Friday, October 17, 2008

Cinci's Future, Ten Months Early

Further reinforcing the Stateside docket's return to life after the Vatican's summer recess, the Pope has named Bishop Dennis Schnurr of Duluth as coadjutor-archbishop of Cincinnati.

His move announced this morning in Rome, the 60 year-old prelate (shown above with Benedict XVI last year) will assist -- and, in time, succeed -- the nation's longest-serving metropolitan, Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk, who reaches the retirement age of 75 next August. The likelihood of an advance check-in for the next leader of Ohio's 500,000-member mother-fold had been foreseen from early this year.

A product of the NAC and Gregorian named to the Minnesota diocese in 2001, the Iowa-born archbishop-elect first came to wide notice in two national-level assignments during his priesthood: first, his role as executive director for 1993's World Youth Day in Denver, a year after which he was elevated to general secretary of the US bishops' conference, where he served until the Duluth appointment. Prior to that, Schnurr -- who had been chancellor of his home-diocese of Sioux City by his early 30s -- was a local aide on the staff of the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington.

The theologian-canonist currently serves as the conference's treasurer -- a post he'll hand off at next month's November Meeting to his new neighbor across the Ohio River, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville. In his most-recent national assignment, the Mothership's former day-to-day chief oversaw the significant downsizing of its staff and structure, which was completed last year.

Long touted for various openings beyond his current see of 65,000, Schnurr was said to have especially run high on the shortlist for last year's appointment to Pittsburgh. On a related "high" note, Duluth's contingent of seminarians -- 23, as of the last reported figures -- is especially impressive given the diocese's relatively small size; by comparison, with seven times the Catholic population, Cincinnati's count shows that the archdiocese currently has 29 men in formation.

A native son who rose through the local ranks, including a decade as auxiliary to then-Archbishop Joseph Bernardin, Pilarczyk -- author of 30 books and countless articles -- was named his hometown's ninth archbishop in late 1982 following Bernardin's transfer to Chicago. Long a lead hand among the bishops on issues ranging from the liturgy to education, doctrine and the conference's flow-chart and priorities, the theologian-classicist served as the bench's president from 1989-92.

From 1991-97, the archbishop chaired the International Commission for English in the Liturgy (ICEL), the global body responsible for the rendering of Anglophone Mass-texts. In a thinly-veiled nod to those years, as Pilarczyk pitched a prepared question to Pope Benedict during the pontiff's meeting with the US bishops in Washington last April, the former Cardinal Ratzinger broke script to recall the "past times" when, as prefect of the CDF, he and the Ohio prelate "had interesting discussions."

From their pews, the flock of shepherds on-hand roared.

His recent focus on the importance of gratitude, today's appointment provides Pilarczyk not only with a smooth transition from the post he's held for nearly 26 years, but an especially welcome helping hand as he winds down. Since the archbishop's lone auxiliary, Bishop Carl Moeddel, suffered a stroke in 2005 following heart bypass surgery, Pilarczyk has been left to handle all episcopal functions at home on his own. Now 70, Rome accepted Moeddel's resignation from active ministry last year. On an even rougher note, in 2003 the archbishop entered a no-contest plea in court on a charge that the Cinci church failed to report abusive priests in the 1970s and 80s.

While prior practice overwhelmingly dictated that (non-cardinal) ordinaries who petitioned Rome for an auxiliary past their 70th birthday would be given a coadjutor instead, cracks have appeared in the protocol over recent months.

For one, the coming weeks will reportedly see Bishop Tod Brown of Orange succeeding at his request for a new auxiliary to fill the Jaimevoid; the head of the SoCal diocese of 1.2 million turns 72 next month. And back in April, 72 year-old Archbishop George Niederauer of San Francisco -- ordained for LA a year ahead of Brown -- likewise got some added help with the appointment of Auxiliary Bishop Bill Justice.

Then again, Brown and Niederauer share something else along with their hometown: a pair of classmates on the all-powerful Congregation for Bishops, which recommends candidates and courses of action to the Pope.

Back in Cinci, where the archbishop-elect reportedly arrived last night, early word says the customary press conference is on for midmorning at the Cathedral of St Peter in Chains. No date for Schnurr's Mass of Welcome in his new charge has yet been announced.

Three and a half years into his pontificate, today's appointee is but the seventh archbishop named on these shores by Benedict XVI. As a result of the move, the number of vacant US dioceses rises to eight.

PHOTO: L'Osservatore Romano/Diocese of Duluth