Fr. Richard McBrien, over at the NC Reporter, is decrying the process in which the Pope and all Bishops are currently selected. He sites a few historical documents that glancing mention selecting a bishop publicly from the community. McBrien wonders why the Bishop is no longer publicly selected/elected by its own community. It is sad when a professor of ecclesiology does not realize that any person who receives the Sacrament if Holy Orders is publicly selected/elected by the Church community. However, it just doesn't happen in the way in which McBrien wants -- he wants a publicly held election, in which I assume would resemble something like a US political election.
When a priest or deacon is ordained the Bishop says the following: "We rely on the help of the Lord God and our Savior Jesus Christ, and we choose these men, our brothers, for priesthood in the presbyterial order." The key phrase is "WE CHOOSE THESE MEN." The Bishop here is speaking on behalf of the entire local church community. Though I have not been to or seen the rite associated with making a priest a Bishop, I feel pretty confident that there is something similar in the words in which the Church chooses the new Bishop through the Pope.
To make a modern analogy, it is similar to how a Senator represents a portion of his or her state. Not every person can be present to cast his or her vote at every single bill. So the Senator and Congressmen stand in place and represent portions of their state and how the President represents the entire country. It is akin to how the priest represents his parish, the bishop his diocese, and the Pope the entire Church.
From a practical perspective:
1. In the early days of Christianity such a public selection process, when church communities were very small, might have been practical. However, with some diocese having millions of people in it, it is no longer practical to select bishops or the pope in that manner. The question that must be asked is not only "What was it like in the early church?" but also "What is it supposed to be and where is the Spirit guiding us?"
2. We all know how ugly political elections can be. Must we tempt our brothers in Christ with the same lack of charity for the mere position within the Church. This process would seem to lend itself to pride than humility. I refer you to this book by Gregory the Great in which he discusses the need of humility for the priestly office as well as the dangers of selecting spiritual leaders who want to be spiritual leaders.
3. The entire local church would not be voting for the Bishop. Just look at the dismal rate of US citizens who turn out for political elections.
4. In order for anyone to know enough about a person in regards to holiness, education, prayer life, etc . . . the requirement would have to be a small community -- perhaps 150 people in size. The average church goer does not have the time nor the means to vouch for every candidate for the Priesthood or Bishopric. Good thing there are places like the Seminary that can vouch for these individuals.
5. I have parents who think Genesis, Abraham, Isaac, Joseph, and Jesus are the first five books of the Bible. With such little knowledge of their own faith, the current state of the church, who only pray when they need something from God, and who are caught up more in the works of Fantasy Football or the Real Housewives than the work of the people in the form of the Mass, how can we be certain that they are making a well informed decision? No I'll stick with the Bishops speaking on my behalf when selecting the Pope and the Pope speaking on my behalf in selecting a Bishop. They are much smarter and much holier than I.
Scriptural speaking, it is Peter who leads the selection of Judas' replacement in Act 1. So first it is clear that Peter has the authority to select a new apostle (bishop) through the process that he saw fit as given to him by the Holy Spirit. A selection process does take place; however, it is not explicitly detailed in how it happened. Did all 120 members vote? The text does not say, but what is clear from later writing in Acts, other letters, and in the Gospels is that little happened in the early church, without Peter's consent (John 20, the other apostles wait for Peter and let Peter go first into the empty tomb of Christ; Acts 15, the council of Jerusalem in which Peter makes a decree and James -- the head of the Jerusalem church -- affirms Peter's decree and set about implementing it. Just to name two.) It only makes sense that if a person has the authority to select a new Bishop that he too has the same authority dispose of a Bishop from his bishopric.