Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Blase Scores "Hat Trick" – Pope Taps 3 Auxiliaries for Chicago

In the works for quite some time from his seat on the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Blase Cupich's much-anticipated backup has arrived – at Roman Noon, the Pope named three auxiliary bishops for the 2.4 million-member archdiocese of Chicago: Fathers Ron Hicks, 50, the vicar-general; Mark Batosic, 56, until now chaplain of the Cook County Jail; and Robert Casey, 50, until now pastor of the city's St Bede Parish.

Cupich's first batch of deputies since his arrival in late 2014, the bishops-elect were all classmates at Mundelein and ordained priests together by Cardinal Joseph Bernardin in 1994. With the triple nod, the number of Stateside auxiliaries added to the bench within the last two years now stands at 25.

While the lack of a Hispanic appointee is conspicuous given the Windy City's rapid evolution into a majority-Latino outpost over recent years, all three speak Spanish; in particular, prior to his ascent as Cupich's lead clerical aide, Hicks spent five years as a missionary in El Salvador (where, as seen below, the locals gave him a celebratory lift on his birthday), while Casey previously led Casa Jesus, the archdiocese's program for seminarians born in Latin America. All told, in light of the cardinal's laser-like focus on finding a new generation of prelates across the board who bear the smell of Francis, The Blase's home-turf trio were deliberately chosen to each have an outsize impact, and thus will inevitably be viewed as models of Papa Bergoglio's rebooted concept of pastoral leadership far beyond Chicagoland.

The lone US diocese ever to receive four hats at once since the Roman clampdown on auxiliary appointments in the early 1980s, some estimates during the process forecasted an encore for the latest crop by the Lake. Still, even if a repeat of the record didn't come to pass, the group's youth and preparation for prime time makes for enough of a splash – by contrast, the last time a US diocese was given three auxiliaries, in 2015 Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York opted for three low-profile veterans in their late 60s as opposed to rising stars who would eventually be assured of leading dioceses in their own right.

All three viewed as effective witnesses and leaders not just by Cupich, but among the Chitown presbyterate, while Hicks (below left) will remain at Quigley Chancery, in keeping with local custom Batosic (center) and Casey (right) will take the reins of the two openings among the archdiocese's six geographic vicariates. American Catholicism's most developed structure of the kind, the Chicago vicariates essentially function as mini-dioceses – and, in terms of population, are each larger than roughly 90 percent of the nation's stand-alone local churches.

Together with the announcement, Francis granted the retirements of Bishops Frank Kane and George Rassas, who both turned 75 over the last year. With today's nods, the archdiocese will have seven active auxiliaries once the bishops-elect are ordained on September 17th in Holy Name Cathedral.

As the last six months have seen no less than 10 auxiliaries tapped – in Orange, Brownsville, Atlanta, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, Rockville Centre, and now Chicago – according to higher estimates, the ongoing "Auxnado" that's recasting the voting makeup of the USCCB could see the naming of another 15 to 20 assistant hats over the next year or so. As the Vatican's working year begins to wrap up, openings still waiting to be filled include as many as three auxiliaries for Cardinal Joe Tobin in Newark, likely two each for New York, Boston, the Military Services and Cleveland, and at least one each still pending in Houston, Dallas, San Diego, the Twin Cities... and beyond.

All told, the flood of auxiliaries – representing nearly half the 60-plus appointments carried out to date by Archbishop Christophe Pierre over his two years as Nuncio to Washington – arguably represents Francis' most influential and enduring legacy for the Stateside bench: in some cases, one that will extend to the threshold of 2050.

Back to Chicago, despite the understandable visions of Cupich setting off fireworks outside Quigley at 10am sharp to mark the arrival of his creations, with Hicks away from the city on a 30-day Ignatian retreat, a local op relays that no press conference will be held for today's appointments.

While the business of the Curia has ground to a halt for the Vatican's traditional summer exodus and the Pope's "stay-cation" at the Domus, appointments already decided tend to be announced through mid-July.