Basis of Jurisdiction
No religious institution faced as daunting a challenge as the Archdiocese of New Orleans. Most of its parishioners have scattered, and half of its 300 priests are unaccounted for. But Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes of New Orleans, the spiritual leader of 500,000 people in one of the most heavily Roman Catholic regions in the United States, said he was preparing to put together his archdiocese "in exile."
"I never thought the Lord was going to ask me to take this on at 72," he said after celebrating an emotional Mass here at the Cathedral of St. Joseph, the seat of the Diocese of Baton Rouge.
Sunday was perhaps the first time since 1725 that Mass has not been said in a parish church in New Orleans, said Archbishop Hughes, adding that a few priests who stayed behind in the stricken city may have offered communion to individual Catholics around them. The task, as Archbishop Hughes described it, is to reorganize the Archdiocese of New Orleans, including an extensive charitable network and 104 parochial schools, in Baton Rouge.
The Times, for all its abundant goodness, won't touch the question with a 10 foot pole, but the canonical "how-to" of the task presents necessary procedural questions in abundance, ones which require a quick and authoritative resolution to save the many parties involved a lot of headaches over the next couple months.
Archbishop Hughes is trying to send priests in pursuit of what he described as a diaspora that has emptied half of the parishioners of the eight civil parishes in Louisiana that his archdiocese covers. Priests have been sent to Atlanta, Dallas and Houston and the Louisiana cities of Alexandria and Lafayette to minister to evacuees from New Orleans.OK, let's face facts. As it is currently submerged, a significant number of its faithful have dispersed, its institutions cannot function in their proper context, etc., it can be said that the archdiocese of New Orleans has, in effect, ceased to exist as a territorial entity. Whether this is a temporary or permanent state of affairs remains to be seen. Lacking that territoriality, canonical principle #1 to keep in mind here is that wherever the people have ended up, be it Atlanta, Dallas or Lafayette, they belong to the pastoral care not of the archbishop of New Orleans, but the bishop of the place, who is specifically charged with solicitude toward migrants and travelers in the midst of his flock. That reality will rear its head some more in a minute.
While Hughes enjoys the limited privilege of metropolitan jurisdiction within his province (which encompasses the state of Louisiana), even despite the apocalyptic circumstances of Katrina, he and his curia are effectively powerless. And how one diocese (NOLA) can be governed from another (Baton Rouge -- which, ironically enough, was Hughes' charge before being sent to the Big Easy as coadjutor to our own beloved Frank Schulte in 2001) -- presents conflicts of its own. It is, simply put, unprecedented.
The one card Hughes holds, irrespective of territorial jurisdiction, is the priestly vow of obedience on the part of his priests. Barring collections and the usual sources of income, ensuring their material welfare can only last so long, unless the financial reserves are especially sound. The staff of the archdiocese has only been told that their pay is assured for the next month.
But then again, even with that promise, when a priest of New Orleans is excercising his ministry in Atlanta, Dallas, Lafayette, or anywhere else, he is subject to the stipulations of the bishop of the place, because that's who his faculties derive from. It's not as if New Orleans can establish parish hubs for its diaspora across the South and Hughes can shuffle his priests across it as he sees fit. Well, he can do that, but not unilaterally -- it will require massive amounts of collaboration and cooperation from the respective ordinaries, who would likely be quite skittish to have a parallel extradiocesan structure set up over which they would maintain a shared oversight.
Rome is needed on this one -- and quickly.