Who’s minding the store? What’s next?

By Fr. Michel Mulloy

There are two questions I get asked a lot these days. Who is
running the diocese? Have we heard anything about a new bishop?

The first one is easy to answer. When a bishop is installed
in a new diocese as Bishop Robert Gruss was, or if a bishop dies, the College
of Consultors are required to meet and select an administrator to run the
diocese until a new bishop is ordained or installed. A bishop who has been
transferred to a new diocese can request that another bishop be named
administrator if there are special circumstances that warrant that choice. In
our diocese the administrator was chosen from the priests working in the
diocese now.

Once the consultors met, the name of the priest they
selected was sent to the apostolic nuncio in Washington D.C. The nuncio is the
pope’s representative in America. For us that is Archbishop Christophe Pierre.
The nuncio acknowledges the receipt of the name that is put forward and sends
it on to Rome. In this instance, I was elected and I am grateful for the trust
placed in me by the consultors and priests of the diocese in asking me to be
the diocesan administrator.

A diocesan administrator does what a bishop did with some
exceptions. An administrator cannot begin anything that has not been
previously approved by the former bishop. The administrator cannot ordain or
bless the holy oils. Finally, an administrator cannot make any changes in
priestly assignments for one full year.

The answer to the second question is a bit more complicated.
The Catholic Church divides the world into dioceses. The dioceses are grouped
into provinces for governance purposes. Every province has an archbishop. For
us, our province consists of the dioceses in the Dakotas and Minnesota. Our
archbishop is in St. Paul/Minneapolis. Each year, bishops in the province are
asked to submit names and qualifications of priests in their diocese who would
be potential bishops. These names are collected and shared with all the
province bishops. At the annual meeting they vote on which names should be sent
the nuncio.

After receiving this list of names, the nuncio conducts his
own investigation regarding the suitability of each candidate on the list. In
addition, when a diocese is without a bishop, the nuncio investigates the
situation and needs of that diocese. The broad consultation includes former
bishops of the diocese that is vacant, key diocesan personnel and bishops from
the province and the country. This takes some time to complete. Once the
situation and needs of the diocese are understood, the nuncio will narrow the
list of candidates from those he has received from the province or elsewhere in
the country. Another round of consultation will happen concerning each of the
proposed candidates on the nuncio’s short list. All this material is collected
and reviewed by the nuncio who interprets the information. He prepares a list
of three names ranked by preference and sends that list to the Congregation for
Bishops in Rome.

The Congregation for Bishops in Rome reviews the paperwork
to ensure it is in good order. A full report is made to the members of the
congregation who meet twice a month. The congregation discusses the appointment
and votes. They may follow the recommendation of the nuncio, choose another
candidate not on the nuncio’s list or even ask for a new list of names.

Once the three names have been approved by the Congregation
for Bishops, the prefect of the Congregation presents the recommendations to
the Holy Father. The Holy Father reflects on their recommendations and informs
the Congregation of his decision. After the Holy Father has selected a
candidate, the Congregation notifies the nuncio in America who in turn contacts
the candidate and asks if he is willing to accept the appointment. The
candidate can say yes or no to the request to be ordained a bishop.

This process can often take six to eight months or sometimes
longer from the time the diocese becomes vacant until a new bishop is
appointed. Once the candidate accepts the appointment, he has three months to
be ordained a bishop and take possession of his new diocese.

So the short answer to the second question is no, we have
not heard anything about a new bishop. We probably won’t for six to eight
months or longer. Please pray the “Prayer for a New Bishop” that your pastors
distributed. Pray too for those of us who are charged with keeping the diocese
afloat in this transition.