to confirm that information.

Though 7Margens admitted that the survey it had access to is occasionally modified by Vatican authorities, the questionnaire as published still provides valuable insight into a Vatican appointments process still shrouded under the cloak of “pontifical secrecy” – all the way up to the terna of three names of potential candidates for bishop that the nuncio presents to Rome, and the eventual appointment by the Pope.

– Questions on “orthodoxy”, “discipline” and fidelity to Church teachings on women’s ordination and sexual ethics… but no mention of the gospel or capacity for empathy

The survey published by 7Margens is divided into fourteen questions:

1. Describe your relationship with the candidate and how long you have known him.

2. Personal information. Physical appearance, health, capacity for work; family conditions, especially regarding possible manifestations of hereditary diseases.

3. Human gifts. Speculative and practical intellectual capacity; temperament and character, balance, serenity of judgment; sense of responsibility.

4. Human, Christian and priestly formation. Experience of and witness to human, Christian and priestly virtues (prudence, justice, rectitude, loyalty, sobriety, faith, hope, charity, obedience, humility, piety, daily celebration of the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours, Marian devotion…).

5. Behaviour. Moral conduct, behaviour with people and in the exercise of priestly ministry, ability to establish friendly relationships; relationship with government authorities (respect and autonomy).

6. Cultural awareness. Competence and further training in the ecclesiastical sciences; general culture, knowledge of and sensitivity to the problems of our time; knowledge of other languages; publication of books or articles worthy of mention.

7. Orthodoxy. Convinced and loyal adherence to the Doctrine and Magisterium of the Church. In particular, the candidate’s position regarding the documents of the Holy See concerning the Ministerial Priesthood, the priestly ordination of women, marriage, sexual ethics and social justice. Fidelity to the genuine ecclesial tradition and commitment to the authentic renewal promoted by the Second Vatican Council and the pontifical teachings that have followed it.

8. Discipline. Fidelity and docility to the Holy Father, the Holy See, the Hierarchy, esteem and acceptance of priestly celibacy as proposed by the ecclesiastical Magisterium; respect and observance of the general and particular norms on divine worship and ecclesiastical attire.

9. Pastoral skills and experience. Capacity for, experience in and results obtained in pastoral ministry, evangelisation and catechesis, preaching and teaching (readiness, ability to speak in public), sacramental and liturgical ministry (especially in the administration of Penance and the celebration of the Eucharist); pastoral work for vocations; missionary sensitivity and ecumenical spirit; formation of the laity for the apostolate (family, youth, promotion and defence of human rights, the world of work, culture, media); social advancement and action, with particular attention to the poor and disadvantaged.

10. Gifts of government. Spirit of fatherhood, of service, of initiative; ability to guide, to dialogue, of stimulating and accepting collaboration, of analysing and planning, of deciding and implementing, of directing and accompanying in teamwork, esteem for the role and collaboration of religious and laity (men and women) and for a fair sharing of responsibilities; interest in the problems of the universal and local Church.

If the candidate has dealt with accusations of sexual abuse of minors on the part of a priest, has he always acted in an appropriate and just manner towards all the persons and groups involved?

Have there been reasonable (especially public) criticisms of the applicant’s improper conduct in cases of accusations of child sexual abuse?

11. Administrative capacity. Respect and good use of Church property; ability and demonstrated capacity in administration; sense of justice and spirit of detachment; willingness to seek the cooperation of experts in the field.

12. Public esteem. On the part of priests, the people and the authorities.

13. Overall judgment. On the personality of the candidate and on his suitability for the episcopate. Indicate, in the case of a positive assessment, if the candidate is more suitable for appointment as a diocesan or auxiliary bishop, and for what type of diocese he seems most suitable (urban, industrial, rural, important, medium, small…).

14. Other information. Finally, we ask for the names of other people (priests, religious or laypeople) who know the candidate well and are endowed with discretion, serenity of judgment and the ability to keep confidentiality.

7Margens asked three people for their opinion on the questionnaire: one had already answered it, one had only seen the questions once, and the third had never seen the survey before.

Those three people invited to comment on the questionnaire, however, all pointed out that the Vatican survey on potential bishops never once makes reference to the gospel, and places too much emphasis on orthodoxy, doctrine and discipline to the exclusion of listening, pastoral creativity and human qualities such as forgiveness and empathy.

The questionnaire makes reference to the Church’s teachings on sexual ethics and women’s ordination, too, but does not mention Catholic doctrine on the economy, the exploitation of the weakest, the preferential option for the poorest or the protection of the environment, the 7Margens commentators on the document also pointed out, among other criticisms.

More articles on the virus of clericalism, on Novena:

German Catholic women demand bishops address Church power imbalance: “We are still a long way from being where we belong”

Spanish theologian blasts “many” priests “who use religion to get power and be important people”: “This is intolerable”

Priest urges Church to shed “ballast” of “hindering” tradition: “Why don’t we take the Holy Scripture and look at what is really in it?”

German bishop alerts: “We can no longer build our Church life on traditions alone”


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.