Vacancies Occupy Catholic Church
It faces potential record for U.S. bishop
retirements this year, so the hunt is on for priests to promote
By Cathy Lynn Grossman / USA TODAY
July 13, 2003
Wanted: Super-bishop. Must be adept at shepherding a fractious,
wounded flock while mastering a complex budget and be girded
with unflinching faith in any crisis.
The Roman Catholic Church isn't placing ads for this fantasy
post. But the church does face a potential record for retirement
vacancies in the United States this year, so the hunt is on
for extraordinary apostles.
By the end of 2003, 37 diocesan bishops and auxiliaries will
have passed age 75, the age at which they're required to offer
their resignation to the pope, says Matthew Bunson, editor
of the Catholic Almanac.
That's nearly 13 percent of 291 active bishops. Eleven already
retired. Up to 26 more, including Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua,
80, of Philadelphia could soon step down.
The vacancy picture doesn't change even with Tuesday's appointment
of a new archbishop for Boston, Bishop Sean O'Malley of Palm
Beach, Fla. Two other bishop transfers were announced the
It's like musical chairs:
* O'Malley, a veteran healer of troubled dioceses, takes
the ultra-sensitive head post in Boston, the epicenter of
the child sexual abuse scandal for the past 18 months.
* Bishop Gerald Barbarito of Ogdensburg, N.Y., was named
to serve Palm Beach. He is the diocese's fourth bishop in
* Ogdensburg is left with the empty seat.
Last week's Vatican announcement didn't increase the number
of bishops. Miami Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Wenski will be coadjutor
(a bishop who assists and will succeed an aging or ailing
diocesan bishop) in Orlando, where Bishop Norbert Dorsey is
"Very few people are brilliant administrative and pastoral
personalities. These are supremely difficult tasks. And maybe
people see that now, after the past year and a half,"
That might explain why the pope has kept Bevilacqua in Philadelphia
five years past retirement age. Also, octogenarians are ineligible
for a cardinal's greatest task: choosing popes.
Whoever replaces Bevilacqua probably will get a cardinal's
red hat in a year, as will O'Malley in Boston. Both cities
are Catholic strongholds.
Still, trading seats or gaining hats doesn't solve the vacancy
problem. Only promoting more priests to bishops can do that.
The path from priest to bishop is circuitous and, supposedly,
The pope makes his pick, usually from a secret list compiled
by a select group of cardinals -- one member is Boston Cardinal
Bernard Law -- but not always.