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Vatican still mum on naming Bishop McCormack’s successor

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 07. 2011 9:58PM

Bishop John McCormack takes part in an ordination at St. Joseph Cathedral earlier this year. (FILE PHOTO)

MANCHESTER - A year has passed since Bishop John B. McCormack submitted his resignation as head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester with no word of whom his successor will be.

Silence aside, the Manchester diocese remains 'at the top of the heap' among those waiting for new bishops and likely will not be affected by the July 24 death of Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the Vatican's ambassador to the United States, a veteran church observer said.

As ambassador, or apostolic nuncio, Sambi played a key role in recommending future U.S. bishops to Rome. He prepared the dossiers that contained the names of three recommended successors, known as the terna, which went to the Vatican and, ultimately, the Pope for possible appointment.

'If that (Manchester) dossier isn't already done, it is almost complete and sent over,' said Rocco Palmo of Philadelphia, author of the Whispers in the Loggia website that specializes in Catholic church news and politics.

'It's possible it already has been (sent to the Vatican), and it's been put on ice over the summer,' Palmo added, referring to Rome's traditional summer holiday that begins Aug. 1 and runs through mid-September when the Vatican's Congregation of Bishops will resume its work, including reviewing new bishop appointments.

Like all bishops, McCormack had to submit his resignation to Pope Benedict XVI when he turned 75. McCormack, the ninth bishop of the Manchester diocese, will turn 76 on Aug. 12.

The process of choosing McCormack's successor was thought to have been nearing completion last spring and a new bishop was expected to be named by the summer, he added.

'People have been talking about Manchester's appointment and anticipating it, not just in New Hampshire, but in the wider scene since February,' said Palmo, whose website is closely followed by many local clerics.

'The expectation is that someone who is already a bishop will be named to succeed McCormack,' added Palmo, speaking from Philadelphia.

Still, he stressed, 'anything is possible' in the unpredictable world of episcopal succession.

That world has become even more unpredictable given Pope Benedict XVI takes a personal interest in every appointment and has been known to overturn the congregation's recommendation, he said.

'He wants to make sure that he owns his picks and that he has the final say on it,' Palmo said.

'It's a sign of how important that good appointments for bishops in the United States and anywhere are. The fate of the church rises and falls on the caliber of its leadership,' he said.

While Palmo does not expect Sambi's death would have much effect on the Manchester diocese, he said it is not known what impact the November meeting of the New England bishops with the Pope in Rome might have.

Cardinal Bernard F. Law, who is Boston's former archbishop, serves on the Congregation of Bishops and could take a lead role in presenting the Manchester case to the congregation, Palmo said.

'He knows New England better than any other archbishop on the congregation. That would be a perfectly logical thing, but is that to say it's a lock,' Palmo said.

Law's role in the congregation, however, will end when he turns 80 on Nov. 4.

While the Manchester diocese with its nearly 290,000 Catholics may seem small in the context of the universal church, the concerns facing it and its Catholics are 'well-known in the Vatican,' Palmo said.

They include the large number of church closings and McCormack's role as 'kind of a lightning rod figure, not just in the church of New Hampshire, but in New England,' Palmo said.

McCormack has been widely criticized for his handling of the child sexual abuse crisis by priests while serving under Law.

In addition, Manchester is 'very crucial' as just one of seven dioceses in the U.S. that encompasses an entire state.

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