CARDINAL HEENAN has invited his clergy and laity to send him names of priests suitable to succeed him. In this he is once again giving a pastoral lead, in the spirit of renewal. which we fervently hope he will be in a position to continue for many a day.
At the same time, and looking far ahead, it is desirable that the option should be widely taken up. It is obvious that having thought over the matter carefully the Cardinal sees this as an advance towards the consultation of the faithful as advocated by Cardinal Newman.
Much is made by historians of the isolated case of St. Ambrose, who was elected Bishop of Milan by popular acclaim when still a layman in 373 because he was the best man for the job. For the rest of the time bishops have by and large co-opted their successors, and in modern times the Vatican has nominated them. Often comparatively little regard has been felt due to the three names on the conventional "terna" submitted by the senior clergy of the diocese in need of a chief pastor.
Today the qualifications are more complex and we see that the new successor in the long line stretching back to the apostles must match the needs of his people. That was the idea behind the "identikit" model drawn out for Brentwood a year or two ago.
Something of the kind should result from this new exercise if all goes according to plan. No limit has been set, but the field is inevitably circumscribed.
Roughly there are three main categories of possible candidates who could be chosen : a present member of the hierarchy, as has invariably happened in the past century or so; a priest from the diocese chosen; or a selection made from another diocese from among the chaplains to the forces or universities, and the colleges and religious houses.
in practice however age, previous experience and aptitudes will soon narrow the possible range of choice. Moreover most people are handicapped by not knowing really well all that many men of episcopal potentiality.
So perhaps the list. of dark horses will not be so very long. And at some future date it may well turn out that the responsible office will fall to one of the younger bishops assembled round the Cardinal this week on the eve of his departure for the Synod in Rome.