New Archbishop of Sydney faces a lengthy selection process

George Pell is headed to Rome and Parramatta's Bishop Anthony Fisher has been named as a possible candidate to fill the role of Sydney's Archbishhop.

But the process of choosing the new archbishop is a complex one, involving Australian clerics and laity, with the final decision made in Rome.

The initial selection process will be led by Australia's Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Paul Gallagher, to find the best candidates. 

Archbishop Gallagher notes that Cardinal Pell is still Sydney's Archbishop and the position has not yet been declared vacant, but if the Pope makes that move - likely in the coming days or weeks - the Nuncio will start consulting senior church figures.

"You make the initial consultation with the bishops," Archbishop Gallagher explained. He then widens his discussions to "consulters" - priests who bishops have chosen to advise him.

"A number of them must also be heard. 

''And when we determine a shortlist of possible candidates, we go deeper into the thing. 

''One would assume the three candidates would already be bishops, but it's not necessarily the case. It's probably the case."

Who and how many among the laity would be consulted?

"It's very much left to my discretion," Archbishop Gallagher said. 

But the opinion of "qualified" non-clergy would be sought on the suitability of a particular candidate.

"For all these big jobs, the number of people who could be qualified [to be Archbishop] could be quite limited."

Age was also a consideration. 

"One is not going to appoint someone who is himself nearing retirement age.''

But experience mattered, he said, so it might not be a bishop ordained in only the last couple of years.

The Nuncio produces a "terna" - a dossier containing the three names - which is submitted to Congregation for Bishops in Rome, a department of the Holy See that makes recommendations to Pope Francis, who is expected to take a close interest in such a senior appointment.

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