Monday, September 21, 2009

On "Homecoming," the Chief Talks Migration

The most influential president of the US bishops in a generation might be content to leave the bulk of his conference's health-care response to its relevant committee chairs, but as he returned to his first episcopal assignment over the weekend, Cardinal Francis George talked up another proposed reform high and ever on his bench's radar -- namely, immigration:
George... said the church does not support breaking the law or illegal immigration.

"But we should also say you have to respect the people in front of you. If you have neighbors and family members who have been subjected to society financially, socially and religiously for decades, they should be able to live here with security," said George, who served as bishop of the Yakima Diocese for nearly six years in the 1990s.

George was in Yakima to participate in the lifetime award ceremony for Central Washington Catholics who received the award, a medallion, that is named for him.
Previously the Rome-based #2 official of his community, the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, George led the Yakima diocese from 1990-96, when he was named archbishop of Portland. Less than a year later, the native Chicagoan was transferred home to succeed Cardinal Joseph Bernardin five months after the celebrated prelate's death from cancer at 68.

Given the topic at hand, it's worth noting that -- according to its official numbers -- Hispanics now comprise a majority of the 2.3 million-member Windy City church, the nation's third largest diocese.

While Federal-level movement on immigration reform isn't expected until next year at the earliest -- at least, as things currently stand -- George's comments came quickly on the heels of an unprecedented Capitol Hill summit last week that saw a delegation of Hispanic bishops meet with Congressional leaders from both sides of the aisle on a variety of issues, the border included.

All that said, the story topping the Northwest's ecclesial beat these days is the coming change at the helm of two of Washington state's three local churches; both Archbishop Alex Brunett of Seattle and Bishop William Skylstad of Spokane reached the retirement age of 75 earlier this year and await Rome's naming of their replacements.

While the Spokane prelate is well-known as the immediate past president of the US bishops, the choice of the next leader of the Seattle church bears especially close watching... and not because of its contentious recent history, either: now home to well over 900,000 Catholics, Brunett's charge has nearly tripled in size since the archbishop's 1997 arrival, rocketing the 160 year-old see into the list of Stateside Catholicism's 15 largest dioceses.

In a recent step-by-step primer on the process that'll name his successor, Brunett said he expected an appointment to drop "sometime in the not too distant future."

Beyond that, as with every other opening these days, all bets are off.

PHOTO: Andy Sawyer/Yakima Herald-Republic