Sunday, September 07, 2014

"This Beautiful Disciple" – San Diego's Cirilo Dies at 66

In just the latest blow to a diocese which has already seen an outsize share of drama over recent years, Bishop Cirilo Flores of San Diego died Saturday at 66 after a sudden, stunning decline through the last several months.

According to a statement from the Chancery, Flores passed away peacefully before 3pm Pacific time at Nazareth House, a local hospice where he had arrived just a day before.

A Stanford Law grad who worked for several years as a corporate attorney before entering St John's Seminary, Camarillo – from which he was ordained at 43 – Flores spent his priesthood in the parishes of the diocese of Orange until his appointment as an auxiliary there in 2009 by the now-retired Benedict XVI. In early 2012, the "cheerful, happily low-profile" cleric became Papa Ratzinger's surprise choice as coadjutor of San Diego, now a million-member diocese in the US' eight-largest city, which in 2007 became American Catholicism's biggest outpost to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to enable the settlement of 144 sex-abuse suits for $198 million.

After a 19 month apprenticeship under Bishop Robert Brom, Flores succeeded as the border diocese's fifth head last September 18th, when Brom retired on his 75th birthday after nearly 25 years in office. Over his short tenure, "Bishop Cirilo" – the first Hispanic to hold the post – evoked local comparisons with Pope Francis for his simple, smiling style and dedication to the trenches from which he emerged.

Flores had not been seen in public since Holy Week, on the Wednesday of which (April 16th) he suffered a mild stroke. While the diocese reported that the bishop's recovery was progressing and initially foresaw his return within weeks, the story took a marked shift over the last month after Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles visited, reportedly to find Flores some 80 pounds lighter and learning that his southern suffragan had neglected routine medical care for several years. In response, Gomez took personal charge of the bishop's health, bringing Flores north to LA as his guest in the archbishop's residence at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. After an initial battery of tests there raised further alarm, in mid-August the bishop was admitted to USC's Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, where earlier this week Flores was diagnosed with "a widespread, very advanced and very aggressive" cancer "of unknown origin" which had spread into his bones and precluded any options for treatment.

As Flores and Brom both served as understudy before taking the reins, with the former's death, the San Diego post has fallen vacant for the first time since 1969, when the Philadelphia-born Francis Furey was named archbishop of San Antonio. With the diocese lacking any active auxiliaries, the formidable longtime vicar-general, Msgr Steven Callahan, has minded the shop throughout the bishop's illness and is the virtually certain choice to be elected administrator should the standard process be cleared to proceed.

The southern anchor of the Stateside church's largest province, San Diego ranks among the nation's top 15 dioceses in Catholic population. Between its size, the turmoil of recent years and, with these, that the state of the diocese is barely changed since the consultations leading to Flores' own selection were taken, the appointment of the sixth bishop is expected on a relatively fast track. Accordingly, with the choice likely to set off a round of musical chairs, quiet discussions on the succession have already been broached.

Said to have been the topic of a planned Friday meeting of the San Diego deans, the funeral arrangements remain to be announced. Notably, the priests of the diocese have long been scheduled to gather in convocation over four days later this month.

In any case, in a 2011 talk to a group in Orange, Flores recounted his own unusual vocation story, and it fits the moment....

As one San Diego priest termed him, "this wonderful man, compassionate shepherd, and beautiful disciple of our Lord"... one who, before his elevation, was a donor to these pages (for transparency's sake: $100, once) and a friend throughout.

He'll be missed by many – and indeed, we won't just be praying for him, but to him.

Well done, good and faithful servant. It's simply too soon. Rest in peace.