Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington



From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302


Spokane Diocese bids farewell to Archbishop Cupich; processes in place while awaiting his successor

by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register

(From the October 16, 2014 edition of the Inland Register)

Bishop Cupich visits with fifth graders at All Saints Middle School, Spokane, during Catholic Schools Week 2012. (IR file photo)

The Archbishop-designate of Chicago, Archbishop Blase Cupich, is animated when he speaks about the moment he received the call from the Apostolic Nuncio in Washington, D.C., informing him of his appointment as the ninth archbishop of Chicago.

He was in Munich, Germany, on his way back from Ukraine, where he attended the Synod of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church as part of his work as chair of the subcommittee for Aid to the Church of Central and Eastern Europe.

Ever since the call, his daily schedule has been filled with media interviews, appointments in two dioceses, answering calls and emails – and trying to balance his responsibilities in the Diocese of Spokane with all the preparation for assuming his new ones in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

The shift is enormous, as he moves from serving 90,000 Catholics in 82 parishes, and assisted by an administrative staff of 17, to the third largest diocese in the United States, which has 2.2 million Catholics and a chancery staff of 300. Anyone who is familiar with Archbishop Cupich and worked with him these past four years of his service to the Diocese of Spokane knows he is up to the task and the challenge it brings.

Farewell Events

Various farewell celebrations have been planned.

Archbishop Cupich will celebrate Mass in his cathedral church, Our Lady of Lourdes, on All Souls Day, Sunday, Nov. 2, at 11 a.m. A reception will follow.

The public is invited to a farewell reception for Archbishop Cupich on Thursday, Nov. 6, from 2:30-4 p.m. in the parish hall at St. Peter Church, 3330 E. 18th Ave., on Spokane’s southeast side. Parking can be accessed from Freya Street. The deacons and deacon couples of the Diocese, parish ministers and staff, members of diocesan councils, and a variety of parish volunteers and the general Catholic public are anticipated to attend.

Later that evening, Archbishop Cupich’s brother priests of the Spokane Diocese will gather with him for Mass and a farewell dinner at Immaculate Retreat Center.

And Then What?

Normally, once a bishop is informed that he is being transferred to another diocese, he becomes the diocesan administrator, a position that places some restrictions on his actions in governing the diocese he is leaving. Given the special pastoral needs in Spokane and Chicago, however, the Holy See has granted indults which allow Archbishop Cupich and Cardinal George to retain their full authority as diocesan bishops in their respective dioceses until Nov. 18.

At that time, when Archbishop Cupich takes possession of the Archdiocese of Chicago and is installed as its ninth Chief Shepherd, the See of Spokane becomes vacant. The Latin term is sede vacante (“empty chair”), a reference to the bishop’s chair at the cathedral church, the symbol of his episcopal office. In reality it means that the Diocese of Spokane is without a Chief Shepherd until the Vatican names one.

Canon 377 of the Church’s Code of Law provides the general outline for the process of nominating a diocesan bishop, who ultimately is appointed by the pope. The length of this process is not specified, but having seen the speed with which Pope Francis has acted in making some appointments, the time may be less than a year.

Canon Law has a procedure in place for the sede vacante situation that the diocese will face after Nov. 18. A group of priests already established by Bishop Cupich known as the College of Consultors must meet within eight days. Following the rules laid down in canons 165-178 of the Church’s Code of Law, the College elects a priest of the diocese for the position of Diocesan Administrator. The administrator is bound by the obligations and possesses the power of a diocesan bishop, but within the limitations imposed by canon law.

The general norm is that “when the see is vacant, nothing is to be altered.” The administrator is “forbidden to do anything which can be prejudicial in some way to the diocese or episcopal rights” (Canon 428). But this does not mean that nothing happens. Plans and programs which already had been set in motion remain in effect. The prime instance of this is the pastoral plan outlined by Archbishop Cupich in his just-published pastoral letter, “Joy Made Complete” (IR 9/18/14). The implementation of the priorities it identifies remains a responsibility under the leadership of pastors and the headship of Catholic entities. Pastors have been asked to submit a four-year pastoral plan for the bishop’s review. That task now will belong to the Diocesan Administrator.

The priest elected Diocesan Administrator cannot establish new policies or ministries. He cannot appoint pastors, but he can appoint priests as administrators of parishes. Once a new bishop takes possession of the diocese, the function of the Diocesan Administrator ceases.

The College of Consultors for the Diocese of Spokane is composed of Msgr. Kevin Codd (pastor of St. Thomas More Student Center at WSU in Pullman, and co-director of vocations for the diocese); Msgr. Pedro Ramírez (retired); Father Pat Kerst (pastor of St. Mary Parish, Spokane Valley, and St. Joseph Parish, Rockford, and Vicar General for External Matters); Father Tim Hays (pastor of St. Joseph Parish, Colbert and Director of Priest Continuing Education); Father Steve Werner (pastor of St. Patrick Parish, Pasco); Father Mike Savelesky (pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, St. John, and Holy Rosary Parish, Rosalia, administrator of St. Rose of Lima Parish, Cheney, and Moderator of the Curia, and Vicar General for Internal Matters); and Father Miguel Mejia (pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Parish, Spokane; director of Detention Ministry for the diocese; and Diocesan Liaison to the Charismatic Community).

Fathers Kerst and Savelesky were named vicars general on Sept. 1, 2014. Their power ceases when the See is vacant. Some diocesan offices are not altered sede vacante. The Judicial Vicar and Chancellor, both positions held by Father Mark Pautler, remain in place. The Diocesan Finance Officer (Merrilin Fulton) and the Diocesan Finance Council continue functioning. Anyone with a term of office such as a pastor and anyone who holds delegated authority, such as the Moderator of the Curia, department heads and diocesan staff, remain in their positions.

Both the Presbyteral Council and the Diocesan Pastoral Council cease. The new bishop must reestablish the Presbyteral Council within a year after assuming office. He is not bound to re-establish a Diocesan Pastoral Council, but acts in accord with the circumstances of the diocese. Archbishop Cupich had established a Diocesan Pastoral Council after three years.

The sede vacante season is an awkward time for any diocese. Catholics revere their bishop, who in his person is the sacrament or visible sign of the historical linkage of the Church to the Apostles, and of the communion of the diocesan church with the Church Universal. Each week, Catholics confess their faith in the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church,” and hear the names of the pope and the bishop mentioned in the Eucharistic Prayer. Without a bishop, the diocese feels the need for the gift of apostolic succession. But even as the local church waits for its Apostle and Shepherd, the faithful can carry on the good work that has been initiated by Archbishop Cupich during his four years of pastoral care and leadership.


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