Friday, July 24, 2009

Under the Arch, Carlson Brings Backup... Again

Shortly after his arrival in Saginaw in early 2005, then-Bishop Robert Carlson raised eyebrows by bringing along Nancy Werner, his closest collaborator in Sioux Falls, and naming her Chancellor of the Michigan diocese.

While a handful of other US prelates have likewise imported aides from their prior posts, see, not in memory had one been named to a canonical office.

On Carlson's appointment to St Louis earlier this year, whether Werner would again follow -- this time, to one of Stateside Catholicism's most clericalized chanceries -- quickly became a topic of high interest in the "Rome of the West." In a Wednesday memo to his new staff, the question was settled with the archbishop's announcement that, indeed, his longtime lieutenant would come to the iconic, 60s-era "Roundhouse" (above) as the first non-priest to serve as Chancellor of the 550,000-member archdiocese, the first layperson ever to take up one of its top-line posts.

Its origins drawn the medieval monarchies of Europe -- from which the word "curia" (court) likewise derives -- the 1983 revision of the Code of Canon Law opened the Chancellor's post to non-clerics. While the sole explicit function of its holder is to notarize official documents of a diocesan staff, in most local churches the post was given a wider brief until the current Code envisioned the newly-created office of "moderator of the curia" as the optimal clearinghouse; as with any vicar, the moderator must be a priest, although some dioceses have given the task to laypeople, albeit with a little creativity on the title (e.g. "delegate/secretary for administration") to get around the canons.

As a non-ordained chancellor may not perform certain functions pertaining to priests, Carlson named the departing "gatekeeper," Msgr Jerome Billing, as Chancellor for Canonical Affairs; Billing's office and the bulk of his responsibilities, however, will move to the archdiocesan Tribunal.

Werner's appointment takes effect in late August, following which, the archbishop said, "a revised governing structure" would be implemented.

Best known for recruiting prolific numbers of seminarians in his two prior dioceses, Carlson's record of placing women in positions of influence belies a reputation widely viewed as conservative; while Werner runs the office, another laywoman serves as one of the archbishop's two spiritual directors (alongside a priest). In an interview prior to his June installation in St Louis, Carlson said that the "very helpful" counsel of Trudy McCafferty allowed him to understand things "from a spiritual woman's point of view."

Carlson remains apostolic administrator of Saginaw until next Wednesday's installation of Bishop Joseph Cistone, who was given an emotional Philadelphia farewell on Tuesday.

SVILUPPO: More, including an interview with the Chancellor-designate, from the Gateway City's doyenne of church-watchers, the Beacon's Patricia Rice.