Monday, September 23, 2013

For Houma-Thibodaux, A New Road – NOLA's Fabre Heads Next Door

As the docket progressively returns to life after the summer lull, this Monday morning brings the third turnover of a Stateside see in five days: at Roman Noon, the Pope named Bishop Shelton Fabre, the 49 year-old auxiliary of New Orleans since 2006, to head the neighboring Houma-Thibodaux diocese, succeeding Bishop Sam Jacobs, who reached the retirement age of 75 last March 5.

On a context note, that word of the move didn’t leak last week – with over 350 of Louisiana's priests, and all the state's bishops, gathered in the Crescent City for the US’ only province-wide convocation – approaches the miraculous. (This scribe was there, and it was a beyond graced and moving experience. More on it in a bit... but for now, grazie mille to everybody for the welcome – and, again, above all, for all your work and witness.)

One of the few active American bishops who’s an alum of the late, lamented American College Louvain, the Baton Rouge-bred nominee has juggled double duty as a pastor and Chancery official both before and after his 2006 arrival as a NOLA auxiliary, and even after subsequently becoming the archdiocese’s lead vicar general/moderator of the curia. Warmly regarded and more on Louisiana soil, Fabre has kept a low profile on the wider scene, keeping with what friends have termed a “lovable” shyness.

At the same time, the ascending prelate holds a prominent distinction that sticks in no shortage of craws: nearly seven years after his appointment, Fabre remains the last African-American priest to be named a bishop on these shores. As the 25th anniversary of Thea’s glistening prophecy to the US bishops approaches next June – and, booming anew thanks to recent migration from Africa and the Caribbean, the nation’s 4 million Black Catholics ever more comfortably outnumber the entire membership of the Episcopal Church – the long, strange drought has made for an added impact on the community's morale as the second “Golden Age” of the 1970s and ‘80s was already yielding to a Hispanic ascendancy born of the latter bloc’s eccleisial eruption over the last two decades. (At his ordination in 2007, Fabre was memorably invested with the crozier of Archbishop Joseph Francis Rummel, whose excommunication of several laity for urging public dissent from his 1962 order desegregating his Catholic schools remains a watershed moment in the church's journey through the civil rights movement.)

With today’s nod, six African-American prelates – besides Fabre, Bishops Terry Steib SVD of Memphis, Curtis Guillory SVD of Beaumont, George Murry SJ of Youngstown, Edward Braxton of Belleville, and the community’s preeminent leader, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta – are now ordinaries of dioceses, with two remaining active auxiliaries: Bishops Joseph Perry in Chicago and Martin Holley in Washington. In New Orleans, meanwhile, the appointment leaves the venerable, 400,000-member archdiocese – 220 years old, but only now gifted with its first native son "really in charge" – without an active auxiliary for the first time in nearly half a century.

In Houma-Thibodaux – whose official diocesan history pointedly includes the Saints’ 2010 Super Bowl win – the diocese’s fourth bishop succeeds one of the more catholic characters of the bench: over his episcopal ministry, Jacobs has simultaneously served as the formal ecclesiastical liaison to both Legatus, the fairly traditional lay apostolate for Catholic CEOs founded by Domino's Pizza/Ave Maria's Tom Monahan, and the church’s branch of the Charismatic Renewal.

As Jacobs marks both his golden jubilee as a priest and silver as a bishop next year, given said broad reach, the liturgical celebration of the milestones should make for quite the event.

In an unusually quick turnaround, Fabre’s installation is slated for 30 October – five days after his 50th birthday – in Houma. The standard Appointment Day presser is slated for 9am Central time, followed by a Mass.

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As Francis’ full drill into administrative matters continues apace, the Pope opened this Appointment Season with two other US shifts last week.

First, after a 20-month apprenticeship, Bishop Cirilo Flores finally came into the reins of the 1.1 million-member diocese of San Diego last Wednesday, succeeding Bishop Robert Brom as the two-decade incumbent’s resignation was accepted on his 75th birthday.

A Stanford Law grad ordained a priest at 43 after a decade in private practice, Flores (above), now 65, inherits one of the most abuse-rocked postings in the US church; after California’s 2003 “window” law suspending the state’s statute of limitations on civil suits, the diocese entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the wake of a $198 million settlement, the second-largest payment to survivors made by any American see or religious order.

On a related note, while the statute halt cost the California dioceses a total exceeding $1 billion a decade ago – a torrent topped by the mammoth $660 million package in the archdiocese of Los Angeles – the specter of a second round is currently afoot. Despite a concerted effort by church leadership, earlier this month the state legislature passed a bill providing for an encore of the one-year period allowing for civil litigation to be filed regardless of when the alleged abuse occurred.

The bill has been sent for Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature; the onetime Jesuit novice has until mid-October to enact it. Should Brown proceed, the second “window” would reopen on January 1st.

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And lastly, on Friday the pontiff brought Bishop Donald Kettler of Fairbanks back to the Lower 48 as bishop of central Minnesota’s St Cloud church – a turf roughly 7.5 percent the size of the 410,000 square-mile behemoth (by territory, the nation’s largest diocese, encompassing an area almost equivalent to Texas and California combined) which the 68 year-old Minnesota native had shepherded (largely via plane) since 2002.

Despite being raised in nearby South Dakota, for the nominee, it’s still a homecoming; beyond his student days in the diocese at the Benedictines’ St John’s College, as Kettler explained in a Friday letter, the move allows him to be much closer to “my mother, who turned 100 this year.”

The tenth head of a diocese founded in 1889 as part of John Ireland’s post-pallium consecrating blizzard, Kettler succeeds Bishop John Kinney, who reached the retirement age of 75 in June 2012.

Ordained a bishop at 39, Kinney was unable to be on hand for his successor’s introduction due to a hospitalization for an unspecified cause. Beyond being one of the most distinguished veterans of the bench, for many, he’s likewise among the most cherished; ergo, many prayers for his quick and full recovery.

Via St Cloud Chancery, here’s fullvideo of Kettler’s introduction – his installation is slated for November 7th:

With the moves in aggregate, eight Stateside Latin dioceses now stand vacant, with another five led by (arch)bishops serving past the retirement age. Several other moves are said to be quickly in the offing, including reports of a possible surprise or two... and those barring whatever else an unpredictable Pope might just have in mind.