Monday, December 10, 2007

On the Chessboard: Windows, Tail-Lights... and a Still-Stalled Motor (City)

And now, the latest installment of "Rumor Control."

Late last week, quickly-moving buzz intercepted from several locales was rather insistent that, after thirty-three months of waiting, Pope Benedict was finally set to name a new archbishop of Detroit tomorrow. Given the notable delay of Cardinal Adam Maida's departure from the helm of the 1.5 million-member archdiocese -- and, candidly, month after month of no movement whatsoever on the case -- the chatter was tempting, prominent, well-placed...

...and, alas, unfounded.

That's not to say an appointment isn't closer than it had been... just don't expect anything immediately.

Complicated by numerous factors in Cities both Motor and Eternal, the road has taken some wild turns since Maida's 75th birthday in March 2005 opened the succession stakes. While the names of Archbishop John Myers of Newark, Bishops Robert Carlson of Saginaw, Terry Steib of Memphis, Thomas Wenski of Orlando and John Nienstedt of New Ulm (now coadjutor archbishop of St Paul and Minneapolis), and even Msgr Robert Sable -- the native Detroiter currently serving as an Auditor (judge) of the Roman Rota -- are but a few to have crossed the search radar along the way, the spotlight has most recently turned in earnest toward Bishop Allen Vigneron of Oakland, himself a former Detroit auxiliary and rector of its Sacred Heart Major Seminary.

Described by one observer as "the anointed one" of both Maida and his predecessor, Cardinal Edmund Szoka, the 59 year-old veteran of the Vatican Secretariat of State has kept a low profile over his nearly five years in the Bay Area. Best known for shepherding Oakland's $190 million Cathedral of Christ the Light into reality, Vigneron was one of ten candidates for the presidency of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops at the body's elections last month in Baltimore.

* * *

With nine US dioceses currently vacant and another eleven ordinaries over 75 awaiting the appointment of their successors, Detroit isn't the lone A-list post facing a transition in the coming months. Cardinal Edward Egan will remain archbishop of New York through the end of its bicentennial celebrations and Pope Benedict's visit to the Big Apple in mid-April, but the high-stakes appointment of Gotham's new shepherd is slated to come quickly on the heels of the Vatican crew's departure from Queens.

Six more US diocesans reach retirement age in 2008. First among them is the much-loved Bishop Michael Saltarelli of Wilmington, who turned in his letter a year ahead of his mid-January birthday. The change of command in the diocese of Delaware and eastern Maryland's 225,000 Catholics is expected within weeks, with an installation date foreseen as early as March.

While Wilmington's ninth bishop will inherit a growing local church justly viewed as a "plum," he will also find a unique challenge on his plate.

Earlier this year, the Delaware legislature enacted unparalleled "window" legislation suspending the statute of limitations on sex-abuse cases for two years, thus permitting suits to proceed to court irrespective of when they occurred. Since the law's July effect-date, cases against the diocese haven't made for a deluge, but a steady trickle.