Monday, January 08, 2007

Heading East

It only took 13 months, less a week -- a quickie, as recent history goes -- but in the first US appointment of the New Year, this morning Pope Benedict named Auxiliary Bishop John Wester of San Francisco as bishop of Salt Lake City.

(For those who read closely a couple weeks back, this was not a surprise.)

Born in 1950 and ordained a bishop in 1998, Wester succeeds his current boss, Archbishop George Niederauer, as head of Utah's statewide Catholic community of 195,000.

Over the latter's 11 years in Salt Lake, the territorially vast diocese experienced exponential growth, largely due to an influx of Latino immigration to the state. Home to 2.35 million people overall, Utah's religious demographics are dominated by the membership of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (the Mormon church), whose founders settled the state in the mid-1800s. The LDS church keeps its headquarters in Salt Lake City, and a lasting legacy of Niederauer's tenure is his exceptionally warm relations with the Mormon leadership.

The newest Utahan is a protege of the former San Francisco archbishop Cardinal William Levada, now prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Levada ordained Wester to the episcopacy; Wester, in turn, was named apostolic administrator of the archdiocese for the duration of last year's interregnum and, on top of the cardinal-prefect's favor, the eventual appointee was widely believed to be Niederauer's choice to take his place.

Wester visited Salt Lake last January; he "was impressed and impressed everybody" at the time, said a source on the ground. As metropolitan with oversight over his former diocese, Archbishop Niederauer will preside at Wester's installation in Salt Lake's Cathedral of the Madeleine. Per the provisions of canon law, the rite must take place within sixty days of this morning's appointment.