Religion: Choosing a Successor

Even as Spellman's body was being laid to rest, U.S. Catholics were wondering about who might succeed him as pastor of the nation's most prestigious see. The fact that no one really knew* emphasized the extraordinary secrecy surrounding the church's method of choosing its spiritual shepherds.

In theory, bishops are spiritual successors of the Apostles, placed over their dioceses by divine institution. During the first centuries of the church, bishops were normally elected by acclamation at public gatherings of clergy and laity. By the Middle Ages, the naming of new bishops had become the prerogative of Popes, who frequently reassigned the right...

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