Who Will Follow Cardinal Bevilacqua?
In Four Months, He Turns 80, the Customary Retirement Age. While He Won't Discuss It, Others Are Speculating on the Next Leader of the Archdiocese's 1.5 Million Catholics

By David O'Reilly
Philadelphia Daily News [Philadelphia]
Downloaded February 16, 2003

On June 17, Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua turns 80, the age at which Pope John Paul II asks most of his cardinal-archbishops to step down.

Who might succeed the cardinal - and when - rests solely with the Holy Father.

But around the five-county Archdiocese of Philadelphia, and in Roman Catholic circles across the nation, there is lively speculation as to who might be selected to next lead the region's nearly 1.5 million Catholics.

Cardinal Bevilacqua, who marked his 15th anniversary as archbishop Tuesday, says it is "premature" to discuss his retirement, and he will not speculate on his successor.

But that hasn't stopped scholars and other observers of the Catholic Church in America, especially since the next archbishop is almost certain to one day be made a cardinal.

Recent history suggests that Rome will choose someone in his mid-60s, an age that would permit him to serve 10 to 15 years before retirement.

"Shorter than that and you can't implement a vision," said Chester Gillis, a professor of religion and Catholic Church history at Georgetown University.

The next archbishop also seems certain to come from the church's orthodox wing, which is favored by Pope John Paul II. Nevertheless, one oft-mentioned candidate is Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of St. Louis, who has a reputation as a moderate.

"The term 'liberal bishop' is an oxymoron these days," remarked Gillis. "Even those who are 'centrist' are more conservative than the centrists of 30 years ago."

With not much separating the likely candidates doctrinally, "the big difference will probably be one of style," said the Rev. Thomas Reese, editor of the Jesuit magazine America and author of a book on the American Catholic hierarchy. "How they present themselves in public, what issues they choose to emphasize, that's what will distinguish them."

Although Rome is famous for surprising pundits with its appointments, some of the most talked-about candidates for Philadelphia are these, in alphabetical order:

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, 58, of Denver, which has about 360,000 Catholics. He has been archbishop there since 1997.

Extroverted and informal (he likes to drive his own car, eat pizza and go to movies), Archbishop Chaput (pronounced shap-you) is a Franciscan priest of the Capuchin order. Behind the smiles, however, he is a no-nonsense conservative who expects conformity and obedience from priests and laity. Some observers say his "authoritarian" orthodoxy would make him a natural fit in the historically conservative Archdiocese of Philadelphia, but note that Western U.S. bishops rarely become heads of the large, old Eastern archdioceses.

Archbishop Chaput attracted some national attention during the 2001 trial in Denver of Timothy McVeigh - charged in the Oklahoma City bombing - when he publicly condemned the death penalty.

The archbishop, who stands about 5-foot-6, is part Potawatomi Indian. Described by some as a workaholic, he is an accomplished fund-raiser who cultivates wealthy donors for his favorite charities. His tenure has seen the construction of new parishes and high schools, and the reopening of the diocesan seminary.

Archbishop Harry Flynn, 69, of St. Paul/Minneapolis, since 1995. Doctrinally conservative, he is reserved in public but said to be warm and pastoral in private. A delegator who gives his auxiliary bishops a fair degree of autonomy, he is said to have an excellent memory for names and faces.

As bishop of Lafayette, La., in the late 1980s, he helped heal that diocese after the nation's first major, publicly reported clergy sex-abuse scandal erupted there. Although he does not enjoy the attention of the news media, he got a large dose of it last year as head of the special committee on sex abuse for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. He helped draft the conference's mandatory policy on clergy sex abuse.

An excellent fund-raiser, he has overseen a rapidly growing archdiocese of about 770,000 whose diocesan schools are filled to capacity. He recently completed one of the largest capital campaigns in the history of the American Catholic church, including a $35 million renovation of the Cathedral of St. Paul.

Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, 55, of the Diocese of Belleville, Ill., since 1994. Named an auxiliary bishop of Chicago at the exceptionally young age of 36, he is also one of few African American bishops. Variously described as moderate and even progressive, he has been president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops since 2001, and last year led the organization as it struggled through the sex-abuse scandals.

A convert to Catholicism, raised by his mother and grandmother, he is exceptionally popular within his small diocese, whose Catholic population of 107,000 is concentrated mostly in the suburbs of St. Louis. He sometimes appears unannounced to play basketball with students at Catholic high schools. He conducts most confirmations himself, without an auxiliary bishop.

Bishop Gregory, popular with lay Catholics and the news media, has a sympathetic manner that has prompted talk that he might be a good choice for the Boston Archdiocese, still reeling from the sex-abuse scandals there. But the bishop is said to have irked some in the Vatican for allowing the Boston scandal to spread nationally, and he may have to wait for a new pope before he gets an archdiocese.

Some observers also note that the heads of national bishops conferences rarely relocate during their term in office.

Bishop Donald Wuerl, 62, of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, which has about 700,000 Catholics. Considered a centrist and consensus-builder, Bishop Wuerl is considered the favorite for Philadelphia.

Bishop Wuerl, who took over Pittsburgh when former Bishop Anthony Bevilacqua came to Philadelphia in 1988, is described as a micromanager with a short temper, but he doesn't hold grudges. During his tenure, he has dismantled much of the diocesan bureaucracy that Bishop Bevilacqua had installed. He sold church property and closed parishes and schools to pay off the $4 million deficit he inherited from his predecessors.

He has won the respect of both church moderates and conservatives, and is difficult to categorize. In 1986, Pope John Paul II made then-Father Wuerl (whom he had befriended long before becoming Pope) an auxiliary bishop of Seattle and charged him with ridding the diocese of the many liberal innovations of then-Bishop Raymond Hunthausen.

Some church liberals called him the Pope's hatchet, but since arriving in Pittsburgh, he has put women in important positions in the diocese and is said to advocate for gender-inclusive language in liturgies and church documents. On Holy Thursday 1988, he pointedly washed the feet of six women, which some read as a rebuke of Bishop Bevilacqua's controversial refusal to wash the feet of women at Holy Thursday services in 1986.

Several years ago, he angered some in Rome by successfully challenging a Vatican order to reinstate a priest accused of sexually abusing a child. Some observers say that defiance might now work in his favor, and that Pope John Paul II might give him Philadelphia as a reward for his work in Seattle.

ther names mentioned for Philadelphia include:

Bishop Timothy Dolan of Milwaukee.

shop Thomas Doran of Rockford, Ill.

Archbishop John Foley, a Philadelphia priest and head of the Council for Social Communications in Rome.

Archbishop William Levada of San Francisco.

Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport, Conn.

Bishop Henry Mansell of Buffalo, N.Y.

Archbishop John Myers of Newark, N.J.

Archbishop Edwin O'Brien, archbishop of military services

Bishop Sean O'Malley of Palm Beach, Fla.

Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe, N.M.

By spring, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, the Vatican's representative to the United States, likely will have recommended three candidates to the Congregation for Bishops in Rome, along with a report on the state of the Philadelphia archdiocese.

After studying the report, the congregation will recommend one name to Pope John Paul II. He may accept it, ask for another, or make his own choice independently. If that man accepts, he will be announced in about two weeks, and installed within two months of the announcement.

Despite Philadelphia's size and prestige, however, it is possible that Archbishop Montalvo has not yet turned his attention to the succession here.

Cardinal Bernard Law's extraordinary resignation in December as archbishop of Boston - where he was broadly condemned for his mishandling of clergy sexual-abuse cases - has created a vacancy that needs to be filled ahead of Philadelphia.

Interest in the Boston succession is especially intense, Gillis of Georgetown said, because Catholics everywhere agree that that archdiocese is in urgent need of healing.

"I think Boston is on the radar screen now more prominently than Philadelphia," said Gillis. "But each is important."

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