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Cardinal decries ‘amazing careerism’ of bishops on the hunt for advancement

NCR Staff

A former head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops has decried the “amazing careerism” of many of the world’s prelates and recommended that except in rare cases bishops should remain in their dioceses for life.

In an interview with the Italian Catholic journal 30 giorni, Cardinal Bernardin Gantin said he had been “very shocked” during his 14 years as head of the Congregation for Bishops by the “definite pressure for advancement” he felt from bishops.

Gantin led the Congregation for Bishops from 1984 to 1998. In that capacity, he was responsible for recommending episcopal appointments to the pope.

Gantin told the magazine he believed that once nominated, bishops should remain in their dioceses for the rest of their career expect in “grave cases,” and that a provision to that effect should be inserted into canon law “to avoid a certain hunt for advancement and a certain careerism.”

Gantin also recommended that in the future the rank of cardinal should not be associated with particular archdioceses, as it is with New York and Los Angeles, but should instead be awarded only on the basis of individual merit. He suggested this would help avoid the eagerness of some bishops to move on to more prestigious assignments.

Asked by the journal if he had ever been approached by bishops who did not find their present assignment suitable, Gantin said, “And how! I heard demands like this: ‘Eminence, I have been in this diocese already two or three years, and I have done everything that was asked of me ... ’ What is the meaning of this? I was very shocked by declarations of this sort -- also because the person saying it, sometimes joking and sometimes not, believed he was expressing a legitimate desire.”

Gantin said that once at the end of an episcopal ordination he heard the cry “Ad altiora!” -- a Latin expression meaning “on to higher things.” Gantin said, “This also worried me deeply.”

30 giorni is associated with Communion and Liberation, a conservative Catholic lay movement in Italy with branches elsewhere, including the United States. The Gantin interview appears in its April issue.

Gantin’s remarks echo statements made by Italian Cardinal Vincenzo Fagiolo in a March issue of the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano. Fagiolo argued that transfers and promotions of bishops are “incompatible with the dignity of the bishop’s office.”

Gantin, 77, is from Bénin, a small African nation just west of Nigeria. In 1960, he became the first black African archbishop in modern church history when John XXIII named him to lead the Cotonu archdiocese.

He was transferred to the Vatican in 1971 to work in the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. He later became head of the Pontifical Commission on Justice and Peace. In 1984, John Paul made Gantin the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops.

Gantin is the dean of the College of Cardinals, which means that when the pope dies, Gantin will chair the conclave that selects his successor.

In the cardinal’s African language, Gantin means “tree of iron.”

National Catholic Reporter, May 28, 1999