Saturday, November 29, 2008

In Sacto, Jaime Era Begins

As long expected, this morning the Pope accepted the retirement of Bishop William Weigand of Sacramento, placing the leadership of the Central Valley's 920,000-member church in the hands of one of the Stateside church's rising stars, Bishop Jaime Soto (above).

Weigand, 71, had led the diocese since 1994, during which time its size has beyond doubled and the bishop's life was saved by a liver transplant, whose aftereffects led to his plans for an early exit to undertake a "more contemplative life and ministry." His successor -- who turns 53 on New Year's Eve -- was ordained an auxiliary of his native Orange in 2000 and named coadjutor in the California capital late last year.

Though he got into a bit of a scrap with church gay and lesbian activists for a September speech in support of California's successful same-sex marriage ban, Proposition 8, the Columbia-trained, pipe-smoking policy wonk has more of a reputation as a progressive, taking a prominent lead on issues like immigration and HIV/AIDS. The incoming overseer of the US bishops' cultural diversity efforts, Soto's held the conference's porfolio for youth and young adult ministry since 2005. As bishop of the capital city -- and, as a result, the church's lead hitter with the nation's largest state government -- friends expect that it won't take long for "Jaime [to] be very much his own man."

While the transfer of governance took immediate effect upon this morning's announcement in Rome, a planned Mass marking the handover will take place tomorrow at Sacto's Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament, and Soto will lead his first parish liturgies there as diocesan bishop next weekend.

PHOTO: Orange County Register