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.