Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A Lateral Move in Nashville

As foretold, so it arrived.

In a rare move, the diocesan administrator of Nashville, Father David Choby, has been named to succeed Bishop Edward Kmiec as his diocese's permanent head. In August, 2004, Kmiec was transferred from Nashville to lead the diocese of Buffalo.

Choby's appointment is the second in a week coming from the "native son" selection pattern set in the United States by the outgoing apostolic nuncio, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo. Last week, Benedict XVI named Fr Alex Sample, the 45 year-old diocesan chancellor of Marquette, as bishop of that diocese.

The bishop-elect of Nashville, who turns 59 next month, was ordained for that diocese in 1974. He obtained his JCL in Rome, did tribunal work at home, served five years on the faculty of the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, and has spent the years since his 1989 return to Nashville as a pastor and dean in the city.

The last time a diocesan administrator was permanently named to the top post came in 2003, when Msgr George Coleman of Fall River, the temporary leader of that diocese as it awaited a new bishop, found himself tapped to succeed Sean O'Malley who, in the interim between his departure and Coleman's ordination, wintered in Palm Beach before quickly being bounced back to the archbishopric of Boston.

In light of last weekend's appointment of Archbishop Pietro Sambi to succeed Montalvo as apostolic nuncio in the United States, it is unknown if or how much longer Montalvo's preference toward "native son" episcopal candidates -- a trait avoided at all costs during the tenures of his recent predecessors, which had its renaissance in his post-2002 selection of shortlists (and eventual nominees) for US dioceses -- will persist.

In accord with canon law, Bishop-elect Choby must be ordained and installed as bishop of Nashville within four months of today's appointment. Given his current role, however, look for a markedly shorter transition period.