Monday, January 24, 2011

In NorCal Shakeup, Vasa Lands a Rose

Setting up what promises to be a significant change at the helm of the church along California's North Coast, this morning the Pope named Bishop Robert Vasa, head of eastern Oregon's Baker diocese since 1999, as coadjutor to Bishop Daniel Walsh of Santa Rosa, who turned 73 in October.

Against the backdrop of a turbulent last decade for the NorCal diocese -- its prior bishop resigned after admitting a sexual relationship with one of his priests who sued him for harrassment, sizable abuse settlements, and Walsh himself placed under scrutiny after allegations that he failed to promptly report an abusive priest to the authorities -- the eventual next head of the Napa Valley fold has been known to inspire wildly diverse reactions across the ecclesial spectrum, all of which reflect back to what the 59 year-old nominee once termed his "bias for action."

In contrast to Walsh -- a native San Franciscan and protege of the city's liberal lion of the post-Conciliar era, Archbishop John Raphael Quinn -- Vasa (pronounced "Va-SHa") comes with an enthusiastic national following on the Catholic right.

An occasional guest commentator on EWTN who's described himself as "hard as nails, but a teddy bear on the inside," the Lincoln-born canonist (who served as Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz's top aide until being named to lead the 63,000-square mile Baker church) has made waves over the years for a steady stream of headline-making moments, among them last year's stripping of a Catholic hospital's ecclesial standing in the face of the medical center's practice of performing tubal ligations, keeping an open door to the possibility of excommunication for Catholic public officials whose acts in office conflict with church teaching, interpreting a candidate's position in favor of legal abortion as a "disqualifying" factor from receiving the faithful's vote, and a recent extensive critique of episcopal conferences which advanced that, given their "pastoral" nature, statements from the full body of bishops "tend to appeal without necessarily being too direct or critical," and "are open to a broad range of interpretation and misinterpretation" as a result.

In an ecclesiastical province long regarded as one of the nation's most progressive, Vasa's appointment marks the second straight importing of a figure with prominent cred among church conservatives, following early 2009's naming of Bishop Salvatore Cordileone to Oakland. The church's standout voice of advocacy for the passage of Proposition 8 -- California's successful referendum on protecting traditional marriage (currently under challenge in Federal court) -- the East Bay prelate was recently named the US bishops' new lead spokesman for the national church's significant efforts on the defense of marriage.

Vasa's Mass of Welcome in the 150,000-member diocese will be held on 6 March.

Developing... more to come.

PHOTO: Andy Tullis/The Bend Bulletin