Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Bishop-elect: A Primer

So I got an e.mail today from one of my dear correspondents.... The bone of contention? My reference to those men in the state of limbo that is having been appointed to the episcopacy, but not yet ordained.

"Bishops are not elected. This is not the ELCA... Therefore, it is 'bishop-designate,' not 'bishop-elect.'"

Actually, it is "bishop-elect." Not my rule; believe it or not, bishops are elected in the Catholic church -- albeit by an electorate of one. (Except when, in 1985, a liberal cabal of gays, heretics, liturgical dancers and pastoral associates gathered at a secret country ranch in Colorado to elect Roger Mahony as Archbishop of Los Angeles.)

Bishops of the Latin rite, with the rare exceptions of places like Salzburg, where centuries-old concordats which are still in force concede the election of the bishop to the Cathedral Chapter, are chosen -- "elected" -- by the Pope "acting on the opinion of the Congregation for Bishops."
(And where that phrase doesn't appear in the letter of appointment, hide the children and the seminarians, because something crazy went down. This has been known to happen, however sparsely.)

Within four months of election -- known in the law as "canonical provision" -- a nominee who does not yet possess the episcopal character must receive ordination and take possession of his office. The latter is constituted not in the sacramental act, but in the presentation of the papal letter of appointment (which authorizes the ordination to take place "from the hands of any Catholic bishop outside the city of Rome") to the diocesan college of consultors, which is the American substitute for the chapter of canons. In the case of a new bishop who has already received episcopal ordination, the installation must take place within two months. However, this can easily be disposed of by the papal legate, and in the United States it is often done so that prelates who wish to attend an installation have enough time to work it into their calendars. (As a general rule, every American bishop is invited to each episcopal ordination/installation which takes place in this country.)

As opposed to the ordination of a deacon, when the laying on of hands is performed by the bishop alone, and the ordination of priests at which all the bishops and priests present participate, the ancient tradition remains that a bishop-elect takes to himself three principal ordaining bishops for his episcopal ordination. The lack of record-keeping in earlier times dictated this practice to ensure that at least one of the prelates had a valid place in the apostolic succession stretching back to the time of the apostles. Even though these difficulties have been cleared up over time, it wasn't until the post-Vatican II period at which all bishops present would participate in the ritual which would transmit the lineage to the newest among them. However, despite the participation of all in the new rite, the presence of two chief co-consecrators is maintained as a courtesy.

In the United States, only recently was an informal protocol established for who would administer episcopal ordination. Because of the adversities of travel and a larger cast of characters in ordination ceremonies of the old rite (ordination conferred by one prelate, homily given by another, blessing presided over by a third, a cardinal/archbishop presiding in cappa magna, etc.), the honor of being the ordaining prelate would often fall to a friend or neighboring bishop. This practice continued into the 1970s.

Over the last twenty years, the practice has become more organized. With rare exceptions, the ordination of a diocesan or coadjutor bishop now falls to the metropolitan of the proper province, vested in the pallium which signifies his exercise of the "fullness of the episcopal office." Flanking him, current custom dictates that one co-consecrator's slot be given to the new bishop's predecessor and the other to his prior ordinary (in those cases where a priest of one diocese is made bishop of another).

For example, when Bishop-elect Walker Nickless is ordained in Sioux City next month, Archbishop Jerome Hanus of Dubuque will preside over the rite. Hanus will most likely be assisted by Archbishop Daniel DiNardo, the coadjutor of Galveston-Houston (and former bishop of Sioux City) and Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, Nickless' home diocese.

However, the circumstances of an appointment do not always facilitate this -- e.g. cases where the previous incumbent has died or a priest who has been named bishop of his native diocese. Where these exist, it can be said said that a bishop-elect has a "wild card" to name a co-consecrator of his own choosing. Depending on his choice, nothing -- or everything -- can be gleaned from who gets the open slot.

At Bishop Kevin Vann's ordination in Fort Worth last July, a berth had opened with the death of Vann's predecessor, Bishop Joseph Delaney, the day before the ceremony. (Vann was appointed to Fort Worth as coadjutor, but the vacancy of the see due to Delaney's death allowed the newly-ordained's immediate ascent to the office of diocesan bishop.) Previously a priest of the diocese of Springfield in Illinois, Vann -- who had announced a year earlier that he would be "reticent" in giving the Eucharist to Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, a parishioner of his who supports abortion rights -- raised eyebrows by tapping St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke to fill the troika also comprised of Archbishop Jose Gomez of San Antonio and Springfield Bishop George Lucas.

When Bishop-elect Alex Sample is ordained bishop of Marquette next 25 January -- at 43 days after appointment, a modern record for a priest previously lacking the episcopal character to take possession of a diocese -- his native son status means that he, too, will have a "wild card" co-consecrator alongside Cardinal Adam Maida of Detroit (metropolitan of the province) and outgoing Marquette Bishop James Garland. Given the surprising quality of Sample's appointment, the choice will be closely-watched.

The super bowl of wild-cards was last year's ordination of Kevin Rhoades, the much-missed rector of Mount St. Mary's in Emmitsburg, as bishop of Harrisburg (a diocese now known in some quarters as "Rhoadesia"). As Rhoades was already a priest of Harrisburg and his predecessor, Nicholas Dattillo, had died, the bishop-elect had a free hand in picking both principal assistants to Cardinal Justin Rigali. Unsurprisingly, one seat went to his mentor, Cardinal William Keeler of Baltimore, himself a former priest, auxiliary and diocesan bishop of Harrisburg who championed Rhoades' appointments both to the seminary rectorship and to the episcopacy. The unexpected choice was that of Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix, a friend of Rhoades who had served for a time as the bishop-elect's spiritual director.

In terms of the externals, from the moment their appointments are announced, bishops-elect are entitled to the styles "Excellency" and "Most Reverend." They may also immediately assume the amaranth choir cassock, zucchetto, biretta, mozzetta, rochet, the pectoral cross and the simar with appropriate piping and shoulder cape, just in case they've got any of those lying around, because you never know. (The rest -- mitre, crozier, ring -- are, of course, conferred at ordination.)

While modesty during the "-elect" period would be expected, it is not always the case. Some in Rome rememeber the American prelate who stormed the Eternal City to celebrate his appointment. On the same day, His Unordained Excellency was spotted sporting different pectoral crosses for breakfast, lunch and dinner -- and rattled off stories of his new baubles to anyone who would listen.

This reminds me that I'll have to do another post down the line on the bling with which bishops-elect get showered.... And you thought gold, frankincense and myrrh was good?