Tuesday, June 29, 2010

At Docket's End, Blase of Glory

And well, folks, it just doesn't stop.... At least, not yet.

As ever, so much for gliding toward the finish line.

Fresh off this morning's pallium-fest, Rome's pre-summer desk-clearing is looking to continue in the morning....

For one, local media in Eastern Washington is reporting that tomorrow will see the appointment of Bishop Blase Cupich of Rapid City to lead the 90,000-member diocese of Spokane.

Heavily in the winds for the last several months, the reported move has the makings of a "rescue operation," placing a particularly well-equipped prelate at the helm of one the Stateside church's hardest-hit outposts in the fallout of the clergy sex-abuse crisis.

Faced with a docket of some 180 civil suits, in December 2004 the Spokane church became the third US diocese to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, emerging from the process in April 2007 on its agreement to pay a $48 million settlement. As a result of the "thorny" proceedings, the diocese's operational structure was overhauled, while in the trenches, considerable reports of low morale have circulated.

A native of Omaha, sacramental theologian by training and onetime locale at the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, Cupich, 61, had barely returned home from seven years as rector of the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus before his appointment to South Dakota’s Black Hills, where he succeeded the figure who’s gone on to become the Catholic right’s standout voice on these shores... one from whom he's often presented a pointed contrast.

Given the manageable nature of the 30,000-member Rapid City church -- one of American Catholicism’s ten smallest dioceses by size -- Cupich has built an unusually high national profile, writing often in the top journals, winning elections to key USCCB posts and leading retreats and seminars across the map.

Currently head of the bishops' Committee for the Protection for Children and Young People -- and, ergo, the Stateside church’s lead hand on addressing the fallout of the ongoing abuse crisis -- the tech-savvy prelate has shown a penchant for taking on the elephants in the room: prior to the 2008 election, Cupich was one of the few top clerics to address the issue of race that, in some quarters, loomed over the presidential campaign, memorably cautioning his confreres at their plenary in the vote's wake that "a prophecy of denunciation quickly wears thin." More recently, with the resurgence of wide coverage of the scandals in the press, the bishop took again to America, this time to lay out "12 things" the US church had learned as a result of its experience in 2002 and beyond.

The Spokane church is well-accustomed to a bishop with national standing: the diocese's sixth ordinary will succeed Bishop William Skylstad, whose 20-year tenure was highlighted by his service as vice-president and, from 2004-2007, president of the US bishops.

Speaking of which, the bench's leadership turns over in November with the end of Cardinal Francis George's three-year mandate as conference president. In keeping with the body's almost-invariable tradition -- broken only once since 1969 -- the vote would see the elevation of the current #2, Bishop Gerald Kicanas of Tucson, to the top post. At the same time, the significantly polarized state of things has seen a new trend begin to emerge: the alternation of the lead slots between the bench's "orthodox" and "progressive" wings.

In that light -- and especially given the events of recent months -- who'll make the nine-prelate ballot is already a high topic of interest in the mill and promises to dominate the summer's lead topics on the chattering circuit.

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Back East, meanwhile, likewise expected in the morning is the appointment of two auxiliary bishops for the nation's fourth-largest local church: the 1.8 million-member archdiocese of Boston... and in Rome, some forecasts hold that the traditional summer announcements of Curial chair-shifts will get underway, possibly with a surprise along the way.

As always, stay tuned.