Tuesday, May 17, 2011

For Steubenville, a Bigger Funnel -- Ohio's Conlon to Joliet

Resolving a much-awaited opening at the edges of Chicagoland, at Roman Noon today, B16 named Bishop R. Daniel Conlon, 63, head of Ohio's Steubenville church since 2002, as bishop of Joliet.

In the suburban post -- whose 660,000-some Catholics comprise roughly 17 times the size of Conlon's current fold of 40,000 -- the incoming point-man for the USCCB's child and youth protection efforts succeeds Peter Sartain, four years his junior, who was launched to the archbishopric of Seattle last September.

A native of Cincinnati and alum in the canons from St Paul's in Ottawa, the appointee served in parish work and as Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk's chancellor prior to his cross-state move. Crucially, he's said to speak Spanish -- an increasingly key quality in the Joliet diocese, whose Latino bloc has spiked over recent years.

A figure both low-key enough to slip into the crowd while a group from Steubenville's celebrated Franciscan University led Good Friday Stations of the Cross, but so well-regarded among his confreres to be entrusted with national-level tasks, Conlon's tenure has had some notable turns.

With the diocese undergoing the same ebbing numbers of priests and demographic shifts that have battered the bulk of the Rust Belt church, after the bishop announced plans to build a new cathedral on the merger of six see-city parishes -- even laying its cornerstone with the then-CDW prefect looking on -- the bishop iced the project in late 2007, saying that it would incur "an imprudent amount of indebtedness" on the part of the diocese. (In recent weeks, a diocesan-wide consultation was taken up over whether or not the project should be resumed.)

On another front, days after the high-profile announcement that the bishops of England and Wales are seeking a return to year-round "meatless Fridays," their call came more than two years after Conlon sought the same thing, asking that the faithful's savings from the weekly meat-fast be donated to pro-life efforts. Likewise, Conlon made news for his ministry to a death-row inmate in the man's final weeks, up to the night of his execution. As a young priest, the prelate knew Michael Beuke before his onetime parishioner took three lives in a shooting spree, and in the wake of the man's death, the bishop told a local paper that although "what Michael did 27 years ago was to take the place of God by ending someone's life[,] capital punishment, in effect, does the same thing."

In a message issued just prior to the 2008 elections, however, though Conlon called on his own to "render unto God" in the ballot box, he underscored that "as a bishop, I cannot steer members of the church to a particular party or candidates, either explicitly or through a pointed discussion of issues.

"There is no 'Catholic' party or candidate," he said.

Elected to lead the US bishops' Committee for the Protection of Children by a 3-to-2 margin at last November's USCCB plenary, the Joliet pick becomes the second head of the high-profile task-group to be transferred to another diocese in the last year, following last June's move of Bishop Blase Cupich to Spokane amid the fallout of the Washington church's fraught bankruptcy filing due to the abuse claims filed against it.

While the Joliet church's difficulties are nowhere close to Spokane's straits, some cases of note have arisen in the Illinois diocese, including last year's saga of a recently-ordained cleric who jumped 20 feet from a choir loft in an attempt to kill himself after he was removed on the report of an allegation. (During his years in the diocese, Sartain was seen among some as having been "too stringent" in enforcing the Charter... that is, if such a thing is possible.)

This morning's move keeping the number of Stateside Latin vacancies at six, Conlon's installation has been scheduled for 14 July in Joliet's Cathedral of St Raymond Nonnatus.

[Narrator's Note: For purposes of context, the headline's use of "funnel" refers to the well-known metaphor for the episcopal ministry -- namely, that everything comes down on the bishop's head -- employed by the Steubenville church's second ordinary, Bishop Albert Ottenweller, who led the diocese from 1977-92.

[A month after his 95th birthday, Ottenweller remains well and kicking.]

PHOTO: Diocese of Steubenville