Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Rise of the Ratzini

As they (we?) tend to do, the usual suspects materialize in a piece from Sunday's Salt Lake Tribune on whether Bishop John Wester, the newly-named head of Utah's ever-expanding Catholic fold, fits the mould of a "Benedict bishop."
By all accounts, Bishop John C. Wester, the newly appointed leader of Utah's 200,000 Catholics, is fair-minded, pragmatic, nurturing and - here's the key fact - not overly ideological.

Archbishop George H. Niederauer of San Francisco, Wester's boss, called him "one of the kindest-hearted persons I have ever met. He's solicitous of people's welfare. He has a good sense of humor and sees the inherent silliness in things."

"Oh, and I think he likes fishing," says Niederauer, well-known to Utahns as the head of the Diocese of Salt Lake City from 1995 to 2006.

Observers say Wester, who assumes his new position March 14 after serving as an auxiliary bishop in San Francisco, will not likely threaten to excommunicate Catholic politicians who support abortion rights, or attack gay activists or academics who challenge doctrinal interpretations. They do not think he will be rigid or authoritarian, and certainly not impervious to the needs of abuse victims....

Since becoming pope in April 2005, Benedict has appointed about 30 U.S. bishops, and some see a pattern emerging that is distinctively different from John Paul II's, particularly in his later years. Benedict is more involved in the process, poring over dossiers and case files. He also has Cardinal William Levada, former archbishop of San Francisco and Wester's mentor, pushing him in this direction....

Benedict has "actually disappointed people on the right who wanted a purge and eased fears on the left," Gibson says. "He has not appointed crusaders, just good, strong orthodox bishops who can engage the culture without being flamboyant, without stirring divisions."

Niederauer is one such man.

He is gregarious, urbane, warm and witty. While he supports the church's positions, he is open-minded on such issues as gays in the seminary. Everyone, he argues, takes a vow of celibacy whatever his attractions.

Niederauer "has been a hit," says the Rev. Thomas Reese, senior fellow at Georgetown's Woodstock Theological Center. "That was a great appointment."
Speaking of Salt Lake, a couple added notes.

Firstly, as previously conjectured, the installation date was, indeed, pushed back beyond the canonical threshold of two months post-appointment to accomodate Levada's wish to be present for his protege's big day.

As for the attention given to the appointee's ethnicity -- i.e. the Hispanic community's hope that one of their own would get the nod -- we're told the concern was raised that sending a Latino bishop to Utah at this point in time would risk creating friction in the trenches between the Catholic and dominant LDS (Mormon) communities.
(As the final product yielded the desired outcome of said concern, it would appear this was voiced at a prominent level.)

Despite the explosion of the state's Hispanic population in recent years, and the effect of that growth on the size of the Catholic community at large, t
he chance that a Hispanic appointee could encite Mormon suspicions of Catholic proselytism among the former's likewise-expanding Latin membership in the state -- and, consequently, pose difficulties for the close working relationship the churches have long shared -- was said to be seen as sufficient reason to stick with the practice of an Anglo bishop for the statewide diocese.