Chaput’s Marriage

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In his inaugural homily as archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles Chaput took it upon himself to riff on the traditional understanding that a bishop is married to his diocese.

Of course, my appointment to Philadelphia is an arranged marriage, and
the Holy Father is the matchmaker. The good news is that romance is a
modern invention — and given the divorce rate common today, it’s not
everything it’s cranked up to be. In fact, history suggests that
arranged marriages often worked at least as well as those based on
romantic love. When arranged marriages were common, there was an
expectation that people would get to know each other and then come to
love one another. Good matchmakers were aware of the family history of
each of the spouses and their particular needs. And the really wise
matchmakers could make surprisingly good choices.

The bad news is that the kind of arranged episcopal marriage Chaput has just undergone is also a modern invention. Back in the day, bishops were chosen in a threefold process: 1) election by the diocesan clergy; 2) confirmation by the metropolitan (archbishop); and 3) acclamation by the people. That is to say, the marriage of bishop and diocese was not arranged from above–the pope had no part in the choice–but depended very much on the agreement of the governed, clergy and laity alike. The spouse, in other words, gave her consent. And such a marriage was supposed to last forever, such that when a bishop died, the diocese was said to be “widowed.”

Nowadays not so much. The matchmaking pope decides, and the parties have to live with the decision. And divorce is permitted, when the matchmaker decides that the bishop of a lesser diocese has earned the right to ascend to a more exalted see. Put another way, while poor old divorced Denver awaits a more junior consort, Charles Chaput gets to sport his trophy wife all the way to his red hat.