Tuesday, May 13, 2008

In Big Apple, the Drumbeat Begins

With the unprecedented transition from a living archbishop of New York to his successor well on the approach, the deck-clearing has begun in Gotham.

Since the weekend, the top story among the city's church circles has been Cardinal Edward Egan's appointment of Msgr Michael Hull, rector of St John Neumann Residence -- the archdiocesan minor seminary -- as pastor of Epiphany parish in the Lower East Side's tony Gramercy Park. Hull's appointment takes effect on the traditional 1 July start-date of the Big Apple's new pastors.

A member of the cardinal's innermost circle of confidants named rector of Neumann last fall after serving since 2001 as its dean, the transfer of the Greg-trained Scripture scholar -- who Egan had previously shortlisted for the rectorship of the major seminary at St Joseph's, Dunwoodie -- is the first major signal that the cardinal's age-induced retirement from office could come to pass within weeks.

As required by canon law, Egan submitted his resignation as archbishop to Pope Benedict at his 75th birthday in April 2007. Sunday marked the eighth anniversary of his appointment to lead the 2.6 million-member fold in the city the Vatican considers the "capital of the world."

An even more significant foreshadowing of the handover is expected in short order, with another pastorate widely believed to be heading in the direction of Egan's longtime private secretary, Msgr Gregory Mustaciuolo.

Described by one archdiocesan official as the cardinal's "prime minister," the bushy-haired Staten Islander -- a civil lawyer by training -- has served in the key post since 1995, when John Cardinal O'Connor tapped him as one of his two closest aides. While a handful of lay aides -- including longtime director of communications Joe Zwilling and Education chief Dr Catherine Hickey -- remain in the positions they held under O'Connor, Mustaciuolo is the lone senior cleric of the New York curia to have remained in place for the entirety of Egan's tenure at its helm. (On a side note, Mustaciuolo isn't the only member of the "Secretaries Club" seen trading the office for a parish this spring... but more on that in due course.)

What's more, in keeping with the usual lead-up to a Stateside cardinal's retirement, at least one Gotham auxiliary is reported to be in line to receive a diocese of his own. In the meantime, at 1011 and its environs, other personnel and procedural moves have been observed dropping at an expedited pace.

On Saturday, Egan ordained six new priests for the archdiocese in the Midtown landmark; highlighting a main challenge awaiting his successor, next year's class will be half that. In the wake of the successful papal visit (which closed out the major celebrations of New York's bicentennial as a local church), the cardinal hosted a thank-you reception for the local leg's top organizers early last week. Egan is understood to have met privately with Pope Benedict during the pontiff's visit to 452 Madison -- the archbishop's residence -- following last month's Mass for Priests and Religious in St Patrick's Cathedral.

As always, stay tuned.

PHOTO: Todd Heisler/The New York Times