Now that Bishop Richard J. Malone has stepped down, how and when will a permanent Buffalo bishop be named?
The decision is one that takes several months and is ultimately made by the pope.
The Vatican announced Wednesday that Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of the Albany Diocese will take over as Buffalo's apostolic administrator until a permanent replacement is named.
"It is a process bound by strict confidentiality and involves a number of important players – the most influential being the apostolic nuncio, the Congregation for Bishops, and the pope," according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Here's a look at what will happen.
Stage 1: Bishops’ recommendations. Bishops within the relevant archdiocese — in Buffalo's case, that's the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York — can recommend priests for the vacant post. The archbishop collects and then shares the recommendations with all of the bishops; after discussion, the group votes on priests to recommend. That list of names is sent to the apostolic nuncio in Washington, D.C., and to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Stage 2: The apostolic nuncio. The apostolic nuncio researches the candidates and the diocese's needs. He narrows the list of potential priests down to 20 or 30, sends questionnaires to people who know them, and prepares a recommendation to the Congregation for Bishops, with three candidates broken out and his preference noted, though his preference is not always selected. The Congregation for Bishops is a panel of senior Catholic leaders who help select and appoint bishops.
Stage 3: Congregation for Bishops. If the appointment is a bishop who is being promoted or transferred, it's handled by the prefect and staff. If the appointment involves a priest, the full Congregation for Bishops receives a summary of the report and then votes on it. They could accept the nuncio's recommendation, pick a different candidate or ask that another set of three recommendations be prepared.
Stage 4: The pope decides. The prefect of the Congregation for Bishops gives the recommendations to the pope, who, after a few days, returns his decision to the congregation. The congregation alerts the nuncio, who passes the choice along to the candidate. If the candidate accepts, a date is set for announcement of the news.
It can take up to eight months (or longer) for this process to play out.
In two recent examples of U.S. bishops replaced due to reasons other than retirement, it took five months to name a new bishop.
Bishop Martin Holley was removed from the Diocese of Memphis in October 2018 after a June investigation into his leadership and management of the diocese (a Vatican spokesman said the decision to remove Holley was not related to any sex abuse scandal). Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville was named apostolic administrator for Memphis. Five months later, in March 2019, the selection was Bishop David P. Talley.
Bishop Robert Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in Missouri resigned in April 2015. Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, of Kansas City, Kan., served as apostolic administrator of the western Missouri diocese in the interim. A successor was named five months later, in September 2015, with the selection of Bishop James Johnston.