The Docket Will Rise Again
It's already been a banner year for the DC "Laboratory" -- vacancy-times slashed in half, the biggest one-day whack of nominations this decade, caliber of appointees widely-hailed for their mix of pastoral cred and doctrinal finesse, process praised for hitting bulls-eye matches of candidates with places, etc.
Yet for all that, just because nothing's dropped since mid-July, a good bit of the reader mail of late has reflected the sort of panic better suited to a trading floor... just far less justified. And nowhere near as understandable, to boot.
Keep in mind, folks, that this isn't, say, Scandinavia: the second-largest national hierarchy in the global church (after Italy), the US' appointment docket is invariably the most crowded due to the size of the local churches, the scope of the turf, and the breadth of consultation needed to prepare the required reports and recommendations. As of this writing, seven of the nation's 195 dioceses (in chronological order: Knoxville, Charleston, Juneau, Biloxi, Gallup, St Louis and Cheyenne) remain vacant, with another 12 (again by time-order: Detroit, New York, Omaha, Syracuse, Kalamazoo, Fort Wayne-South Bend, Allentown, New Orleans, Allentown, Pueblo, Lafayette in Indiana and Winona) led by ordinaries serving past the retirement age of 75... to say nothing of the queue of requests for coadjutors and auxiliaries... or requests for permission to request them.
To put the reality in a starker light, it's been computed that there'd have to be an American appointment every 18 days or so for just under the next two decades, just to keep pace.
All that said, the machinery's pretty much back to speed following the Holy See's summer hiatus, and fall's first yield for these shores is tipped to arrive as soon as... later this week. By the sounds of it, the top of the harvest looks to be coming from the bottom of the deck -- the perk of sending one's letter well in advance.
While some ops are expecting a "significant" flurry of movements over the next few months to keep hacking away at the backlog, at the same time, odds are that nothing which could be described as major will fall before Election Day. What's more, since 4 November falls within the traditional halt of announcements in the run-up to the USCCB Fall Plenary (which begins on the 10th), the A-list slots awaiting provision won't likely be moving 'til Turkey Time (i.e. Thanksgiving) or thereabout.
With no more retirement letters slated to head over for the remainder 2008, the next diocese to come open is a key one given the changing landscape of the Stateside fold: Seattle, where Archbishop Alex Brunett turns 75 in mid-January. Fuelled by Hispanic and Asian immigration and a regional economic boom, the faithful's presence in the first city of the Northwest has almost tripled since 1990 and now stands within striking distance of a million.
But don't get too jumpy just yet -- the docket's retirement pile does, after all, still stretch back to March 2005... when a man called John Paul still reigned.
As always, however, stay tuned.