Friday, February 27, 2009

Bench Notes

Before anyone else sends an e.mail posing the question -- and God knows how many already have -- let's just clarify one thing: your narrator has no idea who the next archbishop of Milwaukee is. And neither does Tim Dolan. And neither does the Pope.

See, gang, this is why we've got a process to figure these things out. It may sound trite, but it's really true that the only person who knows at this stage is the Holy Spirit... and discerning His will takes some time (...and discovering said will often costs the house a quarter a minute).

As with all things, however, do stay tuned. The way things usually shake out, the first phase of a Milwaukee seat-filling -- namely, the in-house report on the state of the archdiocese -- will take at least some weeks to complete.

That said, the Beer City opening raises the number of orphaned Stateside sees to seven, while the succession of the longest-standing US prelate over the retirement age has temporarily lowered the gang of dioceses with bishops serving past 75 to twelve. The latter figure reverts to thirteen on Monday, as the former USCCB president Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane marks the milestone.

Of the docket's top two layers, longest vacant remains Biloxi, without an ordinary since last 2 April and, with New York settled, now leading the over-75 queue is Archbishop Elden Curtiss of Omaha, who sent his letter over in June 2007.

Speaking of Omaha, a decision for the Nebraska archdiocese is said to be on-deck in short order, and several weeks of buzz have indicated that the much-awaited appointment to St Louis won't be far behind.

Even more intriguing, however, is an unrelated possibility repeatedly floated by ops in the Midwest: the suppression of a diocese and division of its parts -- an occurrence that, on these shores, hasn't happened in five decades.

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Were the following factoid to run on its own, headlining it "The Pope Is Not a Conference Man" wouldn't, it seems, be the most off base thing.

By naming Tim Dolan to New York, B16 made it three for three -- that is, with Monday's appointment now in the books, the last three prelates to come up short in the head-to-head for the USCCB vice-presidency have each been named to cardinalatial sees within roughly 18 months of the vote.

At the 2007 November Meeting, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson bested Dolan 128-106 in the balloting for the post; in 2004, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago edged then-Bishop Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh (now archbishop of Washington) by six votes, 118-112, and then-Archbishop Justin Rigali of St Louis lost the runoff in both 1998 and 2001 before being transferred to Philadelphia and elevated to the papal "senate" with record speed in mid-2003.

Named to the capital in May 2006, Wuerl will likely see his day in red after July 2010, when his predecessor, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, becomes ineligble to vote in a conclave on his 80th birthday. As for the Gotham appointee, with Cardinal Edward Egan turning 77 on 2 April, the tenth archbishop's wait for a red hat could be longer than the Big Apple is used to, unless the pontiff decides to break his own rule against having two electors from one diocese, a situation without precedent in the US ranks.

Bottom line: whoever becomes the Bench's #2 might always go on to take the top spot for three years, but a red hat lasts forever. So as "consolation prizes" run, one could do far worse... which brings another potential header to mind:

"When the Bishops Close a Window, The Pope Opens the Doors... to St Patrick's Cathedral."

Manhattan might be filled, but with the next vice-president scheduled to be chosen in November 2010, the electorate might just want to keep the lesson in mind.

PHOTO: AP/Steve Ruark