Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Benedictine Rule: You Pick Your Successor

On the morning George Niederauer was appointed archbishop of San Francisco, a call from the mound reminded -- as if anyone needed reminding -- that the new pontificate was a whole different ballgame.

"Someone's crying 'round here," the caller said.

Why? Nothing personal, it's just that the die had been cast -- in a break from the practice of the prior regime, departing prelates would get the successors of their choosing.

As you can see, some over there aren't terribly enthused about this development. But fifteen months on, what's clear is that the top of the scorecard now reads three for three.

First, there was Levada's successful push for Niederauer, his classmate and friend of five decades. Then, leaving Mumbai for the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Cardinal Ivan Dias set the wheels in gear for his former auxiliary Oswald Gracias to head India's largest local church in his stead. And this morning, Cardinal Claudio Hummes OFM exhibited his clout as Pope Benedict named Bishop Odilio Pedro Scherer (pictured), the Clero head's auxiliary in São Paulo, as its new archbishop. The appointment comes in advance of the pontiff's wheels-down in Brazil's largest diocese in early May to open the mega-plenary of the Latin American episcopal conference, the CELAM, at the national sanctuary of Aparecida.

As head of the largest local church in the country that's home to the world's largest Catholic population, the archbishop of São Paulo invariably moves to the front of the line for a cardinal's red hat.

Ordained a bishop in 2001, the 58 year-old archbishop-elect is wrapping a four-year term as general secretary of the Brazilian episcopal conference. In December, Benedict XVI named him to the top leadership of the CELAM plenary. From 1994 until 2001, Scherer served as an official of the Congregation for Bishops, working in a Roman parish and as a chaplain to Franciscan sisters in his spare time.

A Gregorian alum who earned his licentiate in theology in Rome, his appointment to head the archdiocese of São Paulo and its 5.2 million Catholics returns its top post to a secular cleric, ending almost four decades of Franciscan leadership; before Hummes, Cardinal Paulo Evaristo Arns OFM had helmed it for 28 years. Arns' advocacy for the poor made him a favorite of the Pauline era and a revered figure for the worldwide Catholic left.

Archdiocese of São Paulo