Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Winona Bishop's retirement raises transition questions

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The upcoming retirement of Bishop Bernard Harrington means a new leader is coming to the 20-county Diocese of Winona -- it's just not clear when.

In September, Harrington will turn 75, an age at which Catholic bishops are required to submit their resignations.

The confidential search process for a new bishop often takes eight months or more, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. In northern Minnesota recently, it took more than a year for a new bishop to be ordained in the Diocese of Crookston, after his predecessor retired.

There's other option for how the Diocese of Winona's leadership transition could happen. Pope Benedict XVI could at any time appoint a transitional bishop, called a coadjutor bishop, said Rose Hammes, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Winona. The coadjutor bishop would work with Harrington and take his spot immediately after the bishop retires.

If a coadjutor bishop isn't named, here's the search process would likely proceed:

• A list of candidates will be assembled. Those expected to suggest names for the list include Archbishop Harry Flynn of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and other bishops in Minnesota and neighboring dioceses.

• The list will be sent to the apostolic nuncio, an influential papal representative to the U.S. The nuncio will narrow the field to three names and note his top pick. His recommendation usually carries great weight, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

• The last stop is Rome, where the Vatican's Congregation of Bishops will consider the nuncio's list before sending it to the pope. Once the pope makes his pick, the bishop-select is asked if he accepts the position.

Harrington was ordained bishop of the Diocese of Winona in 1999. He is the seventh, and shortest-serving, bishop in the diocese's 119-year history.

Exactly how Harrington's replacement process will proceed is "a great mystery," Hammes said. It's possible the pope could ask Harrington to continue serving as bishop beyond his retirement date, she added, but that doesn't happen very often. Rochester Post Bulletin

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