De Cura animarum has been running an interesting series of comments on the Papacy. Among comments there appeared the old - and valid - distinction between the Papacy and the way in which it has operated over the last 150 years in the West. For most of the history of the Church, the Papacy did not appoint each local bishop; so why does he need now to appoint every bishop of the Latin Church?
The answer clearly is that he doesn't. But this is not some massively novel and liberating discovery. In dialogue with Eastern dissident traditions, the Papacy has never tried to impose such a condition; indeed, it can point to the fact that it does not appoint 'uniate' bishops within the territories of their historic patriarchates.
Whether Now is a good time to eliminate the appointment by popes of bishops in the Latin Church - the conclusion which some people seem to assume is automatic - appears to me much more debateable. As Joseph Ratzinger used to point out, the post-conciliar liturgical 'reforms' were enforced by means of a maximalist view of the Papacy: the idea that a pope, especially if mandated by aCouncil can radically modify the Tradition, rather than (as Ratzinger argued that he should) act as the guardian of Tradition. The paradox is that having used a Papacy maximalised to the point of corruption and tyranny to impose their own faddish departures from Tradition, the Liberals have now suddenly discovered that, in their view, the time has come for a Reduced Papacy. It is hardly necessary to speculate on the reasons for these tergiversations.
I suggest the following: we need to keep the Maximalised Papacy for another couple of generations, or for as long as it takes to reverse the improprieies which the Maximalised Papacy allowed to be introduced in the last century. Then, when sanity is restored and the Smoke of Satan is eliminated from the Church, let's go for a Reduced Papacy. When presbyterates and laos are peacefully within the Great Tradition, that will be the time to consider giving them back the election of their bishop.
But even then, let us remember that the nodal institutions in the Church are: the local bishop, the Man of each Particular Church; and the Bishop of Rome, the universal focus of unity. The papacy has historically been at its best when it has protected local churches from bully-boys close at home. Anglican Catholics can explain, to anybody who wants to know, why Provincial Autonomy is the the Tyrant and Rome is the helpful friend to whom Christians are entitled to turn for succour and support.
Provincial systems of appointing bishops would be as undesireable and much, much more dangerous than papal appointments. When it is safe for the Roman Pontiff to retire from this particular chore, it is the truly local church which, in terms of precedent, should elect. Not entrenched bureaucracies.