Sunday, March 24, 2019

Handicapping Episcopal Bracketology for the ADW

The Catholic Archdiocese of Washington has been rocked with scandals involving two Cardinals which touched upon the sexual molestation of minors.  Disgraced former Cardinal Archbishop now Mr. Theodore McCarrick was defrocked in February 2019 for a credible allegation of abuse four decades before. But "Uncle Ted" had quite the reputation for having special relations with promising seminarians.  

 His successor, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, was the Archbishop of Pittsburgh when he seemingly let a couple of clerical bad apples get off easy for credible abuse of minors in the 1990s.  Wuerl resigned his role as Archbishop under pressure in October  2018 but has remained as the Apostolic Administrator.

For nearly eight months, the Archdiocese of Washington has been praying for a new shepherd  for to the flock. To whimsically work off the anticipation of Pope Francis' momentous choice to fill the See of DC, longtime Vatican reporter Rocco Palmo likened the selection to the NCAA March Madness Sweet Sixteen.

Such piquant playfullness in ecclesial politics is welcomed at DC-LausDeo.  After all, the supposed contenders for the 2013 Conclave were presented in a Survivor style motif.

Brussels Cardinal Gotfried Danneels 
During Conclave 2013, then Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio (Buenos Aires) did not even make the brackets because the arbitrary age cut off was 72 and he was 75 when elected as Pope.  While proceedings of any Conclave are supposed to be kept secret, there have been some chatty Cathy Cardinals (particularly Cardinal Archbishop Gotfried Daneels of Mechelen-Brussels)   who have leaked about the left-leaning St. Gallen Group which was said to be instrumental in electing Pope Francis.

The handicapping of a choice for a new episcopal leader of the Archdiocese of Washington is considerably more challenging because of the wider selection pool.  While Papal Conclaves almost exclusively select within their own ranks, so that means only 125 conceivable "candidates", our Holy Father has plenty of bishops from which to choose.  And it is not out of the question that a cleric might ascend the ranks if he is the right choice for the ADW.

Having not been discouraged by the Sweet Sistine shutout of 2013, it is amusing to muse on Episcopal Bracketology.

It is instructive to consider the Washington See.   The Archdiocese of Washington is the home to nearly three million Catholics (about 22% of the area's population).  It is located in the Nation's Capitol and thus has increased prominence.  

Almost since its separation from the Archdiocese of Baltimore was complete in 1947, the ADW it has been graced with a Cardinal at the helm.  That being said, the past two Cardinals have left under scandal, which involves the hot button issues of clerical chastity and sexual abuse of minors.   The Archdiocese of Washington is one of four American  diocese under scrutiny by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops for reports of sexual abuse.  No wonder Rocco Palmo sees this choice to be the singular move which will define Pope Francis' stewardship in America.

So the stakes concern a large and very prominent Archdiocese which has been plagued with sexual scandal surrounding two preceding shepherds. 

Our Holy Father ought to discern (a fine Ignatian term) if his choice is deliberately free from ties  which plagued predecessors , if a choice with local ties would help, charism which suit the See, and if he wants to make a statement with the selection.

Cardinal Joseph Tobin with Pope Francis (circa 2016)
Initially, I anticipated that  Cardinal Joseph Tobin to be shifted from Newark down to DC.  After all, shortly after the small Diocese of Indianapolis was elevated to a Cardinalate See in 2016, with Tobin at the helm, he was transferred  to the Archdiocese off Newark, which has a significant Catholic population, thought previously overshadowed by the Archdiocese of New York and Philadelphia.  Tobin made headlines in 2014, warning American Catholics not to be balkanized as right wing  or left wing, progressive or traditional.

 One might conclude that Tobin had favor under Pope Francis' pontificate and  a supra political leader would be well suited for the leadership of a prominent archdiocese.  However, when news arose that  McCarrick may have orchestrated the appointment of Tobin and Cardinal Cupich of Chicago, it tied him to the disgraced prelate.  Furthermore, there were reports that Tobin dismissed "rumors" that McCarrick slept with seminarians as it was incredulous.  Thus, it is unlikely that Tobin will ascend to the helm of the Nation's Capital.  Tobin did not even make Rocco's bracket.

