Question Box: Who learns first about a new bishop?


By Fr. Thom Hennen
Question Box

Q: When a new bishop is named, who will be the first to know and when?

A: As we continue to await the naming of a new bishop for our diocese, this question is on the minds of many people. Almost every day someone asks me, “How close are we to getting a new bishop?” To which I honestly reply, “I have no idea.” People assume that because I am a priest or work in the chancery that I have the inside scoop or that we are all part of the “Borg Collective,” and just know when the order has gone through. (For the uninitiated, this is a Star Trek reference related to the concept of a “hive mind.”) While I may find out a few days to a week before (as the diocese will have to plan for a press conference, etc.), I have no spies in the Vatican to know any sooner than that.

The first person to know will be Pope Francis, after he has personally selected one of the three candidates on the terna (list) given to him from the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States (Cardinal Christophe Pierre) and approved by the Dicastery for Bishops. The second person to know will be the Prefect for the Dicastery of Bishops (Cardinal Robert Prevost) and his staff. The third person to know will be the apostolic nuncio, who then calls the man selected, who will be the fourth person to know.


The fifth person to know will be the metropolitan archbishop, in our case, Archbishop Thomas Zinkula (our former bishop who now leads the Archdiocese of Dubuque). Soon after, if not almost simultaneously, Diocesan Administrator Father Ken Kuntz will be informed. He will inform appropriate staff in order to put plans into place. This information will remain confidential until the day of the announcement. I believe the man chosen may inform his spiritual director, also under the strictest confidence, but may not inform even his own family until right up to or the day of the announcement. Families are notorious blabs. As far as I know, everyone else (including other bishops) find out through the usual channels after that.

The soonest the public can know the answer is by visiting the Vatican website ( daily and click on the section that reads “Daily Bulletin of the Holy See Press Office” on the right hand top of the page. Then look for “Resignations and Appointments.” That will tell you who has been appointed that day. The Vatican updates the site most days at noon (Rome time). If you are an early bird and check every day, you could be among the first to know… after all of those people listed above.

When I was in seminary at the North American College in Rome, one of the faculty members served in the Dicastery for Bishops. Naturally, seminarians were always hounding him for any inside information, especially if their diocese was awaiting a bishop. He would politely call the seminarians after the announcement had dropped to inform them that a new bishop had been named. Occasionally, I am told, for those who were particularly prying, he would call and leave a message saying, “Good afternoon, this is Monsignor ‘X.’ I’m just calling to let you know that [insert pregnant pause] you still don’t have a bishop,” and hang up. That monsignor is now a bishop, by the way.

As we pray almost daily for a new bishop at my Masses at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport, I urge people to pray for not only a new bishop soon but also the right bishop to lead us. As my parents would tell me ad nauseum on long car trips, “Wait and see.”

(Father Thom Hennen serves as the pastor of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport. Send questions to

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