Catholic Herald Staff
Bishop Peter Christensen’s appointment to a new diocese will leave a void in the Diocese of Superior, one that could take six months or longer to fill.
On Tuesday, Nov. 4, Pope Francis appointed Bishop Christensen as bishop of the statewide Diocese of Boise, Idaho. He will be installed Wednesday, Dec. 17.
In informing the faithful of the diocese of his appointment, Bishop Christensen wrote about the “mixture of sadness and joy” he was experiencing.
“The sadness, obviously, comes with having to say so long to you and the wonderful Catholics of the Diocese of Superior,” he wrote. “I want you to know how much I have appreciated the opportunity to serve with you in this diocese. You have offered me a sense of belonging and a home that I would not have thought possible prior to being assigned here.”
He wrote that the joy he feels comes “in knowing our Lord has other plans for me, and I trust in time I will feel the same belonging and sense of home that I felt with you.”
Since the announcement, Diocese of Superior staff and leadership have been preparing for the election of a diocesan administrator.
Within eight days of Bishop Christensen’s vacating the position, the diocesan College of Consultors – here, the Presbyteral Council, a leadership group of priests – will meet and appoint a diocesan administrator to serve in a bishop’s capacity.
The administrator will be a diocesan priest; whether that person will continue to serve his parishes during the interim period is a topic for discussion, said Diocese of Superior chancellor Deb Lieberg.
According to director of administrative services and finance Dick Lyons, the Vatican occasionally appoints another bishop to oversee a diocese with a vacancy, but Lyons does not anticipate that will happen in Superior.
Fr. Jim Tobolski, vice chair of the Presbyteral Council, said members will meet Nov. 20 in Hayward to set a date for the election. He predicts the administrator will be chosen Friday, Dec. 19, or, in the event of inclement weather, Monday, Dec. 22.
Canon Law regulates the process, which includes nominations and an election.
“Hopefully, by the end of that meeting, we will have an administrator for the diocese who will serve until we have a new bishop named,” Fr. Tobolski added.
Basically, the administrator serves as a caretaker until a bishop is appointed, he explained. Once the administrator is named, he must formally accept the job, recite a creed and swear an oath of fidelity in the presence of the chancellor.
After a public announcement is made, diocesan staff will contact the papal nuncio in Washington and the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to name the administrator.
In his role as caretaker, the administrator will have limited powers. He may request another bishop perform ordinations and consecrate the Oil of Chrism; he may appoint parish administrators but not pastors, and he cannot approve diocesan associations of the faithful or the establishment of new religious houses.
If the administrator remains in place for more than one year, his powers increase, and he can incardinate or excardinate priests and appoint pastors, with the College of Consultors’ approval.
The pope usually appoints a new bishop within six to eight months, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Fr. Tobolski expects a new bishop will be named within one year.
“In a sense, this is a relatively new kind of situation for us, having an actual vacancy,” he said.
When now-emeritus Bishop Raphael Fliss retired, the Holy See made him administrator until Bishop Christensen’s appointment. Before that, Bishop Fliss was coadjutor, in place to take over when Bishop Hammes retired.
“We will see what happens,” Fr. Tobolski commented. “As I said, it’s kind of a new situation for us.”