Thursday, April 27, 2006


Speculation tipping Bishop Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh as the front-runner to succeed Cardinal Theodore McCarrick as archbishop of Washington has increased markedly in recent days. Earlier today, it was even buzzed that the appointment could come as soon as tomorrow morning; that theory was discounted on further review.

Whatever the case, the timetable for the Washington transition has been noticeably expedited.

In September, when the Washington archdiocese announced that McCarrick's mandatory offer to retire at his 75th birthday last July had been indefinitely postponed, it was said that the succession would likely take place in "two or so years." By January, the cardinal was relatively unguarded in predicting that the change would happen by early fall of this year. Then, last week, in a session with reporters and editors at the Washington Post, Cardinal McCarrick -- who was appointed to the capital in late 2000 and elevated to the College within weeks of his installation -- made it sound as if his successor would be coming even sooner than that.

Word is that the prime mover behind the speeding-up of the process has been McCarrick himself, who is eager to continue his international work on behalf of the Holy See and other church entities while ensuring the sound governance of the 560,000-member archdiocese.

Wuerl, 65, was ordained to the episcopacy by John Paul II in 1986 and has served as bishop of Pittsburgh since 1988. He is widely esteemed in church circles and beyond for his detail-rich policy savvy, keen intellect and proven skill at tackling difficult issues in a sensitive manner.

A former official at the Congregation for the Clergy -- where he served as private secretary to its then-Prefect, the late Cardinal John Wright, in the 1970s -- Wuerl remains highly-regarded in Rome. Last year, while serving as an elected delegate to the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist, he was invited to speak at the annual program for new bishops organized by the Congregation for Bishops. The Pittsburgh prelate's high standing was further evidenced when he performed the ordination of 2005's class of transitional deacons at the Pontifical North American College.

While Wuerl yet again is at the center of speculation for a senior post -- he has previously been seen as a candidate for the archbishoprics of Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago and New York, in addition to a possible return to the Curia -- he is not the only name in the current round of speculation. Archbishops Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, Edwin O'Brien of the Military Services and John Myers, McCarrick's successor in Newark, have also popped up in various conversations.

The capital is currently the hot spot on the ecclesiastical travelling circuit, given today's Prayer for Peace conference at Georgetown and tomorrow night's American Cardinals' Dinner downtown. The black-tie/ferraiolo Cardinals' Dinner is an annual fund-raiser for the Catholic University of America, and the liturgy which precedes it is always celebrated by the host ordinary.

Cardinal McCarrick will preside at the Mass tomorrow afternoon in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on Catholic U's campus. What follows in the days to come is anyone's guess.