Wednesday, January 07, 2009

All Eyes on the Docket

It's a November Meeting tradition: whenever the bench isn't sitting, chances are you'll find Bishop John McRaith of Owensboro just by the door outside, puffing quietly away on his trusty pipe.

Head of western Kentucky's rural, 50,000-member diocese since 1982, just days after the New York Times highlighted the Owensboro church for its integration of foreign clergy into the ranks, the Pope accepted McRaith's resignation on Monday -- 11 months before he reaches the canonical retirement age of 75 -- with the bishop citing his health:
"I do not have a life-threatening illness, but my doctors have advised me to slow down, and I concluded that my resignation was in the best interest of the diocese," McRaith said in a statement....

The diocese consists of 32 mostly rural counties in Western Kentucky, with 79 parishes, three high schools, two middle schools and 13 elementary schools.

The diocese lists 20,370 Catholic households and 50 active diocesan priests....

McRaith told The Associated Press he's "just done the best I can" as bishop and cited in particular the "major change" resulting from the influx of Hispanic laborers into the region.

"It came very quickly and we were not prepared for it, particularly in terms of having people who speak their language and understand their culture," he said. In time, he added, church workers responded by learning Spanish and providing services.
For those keeping score, with McRaith's early departure and the homegoing of "the anointed one" to Detroit finally in the can, the number of vacant Stateside sees has jumped to ten, with another ten dioceses led by ordinaries serving past the retirement age.

Over the course of 2009, the latter figure will increase by seven -- all told, 11 active American bishops mark 75th birthdays this year, all but four of them passing the milestone by the early days of March.

Within the next ten days alone, the first three will be submitting their birthday letters: Boston auxiliary Francis Irwin on Friday, Bishop Edmond Carmody of Corpus Christi come Monday and Archbishop Alex Brunett of Seattle on the 17th. The following six weeks will see another four follow suit: Bishops Raymundo Peña of Brownsville (19 Feb), San Francisco auxiliary Ignatius Wang (27 Feb), the former USCCB chief William Skylstad of Spokane (2 Mar), and Gaylord's Patrick Cooney (10 Mar).

Among the vacant dioceses, the longest-waiting is Knoxville -- like Owensboro, in the province of Louisville -- in vigil for its third head since Archbishop Joseph Kurtz's transfer to Derbytown in June 2007. And among those with superannuated bishops, now king of the hill and top of the heap is, of course, New York, New York -- this nation's second-largest local church, still in Rome's eyes the "Capital of the World" -- where Cardinal Edward Egan reached the retirement age 21 months ago.

In the meantime, with the cardinal said to be spending next week on official business in Rome, the terna's rumored contents flying around on the street -- and continued buzz in Gotham over reports that the accomplished pianist's beloved instrument was spotted being moved out of 452 Madison before Christmas (just for "tuning," some say) -- Egan's New Year column for Catholic New York waxed most magnificently on his resolution for 2009.

And on a final note, it's long been a general rule of the appointment process that any non-cardinal ordinary within striking distance of 75 will see his petition for an auxiliary either denied, or converted into the imposition of a coadjutor.

In that light, congratulations are in order as Bishop Tod Brown of Orange, 73 later this year, got what he sought...

...the new auxiliary of his choosing for the 1.2 million-member SoCal diocese.

What's more, as auxiliary requests placed 24 months ago or longer still linger in the docket's lower rungs (...leading some ordinaries to grouse that they'll see the Lord's return before an aide's ascent...), the process that birthed Bishop-elect Cirilo Flores took just over a year, start to finish.

Given Brown's critics' portrait of a prelate who, among other things, makes "dissenters dance with joy," it's worth reminding that Monday's vote of confidence in his leadership and judgment came courtesy of that infamous derider of the Magisterium, Pope Benedict XVI.

Oh, and there's video:

PHOTO: AFP/Getty(1); Ana Venegas/Orange County Register(2)