Bishop Kevin Vann (Orange, CA) and Christ Cathedral 
As there is an increasing need for outreach to prominent and vibrant ethnic minorities in the American Catholic Church, multi-lingual proficiency may be an influential factor.  Bishop Kevin Vann of the Diocese of Orange (California) speaks Vietnamese and Spanish, two important sub cultures in the ADW.  However, linguist acumen may not be the deciding factor in getting the episcopal nod in Washington. The fact that Bishop Vann is overseeing the major transformation of the historic  Protestant Crystal Cathedral into a Catholic Christ Cathedral may show more crucial leadership and managerial skills.

Baltimore Archbishop William Lori
If local ties and a distance from still raw scandals then Baltimore Archbishop William Lori would be a natural selection.  Lori became an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Washington.  Lori has no connections to McCarrick or Cardinal Wuerl.  In fact, Lori has been tasked to clean up sexual scandal in the suffragan diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. Lori also headed the Fortnight for Freedom campaigns for religious liberty.  But a couple of those advantages also work against serious consideration of Lori for the ADW.  Baltimore is the mother Archdiocese in America so moving to Washington would at best be a lateral move. Lori's strong oversight of Wheeling began in the fall of 2018, so shifting diocese would create complications in two other dioceses.  Even though Lori's experience with the Fortnight for Freedom demonstrates experience in navigating religion in political waters, this may not be the sort of political experience which would be valued by the Vatican today. In addition, Lori has been leader of a major American See for seven years, yet has not been named a Cardinal, which might be a signal about his favor within the Holy See.

Some of the names in this ecclesial bracketology are familiar, such as former USSB chair Archbishop Kurtz (Louisville) and Archbishop (Wilton) Gregory (Atlanta).  But both of those prelates are over 70, which effectively would be a short term appointment (as Bishops are asked to turn in their resignations by age 75, but as 78 year old Cardinal Wuerl has demonstrated, retirement is not automatic--even after one has "resigned" the post).

San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy at Social Justice conference 
One name did jump out for its notoriety,  Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego. McElroy is widely regarded to be a supporter of progressive policies of Pope Francis. Moreover, McElroy has been in the forefront of opposing the Trump Administration on immigration issues. McElroy argues against denying public officials the Eucharist for public officials because of their political positions, arguing that a traditional "theology of scandal" should be invoked.  McElroy sports a Jesuit education, writes for America Magazine and focuses on social justice issues.  

All of those attributes would seem to suit the opening in the ADW under this pontificate.  But McElroy received a letter from a clerical sex abuse expert in 2016 warning about now Mr. McCarrick, but McElroy did nothing about it as he could not determine the credibility of the source. There is also a recent San Diego diocese scandal in which the bishop sided with a diocesen employee who was openly homosexual and shut out traditional Catholic dissenters during some of his listening sessions on clerical abuse in the fall of 2018.

Some of the bishops who made the bracketology cut hail from some unlikely places, which fits in with Francis' pontificate. Like Archbishop Paul Etienne, who currently leads Anchorage, Alaska.  Or Bishop Christopher Coyne of the Diocese of Burlington (Vermont).  My favorite of underdog picks from far flung places is Archbishop Peter Bryan Wells, an American who serves as apostolic nuncio to South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland. 

Who will vault to top and receive "the call"?  Learning from the past, only the Holy Spirit and the Pope knows for sure.  But this ecclesial bracketology  exercise illuminates choices in leadership. 

 Although it would be imprudent to lock in a name, as such prognostication will likely be wrong, it is hoped that the Archdiocese of Washington will be blessed with a shepherd after God's own heart.  Being more specific, it would seem prudent to have a header who can not be facilely tied to connections of the clerical sexual abuse scandal, considering how it has rocked the ADW. It would be a blessing if the leader was not effectively an  interim candidate due to age.  And it be wonderful if the man chosen can diplomatically navigate delicate political issues while standing up for longstanding Catholic values. 

Nevertheless, it is time to end the period of the Apostolic Administrator, particularly as it is occupied by the same man who resigned the Archbishoric under pressure in October 2018.  It is unlikely that Pope Francis will choose a candidate during Lent.  But the longer this interim administration lasts, the less confidence that faithful Catholics will have that Wuerl's resignation mattered other than to take public relations pressure off the Washington hot seat.