Friday, January 04, 2008

How Much More on Olmsted's Plate? Pelotte More

Some might remember the strange doings of late in New Mexico's diocese of Gallup....

In the latest developments of the saga (now in its seventh month), it was announced yesterday that the Holy See has granted Bishop Donald Pelotte a year's "medical leave," effective immediately.

However, the 62 year-old prelate -- who said he fell (but might not've) back in July... then called 911 in late September to report that "gentle little people" wearing Halloween masks were, he said, walking around his home as he hid in a closet -- had already announced his departure for such a leave in mid-December, saying at the time that he had "informed Vatican officials" about it.

For the interim, Rome has tapped Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix as apostolic administrator of the New Mexico diocese...

...and, for you trivia buffs out there, the last time Rome tapped an administrator for a US diocese that wasn't vacant was???

Feel free to send your guesses along.

SVILUPPO: You folks sure like the trivia.... It's a good thing to keep in mind.

Thanks for the scores of e.mails with your guesses. For all of 'em, though, only three correctly noted that the last sede plena apostolic administrator (i.e. one appointed to oversee a diocese whose ordinary remains in office) was named in September 2001, when The Mort -- i.e. Bishop John Smith of Trenton -- took the reins of the diocese of Metuchen as the Holy See figured out a game plan in light of Bishop Vincent Breen's battle with Alzheimer's disease.

Less than four months later (six years ago this week), John Paul II accepted the Brooklyn-born Breen's resignation from the post, naming then-Newark auxiliary Paul Bootkoski as the Central Jersey diocese's third head.

While sede vacante administrators (appointed to oversee a vacant see) have been turned to frequently in recent years -- mostly following sudden, potentially destabilizing resignations, e.g. post-Law Boston, Santa Fe (1994), Atlanta (1990) and Phoenix (2003) -- the last twenty years have seen but two Rome-tapped prelates have stepped in to guide a "filled" diocese: The Mort and Bishop Dale Melczek of Gary.

A Detroit auxiliary, Melczek was named administrator of the Indiana church in 1992 due to the illness of Bishop Norbert Gaughan. The arrangement was only made permanent three years later, when the interim prelate was formally transferred to Gary as coadjutor, then succeeding to the chief post within months.

Intriguingly, far and away the most common answer sent to the above question was Donald Wuerl's yearlong sojourn in Seattle amid Vatican scrutiny of then-Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen. Thing is, though, Wuerl was never administrator, but an auxiliary bishop entrusted with "special faculties" -- read: the last word -- over several areas, among them the archdiocese's tribunal, liturgy office, priestly formation and ministry to gays and lesbians.

It may sound like a canonical hair-split, but the difference is vast. While an appointed administrator enjoys all the rights and authority normally held by the diocesan bishop, an auxiliary with Roman directives may exercise the enhanced powers solely within the areas of his mandate.

As the once and future Pittsburgher's arrival stoked controversy in the Northwest, a similar arrangement was unfolding in the East as David Foley, a priest of Washington, was named to assist then-Bishop Walter Sullivan of Richmond, likewise with an expanded brief.

For some reason, no one recalled that appointment.... Suffice it to say, it's interesting what people remember.