Saturday, October 27, 2007

Fruits of Disco Decade: Bell Bottoms... and Baby Bishops

The Catholic hierarchy has entered the 1970s.

Some might be looking for a punchline, but there is none... as of earlier in the hour, it's simply fact.

The Holy See announced this morning that Pope Benedict had assented to the choice of two new bishops by the synod of the Romanian Greek-Catholic church. Both assigned to aid the head of the 750,000 member community, Major Archbishop Lucian Muresan of Fagaras and Alba Iulia, Bishops-elect Mihai Fratila and Vasile Bisau are, respectively, 36 and (barely) 38. Following their ordination, the duo will be the youngest of the world's 4,000-odd bishops.

(In the Eastern rites in communion with Rome, the synods choose and transfer their own personnel, a relative autonomy that merely requires papal confirmation of the moves.)

A former rector of Rome's Romanian College, Fratila -- who turns 37 in December -- was ordained in 1996. He studied at the Eternal City's "Orientale" and Paris' Institut Catholique, where he earned a doctorate in liturgical theology. Ordained a priest in 1997, Bisau has spent eight years as a moral theology professor in his home eparchy of Maramures in the north of Romania.

Alongside the six eparchies (dioceses) in its home country, the presence of a Romanian-rite community in the US was recognized in 1987 with the establishment of the church's lone branch outside Romania, with its seat at Canton, Ohio. Counting approximately 5,000 faithful, the eparchy of St George in Canton is the smallest of the 195 American dioceses.

On a side note, the church in the States hasn't seen a thirty-something prelate since 1988, when Franciscan Fr Roberto Gonzalez was named an auxiliary bishop of Boston at the age of 38.

Subsequently bishop of Corpus Christi after seven years in Boston, Gonzalez -- the last of a string of US bishops named under 40 in the '70s and '80s -- became archbishop of San Juan on Puerto Rico in 1999.

In other papal doings on this Saturday, three weeks after seeking counsel from his closest ally in his homeland over a low-key dinner, the Pope received Bishop Wilhelm Schraml of Passau in a similarly inconspicuous (but simultaneously conspicuous) private audience.

Whether Schraml --72 years old and previously auxiliary of the Ratzinger home-base of Regensburg -- was likewise called in to give advice, or to accept the archbishopric of Munich, is an open question.... For the time being, of course.