June 9, 2006: Is successor in works for archbishop?

  • Article by: PAMELA MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 24, 2007 - 10:00 AM

Knowledgeable sources say Archbishop Harry Flynn, who at 73 is nearing retirement age, has asked the Vatican for a coadjutor archbishop with rights of succession.

The archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is making plans to retire and has asked the Vatican to choose an eventual successor, two knowledgeable Catholic Church officials said Thursday. The archdiocese wouldn't confirm or deny the report. Archbishop Harry Flynn and the Rev. Kevin McDonough, vicar general, refused to comment, and archdiocese spokesman Dennis McGrath said, "I can't say a thing and I don't know anything."

One of the church officials said "people I trust" have said that the archbishop has written to Rome requesting a coadjutor archbishop, who would share administrative duties with Flynn until his retirement and then succeed him. "The process itself is a black box of loose timelines known only to the Vatican," said the church source, who is familiar with the process.

The search for a successor for Flynn, who at 73 is approaching a bishop's retirement age of 75, will go on in secrecy. Flynn, who became archbishop in 1995, has been praised for his personality and leadership. He has been outspoken on some social justice issues and has taken the middle ground on others, and his successor is likely to embrace the same style, observers say.

Prof. Robert Kennedy, chairman of the Department of Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, said the succession process is always closely held - and therefore creates a high buzz, particularly among those who desire a particular outcome.

"Watching bishops is like a spectator sport," Kennedy said. "It's like following presidential candidates, trying to figure out who'll get the nomination."

Succession can take place either through a bishop's announcement of retirement and the Vatican's subsequent choosing of a replacement, or through a coadjutor, who works concurrently with a bishop or archbishop for months or even years, he said.

The latter process is expected to play out in the Twin Cities, insiders say. In either case, the presiding archbishop submits recommendations to a papal representative in Washington, D.C., who sends three names to Rome, Kennedy said.

A coadjutor, said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a Catholic scholar on the Vatican and U.S. bishops, "is like a lady in waiting or Prince Charles. He has no real authority, but everyone knows he'll become bishop."

"The coadjutor process ... gives an archbishop a little more say in who will succeed him," said Reese, a professor at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Choosing a successor

Names of possible successors are not the result of leaks from those with real knowledge, Kennedy and archdiocese officials said, but merely speculation or wishful thinking. Auxiliary Bishop Richard Pates, one name often mentioned, is unlikely to be Rome's choice because it usually looks for a successor outside a province, which in this case includes Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Kennedy said.

The Vatican's priorities are maintaining confidentiality for candidates, who may not even know they're being considered, and "keeping politicking down," which is why modern-era candidates come from outside the region - "to make sure that archbishops don't act as kingmakers to priests and bishops within their realm," Kennedy said. "There are hundreds of years of good and bad experiences behind this process."

Walking a careful line

Flynn, a native New Yorker who previously steered the diocese of Lafayette, La., served as coadjutor to Archbishop John Roach, who died in 2003 at age 81. Observers say Flynn has done a good job of running the archdiocese of 830,000 Catholics, which is in sound financial shape and scandal-free.

"Am I conservative concerning that faith?" Flynn said after taking the job. "Yes. Would I be liberal about the taking of that faith and making sure that every person is fed and clothed and taken care of? Absolutely. There's a tremendous number of ways in which we can become liberal in the social teaching of the church without in any way harming that ... deposit of faith handed down to us."

Said Kennedy: "People often have unrealistic expectations about bishops. You wouldn't expect the head of the Democratic National Committee to repudiate party values, and you don't expect a bishop to repudiate core church values."

A pastoral-care specialist

On Thursday, scholars and clerics praised Flynn.

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