Monday, January 04, 2010

Brewerland Word of the Day: "Witamy, Arcybiskup"

Today in Milwaukee, the curtain goes up on another year of the circuit with the installation of the Beer City's 11th ordinary, Archbishop Jerome Listecki.

With four cardinals and some 40 bishops expected to be on-hand, the 2pm Central liturgy in the Cathedral of St John the Evangelist will inaugurate one of Pope Benedict's more intriguing picks to enter the US church's top rank: a sharp mind with a blunt style and knack for "making faith a real presence in people's lives," but one who largely flew quietly under even the ecclesial radar until his appointment to succeed the beloved Tim Dolan as head of Wisconsin's 650,000-member lead fold on the eve of November's USCCB meeting.

A moral theologian with degrees in both civil and canon law, the 60 year-old prelate's already off to a high-profile start -- a reflection of both his workhorse personality and the full plate of challenges that await, both in and outside the church.

Over the course of the six-week transition, Listecki slammed his former diocese of LaCrosse's local chapter of the abortion-rights lobby Catholics for Choice after it announced plans to team up with area health providers in promoting emergency contraception. By "disseminating views in grave contradiction to Catholic teaching," he said last month, the group's members had "disown[ed] their Catholic heritage, tragically distancing themselves from that communion with the church to which they are called."

And looking ahead, with the Wisconsin legislature again considering "window" legislation to suspend the civil statute of limitations for sex-abuse cases -- a move that, if successful, would raise the specter of Chapter 11 bankruptcy for a Milwaukee church that's already paid out into eight figures in settlements and has a dozen more open suits pending -- the archbishop is reportedly preparing to testify against the bill at a Madison hearing come mid-month. What's more, while Listecki sought to tamp down on his reputation as a "law and order bishop" in an interview with the local NBC affiliate early last month, he refused to rule out the possibility of denying the Eucharist to politicians whose actions in office defy church teaching, saying that he'd make such decisions on a "case-by-case" basis.

That said, while Listecki's legal skills and battle-ready (even feisty) temperament likely had their part in making him the Pope's choice for what's long been the Midwest's second most prominent episcopal chair, the appointment is best viewed in light of the incoming archbishop's record of success with three key aspects of Dolan's "unfinished business": priestly recruiting (LaCrosse's six-man ordination crop in 2009 was equal in size to Milwaukee's), fund-raising (Dolan's four year, $105 million capital campaign -- the largest in archdiocesan history -- was just past half-goal on his departure; Listecki had overseen a successful $50 million drive in LaCrosse), and the ongoing challenge of pastoral planning, which has seen Milwaukee close or merge a score of parishes over the last decade while Listecki's team in LaCrosse crafted an unusual plan that's already begun to reduce its 164 parishes to 75, but extends over a maximum 15-year timetable, the slated changes being implemented gradually as personnel needs dictate.

Given the heavily-Catholic DNA of Brewers' Country, today's welcome is particularly big news there -- so much so that it's been mentioned right alongside "the first Packers playoff game of the decade" in terms of local significance. (No mean accomplishment, that.) The archbishop already having appeared on drive-time radio this morning, all the Milwaukee affiliates are going wall-to-wall with installation coverage this afternoon -- most of it streamable, and all of it followable with the worship aid posted.

On a historic note (or several), while two prior Beer City archbishops went on to the church's top post in Listecki's native Chicago, today's liturgy will notably feature some elements that belonged to the last Chicagoan to end up in Milwaukee; the chalice and cruets on-deck for the Mass belonged to Archbishop William Cousins, who held the lakeside chair from 1959 until retiring in 1977. As it was at Dolan's installation in 2002, the crozier to be handed over will yet again be that of Archbishop Frederick Xavier Katzer, the third ordinary, who served from 1890-1903.

Its roots as a local church dating to 1843, the first five Milwaukee archbishops were of German-speaking roots -- a dynasty that, given the fault-lines of late 19th century American Catholicism, made the archdiocese a particular hothouse of ethnic tension. Yet while the city's Polish fold responded to the state of affairs then by building a monumental South Side temple that (perhaps intentionally) dwarfed the German prelates' cathedral, today the Milwaukee Poles finally arrive at center stage as, for the first time, one of their own takes the chair in St John's.

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On a pan-docket note, while Listecki's November nod brought the number of American archbishops named by B16 to thirteen as this pontificate approaches the five-year mark, 2010 will see at least two more of the US' 32 metro posts turn over: Archbishops Alex Brunett of Seattle and Eusebius Beltran of Oklahoma City are both several months past the retirement age of 75.

Two other archbishops reach the milestone this year -- Philadelphia's Cardinal Justin Rigali on 19 April and Miami's John Favalora on 5 December -- as do an additional nine diocesan bishops, among them Savannah's Kevin Boland (25 April), Trenton's Mort Smith (23 June), John McCormack of Manchester (12 August) and Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, once the bench's most outspoken conservative voice, on 5 September.

For now, six Latin-rite dioceses on these shores remain vacant, with another five led by an ordinary over 75.

PHOTOS: Benny Sieu/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel