Saturday, December 09, 2006

Epiphany at B16's Vatican: Public Gifting No More

Checking in earlier, a friend asked if he'd missed an announcement of episcopal ordinations by B16 in St Peter's on Roman Epiphany, 6 January.

He didn't miss it -- there wasn't one.... At least, not of yet.... And, given the Ratzingerian leanings, it's doubtful there will be.

It's a change of prior practice, of course; from the very beginning of his pontificate, John Paul II revelled in presiding at Moonie-style mass elevations. The concept actually began with Paul VI but, as he tended to do, Wojtyla took it to new levels. Groups of 12, 16 or more would be ordained at Epiphany, and in the '80s and early '90s he'd also do a couple one-offs through the year. A look at the list accumulated at Catholic Hierarchy shows how, over his 27 years, the JP lineage became the most widely-diffused one in the church... and, more often than not, a gateway to bigger things.

Until his final Epiphany ordinations in 2003, practically every curial official appointed bishop by John Paul was also ordained by him, almost all the archbishop-nuncios, and a horde of diocesan and auxiliary bishops as the annual groups of papal ordinands became internationalized. Among the latter group were the future Cardinals Medina Estevez, Puljic of Sarajevo and O'Connor of New York, Archbishops Mansell, Burke, Wuerl, Diarmuid Martin, Bishops Slattery of Tulsa, O'Brien of Phoenix, Milone of Great Falls-Billings (the latter two now-retired)... you get the idea.

As an aside, O'Connor loved telling the story of his ordination day and seeing the now-Blessed Mother Teresa, a couple months before she won the Nobel Peace Prize. She told the newly-ordained auxiliary to the Military Vicariate to "Give God permission," and he used the moment frequently in his homilies and other texts.

Keeping with his more reserved style, however, while he has kept with ordaining Rome's new priests on Pentecost, Benedict XVI has shown little affinity for the Epiphany mass bishop-making, which ended up attracting a Christmas-sized crowd and all kinds of chaos with the far-flung new bishops and their entourages, who would receive individual private audiences. Coming after the frenzy of Vatican Christmas, not a few felt the added event just became too much.

Joseph Ratzinger last ordained a bishop in 2004, when he unusually ended up as a principal consecrator twice: first on Epiphany for his devoted secretary of two decades, Josef Clemens, who had been elevated to the episcopate as secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, and then the following September when he conferred ordination on the theologian Bruno Forte, who Wojtyla elevated after the then-Fr's virtuoso performance as preacher of the curia's Lenten retreat earlier that year. (The late pontiff was said to have told Forte, "I will make you a bishop" on the retreat's closing day.)

However, since his election as Pope and comparable to the re-"farming out" of beatifications to the local churches, the nuncios and other ordinations that John Paul routinely performed have been carried out by the Secretary of State or some other senior cardinal and are now spaced throughout the year as opposed to the late-December overload of appointments.

The revived custom will continue next week, when the ordination of Benedict's personal honorees -- Bishops-elect Gianfranco Girotti OFM Conv, Antoni Stankiewicz and Raffaele Farina SDB -- is celebrated by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. The 16 December rite will be Bertone's first stint as principal consecrator in the Pope's stead since the Salesian's September arrival as Secretary of State.