Local Catholics Await New Pope and New Bishop

Last week’s announcement that Pope Benedict XVI would resign raised many questions.

Why is the 85-year old pontiff stepping down? When will the conclave to succeed him take place? Who will be selected by the College of Cardinals to be the next Bishop of Rome, the successor of St. Peter, and leader of the world’s one billion Catholics?

But even as all eyes are on Rome, local Catholics haven’t lost sight of a vacant church office closer to home. The Bridgeport Diocese has been without a bishop since then-Bishop William E. Lori was appointed Archbishop of Baltimore in March 2012.

While the diocese has been ably administered this past year by Monsignor Jerald A. Doyle, there can be no denying it has been an especially trying few months. We are a faith community badly in need of a permanent shepherd.

Funerals for eight of the 26 victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings were held at St. Rose of Lima Church in Newtown. Under the graceful stewardship of Monsignor Robert Weiss, St. Rose became a focal point of community support in the aftermath of that terrible tragedy.

Yet, it would have been good to have a bishop around to provide reassurance and consolation.

Earlier this year, Governor Dannel Malloy appointed his chief legal counsel, Andrew J. McDonald, to a lifetime seat on the state supreme court. A former state senator, McDonald co-sponsored a 2009 bill that would have stripped the Catholic hierarchy in Connecticut of control over parish finances. The bill was withdrawn only after an outcry.

It would have been good to have a bishop around to speak out forcefully against McDonald’s nomination last month.

Then there was the sad case of a former priest, Monsignor Kevin Wallin, once pastor of St. Augustine Cathedral parish in Bridgeport, who in January was arrested and charged in federal court with distribution of drugs.

It would have been nice to have a bishop around to speak definitively to the media about Church teachings on sin and forgiveness.

Bishops are appointed by the pope, who takes suggestions from the outgoing bishop of the diocese in question, the local papal nuncio, other local bishops, and Rome-based Church administrators.

Presumably, the process to select Lori’s successor has been underway since his move to Baltimore was made public, but no one knows for sure how far along the deliberations are. An announcement could be imminent, or the whole thing could be on ice until a new pope is selected and installed.

There is often a substantial gap between the leaving of one bishop and the arrival of another.

In June 1988, Bridgeport Bishop Walter Curtis retired after turning 75, the mandatory retirement age for bishops. His successor, Edward Egan, wasn’t named to replace him until November 1988. Egan was appointed Archbishop of New York in May 2000 and his replacement, Bishop Lori, wasn’t named until January 2001, a full eight months later.

So, for nearly a year, Catholics of the Bridgeport Diocese have prayed at Mass on Sunday for the pope to send southwestern Connecticut “a shepherd after his own heart.” Now we must petition an even higher power to send us a wise and steadfast leader for the entire Catholic Church.

Lord, hear our prayer.

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