News of

 Vatican Headlines



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 same day.

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 five years.

* 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 73.

"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," Bunson says.

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, confidential.

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.

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests