Tuesday, February 15, 2011

And Now, As the Panhandle Turns....

Over a year since suffering a significant stroke, Bishop John Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee has submitted his resignation to Pope Benedict.

A former chair of Catholic Relief Services and perennial key leader of the these shores' 5 million African-American Catholics, the 70 year-old Josephite underwent multiple surgeries following both his original stroke in December 2009 and a subsequent collapse at a funeral Mass early last year. While the Pensacola News Journal quoted diocesan officials in reporting Ricard's move, the Tallhassee Democrat first published, then quickly removed a brief saying that the bishop's resignation had already been accepted and Florida's metropolitan -- Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski -- was already named apostolic administrator of the 65,000-member local church comprising the state's Panhandle.

Though bishops younger than 75 who can't effectively function in office are "earnestly requested" by canon law to submit their walking papers ahead of the normal schedule, when the impediment is health-related, it's become the case that Rome often seeks a medical analysis before granting a prelate's release from office.

A Louisiana native who oversaw Baltimore's inner-city parishes for 13 years as an auxiliary in the Premier See, Ricard has served at the helm of the Gulf Coast diocese since 1997. Prior to being given the high-hat at the young age of 44, the bishop pastored three parishes in Washington alongside earning a doctorate from the Catholic University of America.

The expected opening would be the fourth diocese in Florida to see a transition within the last year. Last April, Wenski was returned to his hometown as metropolitan; Miami auxiliary John Noonan was dispatched to Orlando in October in succession to the archbishop, and Bishop Victor Galeone of St Augustine marked his 75th last September and awaits his successor. All this, of course, lies atop the archbishop's need for additional auxiliaries for the 1.3 million-member Miami fold, now the Southeast's largest local church.

As of this writing, five Stateside Latin-church dioceses stand vacant, with another eight led by bishops serving over age 75. The latter figure climbs to nine on Sunday as Bishop Thomas Doran of Rockford reaches the retirement age.