Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
"The journey continues"
by Bishop William S. Skylstad
(From the March 19, 2009 edition of the Inland Register)
Life can be wonderful and mysterious, all at the same time. In addition, it can be very challenging in ways we never dreamed of early in life.
On March 2, I had a lot to reflect upon and for which to thank God as I celebrated my 75th birthday. My drive to and from Walla Walla for the Rite of Election on the day itself provided ample time to go over the past Ė almost 32 years of ministry as a bishop and almost 49 years since my ordination as a priest. I must say that I have been richly blessed by my family, by the Church, and by the people I have been privileged to love and serve. The blessings have come not only in the many joyful and happy moments, but also in the challenges and painful times. The sexual abuse crisis and the Chapter 11 Bankruptcy process would certainly be examples of the latter. Yet, I hope we as Church and I as a person have grown through that experience.
At 75 years of age, every bishop must submit his offer of resignation to the Holy Father. Mine was dated on March 1. I have forwarded my letter to the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Sambi, the Holy Fatherís representative in Washington D.C., who will in turn forward my letter to the pope. Pope Benedict can either accept the resignation immediately or wait, perhaps for as much as a year or two, before accepting the resignation and appointing a new bishop. Of late, the more common practice has been a delay of a year or two before a new appointment is made. However, if ill health or mental stability come into question, obviously there is a sense of urgency in moving ahead with a new appointment. If the need should arise, another possibility would be the appointment by the Holy See of an apostolic administrator, who would be the acting bishop until the new bishop arrives and is installed. I have been told informally that the new appointment for the Diocese of Spokane will probably be in a year or two.
People often ask me how new bishops are appointed. Bishops of a province Ė in our case, the bishops of Washington State Ėare asked to periodically send to the Apostolic Nuncio the names of possible candidates for the role of bishop. The Nuncio and his staff engage in confidential and rather broad consultation. The resulting names are then sent to the Congregation of Bishops in Rome. In turn, the Congregation of Bishops digests this information and eventually offers a list to the Holy Father, who will make the final decision. Once the decision is made, events leading up to ordination and installation usually happen fairly quickly. The ordination (if needed) and installation must occur within three months of the time of appointment. In our case, an already ordained bishop could be appointed, or perhaps a priest would be named bishop, in which case he would have to be ordained to the fullness of priesthood as a bishop.
From where might our next bishop come? I would guess that fewer than 10 percent of bishops serve in their native diocese, so since I was originally ordained for the Spokane Diocese, Iím a bit of an exception. The new bishop might come from the general region, but he might also come to us from another part of the country. Certainly there are advantages and disadvantages of both sorts of appointments: from near at home, from far away. Someone from the region has the advantage of understanding the culture of our area. On the other hand, a fresh voice and experience from relatively far away can also be very beneficial and healthy. Instantaneous communication and great mobility is making our national culture more homogeneous. In fact, our horizons of what it means to be Church here in the U.S. have been dramatically expanded because of migration. Our status as a Church Universal has for a long time prefigured what is means to be a global village. The universality of our Church has been a great gift and blessing.
I ask your prayers as the selection process for our new bishop moves forward. As we talk among ourselves, we bishops often discuss the most challenging part of our ministry: personnel. To be sensitive to the health of the parish and its needs (which, by the way, is the most important) and finding the right person with his unique gifts and talents to fit the situation is not easy. Thatís why every bishop uses a personnel board to assist him in making the decision of pastoral placements. You can imagine then the complex task of finding a priest or an already ordained bishop to fill the position of bishop in a given diocese. The role of a bishop is challenging and complex, and no one has all the gifts. So as the Church has always done, the best effort is made to find the right person for the task and ministry of the chief shepherd of the diocese.
For these past 16 years as a priest in this diocese, and now almost 19 years as your bishop, I am profoundly grateful to God, and profoundly grateful to all of you.
Blessings and peace.
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