Monday, October 28, 2013

For Hartford, It's Lenny Time – Pope Taps Toledo's Blair for Conn. Pallium

Tuesday, 29 October, 7.10am – Filling a strategically important seat in American Catholicism's onetime Northeastern flagship, at Roman Noon this Tuesday the Pope named Bishop Leonard Blair, 64 – the Detroit native and longtime Vatican staffer who's led northwest Ohio's Toledo diocese since 2003 – as the fifth archbishop of Hartford.

The third US archbishop chosen to date by Francis (after Dubuque and Newark), Blair succeeds Archbishop Henry Mansell, who reached the retirement age of 75 a year ago this month. Head of the 700,000-member flock comprising most of Connecticut's western half also since 2003, the Bronx-born prelate first made his name as auxiliary and vicar-general of New York under John Cardinal O'Connor, who undertook a ferocious, yet ultimately futile lobbying effort in his final months to have Mansell named as his successor in Gotham.

A protege of the now-retired Cardinal Edmund Szoka who served as secretary to the Michigan money-whiz during Szoka's days as head of the prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See and Governor of Vatican City, the archbishop-elect is best known on the wider scene as a linchpin player in the Holy See's controversial doctrinal probe of the LCWR, the principal "umbrella-group" for the superiors of the nation's religious women. In 2009, Blair was tapped by Rome to conduct the initial inquest into LCWR's adherence to certain aspects of church teaching, at whose conclusion he became one of two bishop-assistants to the delegate for the CDF's ordered five-year "reform" process, Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle.

While the choice of a figure none would mistake for being part of the USCCB's centrist or progressive blocs will be portrayed as a clash with the widespread perception of Papa Bergoglio – however facile and lacking said storyline might be – at first glimpse, the standout elements in this case point more credibly to a match of Blair's managerial skill with a fold whose aging infrastructure and shifting demographics will require no shortage of tough calls over the tenure to come. (When it comes to cultural hot-buttons, a state court ruling made Connecticut the third US jurisdiction to legalize same-sex marriage in 2008.) At the same time, however, ecclesiological considerations would've undoubtedly come up to a lesser degree in seeking an archbishop who'd collaborate well with Hartford's most prominent church entity: the New Haven-based Knights of Columbus, global Catholicism's largest lay fraternal organization, whose 1.9 million members have long been celebrated as "the strong right arm of the church."

The traditional Appointment Day presser slated for 10am, Hartford Chancery has already announced an installation date of Monday, December 16th. In the meanwhile, it bears noting that – all of seven and a half months into his pontificate – Francis has already appointed two of the Constitution State's three diocesan bishops, following late July's pick of the Brooklyn-born "boy wonder" Frank Caggiano for Bridgeport.

In addition to the Hartford nod, Roman Noon today brought a resolution to the longest-standing US vacancy of all as the Pope named Fr Kurt Burnette, 58 next week, as the new head of the Jersey-based Byzantine Ruthenian eparchy of Passaic. Currently rector of the Slovak church's Pittsburgh-based seminary, the eparch-elect comes from a pretty fascinating background; before the priesthood, Burnett earned doctorates in both civil law and mathematics, receiving his license in the Oriental Canons in post-ordination studies in Rome.

Looking at the Big Board, with the double effect of this morning's Latin-church moves, fully ten Stateside dioceses – a five-year high – now stand vacant, with another three – a five-year low – led by (arch)bishops serving past the retirement age while awaiting their successors.

As ever, more to come.