Until he is formally installed on July 22 in Omaha, Neb., Archbishop-designate George Lucas “has his feet in two worlds,” says Sister Maximilia Um, a canon lawyer for the Springfield Roman Catholic Diocese. Come July 22, the Springfield Diocese’s 160,000 Catholics might be bracing for months without the leadership of a bishop.
Until he is formally installed on July 22 in Omaha, Neb., Archbishop-designate George Lucas “has his feet in two worlds,” says Sister Maximilia Um, a canon lawyer for the Springfield Roman Catholic Diocese.
While he still has an obligation to govern the Springfield Diocese, Lucas, who is now technically an administrator and no longer bishop of the diocese, has Omaha very much on his mind.
The archbishop-designate will be in Rome next Monday when Pope Benedict XVI bestows him with the pallium, made of white lamb’s wool and the mark of the archbishop’s office.
Come July 22, the Springfield Diocese’s 160,000 Catholics might be bracing for months without the leadership of a bishop.
Seven other North American dioceses have bishop vacancies, and another eight are being served by bishops who have reached the mandatory retirement age of 75.
That’s not to say the Springfield Diocese goes to the back of the line in the appointment process. Church law, Um said, provides for a smooth transition in the interim.
Shortly after Lucas’ installation, a group of priests from the diocese called the College of Consulters will meet to choose an administrator of the diocese, Um said.
Canon, or church, law grants the administrator “power to undertake ordinary business of the diocese,” she said, functioning more in a “caretaker role.”
An administrator can’t, for example, establish or suppress parishes or appoint high-level office-holders, such as a chancellor or vicar general.
An administrator can, however, administer the Sacrament of Confirmation or designate priests to do so in his absence.
The College of Consulters may choose Monsignor Carl Kemme, the moderator of the curia, the bureaucracy that runs the diocese’s offices.
The Springfield Diocese last had an administrator in 1983, when Monsignor Paul Sheridan was chosen after the sudden death of Bishop Joseph McNicholas.
Who chooses Springfield’s next bishop?
It’s “a fluid process,” Um said, among the Vatican Congregation for Bishops, the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops and the Vatican representative to the U.S., or the papal nuncio. In the end, though, “it’s always the prerogative of the pope,” she added.
These groups have some familiar ties. Cardinal Francis George of Chicago is president of the conference of bishops. Cardinal Justin Rigali, the former archbishop of St. Louis, is a member of the Congregation of Bishops.
Curiously, since the appointment of Chicago’s William O’Connor as bishop in 1948, the Springfield bishop’s chair has rotated between the Chicago area and St. Louis. O’Connor’s successor, Joseph McNicholas, was an auxiliary bishop in St. Louis, as was Bishop Daniel Ryan in Joliet. Ryan followed McNicholas before retiring in 1999, when Lucas was installed.
The names of two Chicago auxiliary bishops — Thomas Paprocki and Joseph Perry — are already burning up the Internet, but Um warned that it’s not a good idea to read too much into that.
“In any kind of process, there’s always the danger of politics,” she said. “The solicitude of the church is that the person be holy and willing to lead.
“The other part is that the person and the diocese fit.”
The Rev. Ken Venvertloh, pastor of Our Saviour’s church in Jacksonville, said he hopes the Vatican considers “the socio-economic needs of the diocese” with regards to the next bishop.
Venvertloh said some of his parishioners have been curious about the selection process and who might be the next bishop.
“They’re interested in having a good pastoral and spiritual leader,” said Venvertloh.
Monsignor Thomas Holinga of St. Joseph church in Springfield said a recent scriptural reading laid out what he hopes the next bishop will embody.
“It’s what was said of Barnabas in the Acts of the Apostles, that he was ‘a man of faith and filled with the Holy Spirit,’ ” Holinga said.
“That’s simple enough.”
Steven Spearie can be reached at (217) 622-1788 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Springfield’s Catholic bishops
Damian Junker, 1857-1868*
Peter Baltes, 1869-1886*
James Ryan, 1888-1923**
James Griffin, 1924-1948***
William O’Connor, 1948-1975***
Joseph McNicholas, 1975-1983***
Daniel Ryan, 1983-1999
George Lucas, 1999-2009
*Diocese of Alton
**Diocese of Alton and the Diocese of Belleville
***Diocese of Springfield
Note: The diocese was created in 1853 comprising the 56 counties of the lower half of the state. The Diocese of Quincy did not have a resident bishop and was administered by the archbishop of St. Louis, then the bishop of Chicago. In 1857, Alton was designated the See City. In 1887, the Diocese of Belleville, the 28 southernmost counties, was created. The See moved to Springfield in 1923.
— Source: History of the Diocese of Springfield, www.dio.org