Thursday, January 03, 2008

Panhandle Handover

Three days in, the first Stateside appointment of the year is in the bag.

This morning, the Pope named Auxiliary Bishop Patrick Zurek of San Antonio as bishop of Amarillo. Zurek, 59, succeeds Bishop John Yanta, who reached the retirement age of 75 in October 2006.

Zurek (left) served 21 years in the trenches as a priest of Austin, including assignments on both sides of the UT-A&M Divide and founding a parish. The incoming head of the 39,000-member church in the Texas Panhandle led the National Conference of Vocation Directors before being named an auxiliary of the state's elder archdiocese ten years ago this week. He speaks four languages, including his ancestral Czech.

A Rome-trained moral theologian who was a chaplain at the Bambino Gesu Children's Hospital during his seminary days, Zurek is the third Stateside appointee in the last ten months who Pope Paul VI ordained to the priesthood on 29 June 1975.

Named last year, new Bishops Michael Hoeppner of Crookston and Glen John Provost of Lake Charles further upped the mitre quotient of an ordination class that, among others, also includes Archbishops Raymond Burke of St Louis, the Vancouver coadjutor Michael Miller CSB, Culto Divino prefect-in-waiting Malcolm Ranjith and James Harvey, the Milwaukee-born prefect of the Papal Household, not to mention a smattering of cardinals. All told, Papa Montini ordained 359 in that one sitting to commemorate the 1975 Holy Year.

Under its retiring bishop, the Panhandle diocese -- which still considers itself mission territory -- saw a distinct shift of emphasis.

While his predecessor Bishop Leroy Matthiesen garnered a rep for his social-justice protests and was one of three prelates to attend last year's Minneapolis conference of New Ways Ministry (the Rome-banned apostolate to gays and lesbians), Yanta wrote pastoral letters advocating "modesty in dress" and the denial of the Eucharist to politicians whose public positions defied church teaching. In 2005, the prelate incardinated the prominent pro-life activist Fr Frank Pavone into his diocese and announced the founding of a community of priests and brothers dedicated to the cause under the leadership of the native New Yorker.

The Amarillo church was among the US dioceses hardest hit by the sex-abuse crisis. According to published reports, the Dallas Norms forced the removal of a quarter of its 32 active priests, leaving 16 of its 35 parishes without a resident pastor. As settlements, counseling and other costs left the diocese in a six-figure budget deficit, the accused later saw their diocesan subsidy slashed from $1,600 to $100 a month.

Per the norms of the canons, Zurek's installation as the Panhandle's eighth bishop must take place within two months.

SVILUPPO: Installation scheduled for 22 February.


Zurek: "I was a little shocked at the suddenness of the announcement, my acceptance and how life would change quickly. I was very happy that he had the confidence in me to appoint me a diocesan bishop. I started to realize that a new chapter in my life was about to unfold. It was exciting!"

Yanta: “Bishop Zurek has great experience in evangelizing, shepherding, teaching, sanctifying and serving the People of God…He has earned through experience a reputation for his respected, ecclesial and pastoral relationship with all.”

SA Archbishop Jose Gomez: “Bishop Zurek has been a blessing in many ways to me personally and to all the people of the Archdiocese of San Antonio. All who have worked alongside him will miss a good friend and a talented and dedicated bishop. However, I am happy that the Diocese of Amarillo will now benefit from his inspired leadership and dedication.”