The Catholic bishop who oversees 20 counties in southern Minnesota recently turned 75 years old, the age at which diocesan leaders are required to submit their resignations.
Exactly who will replace Bishop Bernard Harrington as head of the 115-parish Diocese of Winona -- and when -- isn't clear because the Vatican hasn't formally accepted the bishop's resignation.
"The paperwork is in at the Vatican, and now we wait," said Diocese of Winona spokeswoman Rose Hammes. It's common for some fuzziness to surround how quickly such documents are handled, she added, calling it "a nebulous process."
Once Harrington's resignation is reviewed, three options exist:
• A new bishop could be named to replace him, with Harrington keeping his post until the transition is finalized. In northern Minnesota's Diocese of Crookston recently, it took over a year for a bishop to be replaced after submitting his resignation.
• An administrator, likely a diocesan priest, could be appointed to replace Harrington until a new bishop is named. An interim administrator led the Diocese of Winona for a year after Harrington's predecessor, Bishop John Vlazny, departed in 1997 to become the archbishop of Portland, Ore.
• Harrington could be asked to serve longer without a replacement being named.
Most likely, a list of possible successors already has been started with input from Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis and bishops from around the region, Hammes said.
The list will go to the U.S. apostolic nuncio, a Vatican representative who narrows the options and notes his top pick, a recommendation that usually carries great weight. The list next moves to Rome, where the Vatican's Congregation of Bishops will examine it before the pope makes his final selection.
The Diocese of Winona's last five bishops have been Midwesterners, but Harrington's replacement could come from anywhere in the country.
Harrington, whose birthday is Sept. 6, was an auxiliary bishop in his native Detroit before coming to the Diocese of Winona in 1998. He is the diocese's seventh bishop. Rochester Post-Bulletin
Rome is also sitting on a request by Archbishop John Nienstedt for an Auxiliary Bishop (or two) for St Paul and Minneapolis to replace Bishop Richard Pates who recently became Bishop of Des Moines.