Wednesday, December 18, 2013

After 19-Month Wait, Portland Gets the Verdict – Boston's Deeley to Helm Maine Church

A century ago, Catholicism's ascent in New England began with the arrival in Maine of a Boston-born Roman powerhouse, one credited by many with inventing the model of episcopacy that became the national standard. Now, in the same place, it falls to another with a similar profile to take on the less glamorous end of the cycle.

Then again, he's got the grit for it.

In the fourth US appointment of the last six days, at Roman Noon this Wednesday the Pope named Bishop Robert Deeley, 67 – ordained an auxiliary of Boston less than a year ago – as the 12th bishop of Portland, overseeing Maine's 200,000-member statewide diocese.

Until now the lead vicar-general of Red Sox Nation, the nominee succeeds Bishop Richard Malone, who was transferred to Buffalo in May 2012 after eight years at the helm in the Pine Tree State. As the wait became Stateside Catholicism's longest-standing vacancy, Malone has done double duty throughout, remaining Maine's apostolic administrator alongside his duties in Western New York. (What took so long is something to ponder – Deeley's name has been tipped for the post at least since June, with several well-placed expectations at the time that the announcement would come before the August recess.)

The principal aide to Francis' chief North American counselor, Deeley spent the decade prior to his 2011 return home as the top deputy on the CDF team which executed Cardinal Ratzinger, then Pope Benedict's sweeping purge of priests credibly accused of sex-abuse, a push which procured the dismissals of over 3,000 offenders from the clerical state across the global church.

Indeed, such was the Maine pick's critical role in the project that Deeley's elevation as bishop by Benedict in November 2012 came virtually in tandem with that of his boss on the abuse team, the Maltese lion Charles Scicluna, who was sent home to be an auxiliary on the island after 11 years as the Vatican "district attorney" tasked with leading the clean-out. It's only in retrospect, however, that the significance of the twin moves can fully be grasped: having clearly determined his will to resign by that point, Papa Ratzinger moved to shield both men in case his successor were given to revenge for the banishment of abusers, providing both Scicluna and Deeley the "protection" of the episcopacy yet placing them in sufficiently inconspicuous roles to ride out a hypothetical storm.

Lest that sound outlandish to some, remember well that the cardinal-electors were only placed under the pre-Conclave media "blackout" once the US delegation started speaking openly about the importance of the next Pope's keeping a zero-tolerance line on the cases. Back to the present, meanwhile, between his own background and ties to "Super"-Cardinal Seán O'Malley OFM Cap., Deeley is likely to play a role in the new Pontifical Commission on the church's response to sex-abuse, which Francis chartered (and O'Malley presented) earlier this month.

Seen as a formidable character on all sides with a pastoral sense that's noticeably deepened over recent years, the Maine pick – his brother Kevin also a Boston priest – comes into a charge that's been especially hard-hit by the Northeastern church's titanic challenges of these times: a painful drip of abuse revelations followed by traumatic waves of parish closings, and then, last year, the legalization of same-sex marriage (one of the nation's first three instances where redefinition took place at the ballot box).

As one friend wedded to the situation summed it up, "It's a dying church...." Ergo, the question becomes "What's the turnaround?" Or is there one? With today's choice often described as more comfortable being the frontman than a deputy, it apparently won't be long before we find out.

The traditional 10am presser already called, Portland Chancery has announced the installation date as Friday, February 14th.

As the Last Hurrah of the prior "Thursday Table" continues, with today's move the number of vacant Stateside Latin churches falls to seven, the longest wait now belonging to Wichita, which came open last 8 April on the appointment of Michael Jackels (another alumnus of Ratzinger's CDF) as archbishop of Dubuque.

At the same time, it's worth noting that two other dioceses in the Boston province will be filled in the New Year due to retirements – Bishop Tim McDonnell of Springfield turns 76 on Monday, and Seán O'Malley's own successor in Fall River, the native son Bishop George Coleman, hits the big 7-5 on February 1st.