At Last, The “Vice-Wuerl” Gets The Call – Pope Taps DC’s Knestout For Richmond

At Last, The “Vice-Wuerl” Gets The Call – Pope Taps DC’s Knestout For Richmond

[A protege (or closer than that?) of La Donna Cardinal, who was more than a protege of the late Cardinal Wright]

WHISPERS IN THE LOGGIA: POSTED BY ROCCO PALMO ON WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 06, 2017

After months of rumblings over his future, Bishop Barry Knestout can finally breathe easy – expected from very early in the year, the Pope’s choice of the 55 year-old vicar-general of Washington as the 13th bishop of Richmond indeed came to pass at Roman Noon yesterday.

In the post overseeing the massive 33,000 square mile bulk of Virginia stretching from the Atlantic’s Eastern Shore to the Kentucky border – all of it home to some 250,000 Catholics – the top deputy to Cardinal Donald Wuerl (duo seen above) succeeds Bishop Francis DiLorenzo, whose death from kidney failure in August remains a shock to his many friends.

Having reached the retirement age of 75 last April, the process for DiLorenzo’s replacement was already well in the works at the time the vacancy occurred. On speaking to him a week before his passing – and not expecting to lose him in the least – this scribe admitted to DiLorenzo of wondering what was taking the appointment “so long,” to which he characteristically shot back, “Me too.”

Even then, it bears noting that Knestout – from his days as secretary to Cardinals James Hickey and Theodore McCarrick, a familiar figure in church circles for nearly two decades – was the only potential pick whose name came up in the conversation.

Founded in 1820 to initially encompass Virginia and the future West Virginia, the Richmond church is one of the eight oldest in the US.

The first son of a cleric to be named a bishop in the global church since the permanent diaconate was restored in 1968, Knestout’s arrival brings a quieter, conciliatory hand to a diocese led over the last four decades by larger-than-life personalities at opposite ends of the ecclesiological spectrum. Before DiLorenzo – an ever-candid, big-hearted Philadelphian known for his impatience with business meetings – the three-decade tenure of Bishop Walter Sullivan made Richmond one of the few Eastern outposts to retain a post-Conciliar progressive bent, defying a wider trend toward reinforcing identity and doctrine. (Once asked by a local TV reporter whether the church would ever ordain women as priests – despite John Paul II’s definitive statement that it lacked the authority to do so – Sullivan famously replied “Not in my lifetime.”)

In that light, amid the raw fallout of August’s clashes between white supremacists and counter-protestors in Charlottesville (in the diocese’s western tier), which saw one of the latter killed by a car driven into the crowd, not to mention the wake of a bitterly divisive governor’s race this fall that made the Old Dominion’s trove of Confederate monuments an unusual flashpoint of tribal politics, it’s easy to sense that Knestout’s calming, hyper-diligent skillset is the optimal antidote to a charged, heavily-partisan moment.

At the same time, while some two-thirds of Virginia’s booming Catholic population lives in the 19 northern counties that form the diocese of Arlington (which was spun off from Richmond in 1974), the turf he inherits is experiencing its own degree of recent growth, albeit on a more gradual scale.

Having been the Washington Chancery’s point-man on guiding the capital church through a remarkable decade that’s seen its Catholic presence expand by roughly a quarter to an estimated 750,000 in its pews – most of them packed into teeming parishes and schools in the archdiocese’s Maryland suburbs – the upward trends in Richmond’s population core of Hampton Roads (the military-heavy Eastern flank encompassing Virginia Beach and Newport News) and the diocese’s central axis along Interstates 95 and 64 will be very familiar to the new arrival from the outset. (Among other examples of the growth, seen below is the newly-expanded plant at St Bede’s in Williamsburg, where a church that isn’t yet 15 years old was bolstered by last spring’s opening of an $11 million, 40,000 square-foot addition to house its ministries and religious education classes, anchored by a 600-seat parish hall.)

If anything, the one fresh challenge facing Knestout will be enhancing the effectiveness of the diocese’s operations given the sprawl of the territory and the population imbalance between the coast and a heavily rural, mostly sparse edge in the Blue Ridge and Appalachian mountains. As DiLorenzo put the spread into context, if the distance of crossing the diocese’s lower edge was turned on its side, a drive from the westernmost point would put you in Detroit. Accordingly, while a division of Richmond’s eastern portion into its own diocese has been considered in the past, it’s been deemed unfeasible as the redrawn mother-see would lack the resources to support itself.

Coming in a week already focused on the nation’s capital given Friday’s dedication of the massive Trinity Dome in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception – and with it, what’s widely expected to be the beginning of Wuerl’s pre-retirement “victory lap” – the promotion of the DC prelate’s #2 over his decade-long tenure further fuels the perception of desk-clearing by the cardinal, who turned 77 last month. However, despite prior forecasts tipping a transition sometime in the first half of 2018, over recent weeks Whispers ops close to Wuerl have begun to sense a longer timeframe toward the appointment of Washington’s sixth resident archbishop, a move almost certain to be Francis’ last major selection for the American hierarchy’s top rank.

In any case, even before today’s nod was officially made, no shortage of attention has already turned toward the critical “other shoe” to drop: Wuerl’s choice of Knestout’s replacement as vicar-general, essentially the DC church’s chief operating officer – a selection in which the departing prelate’s brother, Fr Mark, is said to be a leading contender.

Beyond the post’s significance within the capital itself, it’s worth recalling that, over the now-cardinal’s three decades as a diocesan bishop, each of his vicars-general have quickly been named as auxiliaries, all then going on to lead a local church in their own right.

The Richmond installation is slated for Friday, 12 January… and here below, fullvid of yesterday’s appointment presser, highlighted by Knestout’s call for his new charge to be “a strong voice for unity and charity” in the face of “a time when we are challenged by many divisions” – bishop begins at 6:15 mark:

With the Richmond call finally in the can, all of one Stateside Latin diocese is vacant – north Kansas’ outpost in Salina, from which Bishop Edward Weisenburger was transferred to Tucson in September.

Alongside Washington, just two others are led by prelates serving past the retirement age and awaiting their respective successors: central California’s diocese of Stockton, where Bishop Stephen Blaire reached the milestone last February, and the largest opening the US church will have for the foreseeable future – what’s become an 850,000-member fold in Las Vegas, guided since 2001 by Bishop Joe Pepe, one of DiLorenzo’s closest friends and the preacher at his funeral.

 

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4 comments on “At Last, The “Vice-Wuerl” Gets The Call – Pope Taps DC’s Knestout For Richmond

  1. [More on the new bishop of Richmond]

    POSTED BY RESTORE-DC-CATHOLICISM ON TUESDAY, DECEMBER 5, 2017

    Bishop Knestout To Richmond

    Bishop Barry Knestout, an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Washington, has been chosen by Pope Francis to succeed Bishop Francis DiLorenzo as Bishop of Richmond. The latter died this past August. The online version of the Catholic Standard already has a write-up of this appointment. In it is a congratulatory statement by Cardinal Wuerl, who talks of “our close association in ministry”. Well there certainly was close association.

    Again I call to memory what happened in my own parish within the Archdiocese of Washington in Lent of 2012. Father Marcel Guarnizo denied Holy Communion to an avowed lesbian and was promptly ejected from the Archdiocese of Washington. There is no doubt that Cardinal Wuerl ordered that expulsion, with Bishop Knestout functioning as the proverbial hatchet man. Of course I and many others raised an outcry against this blatant miscarriage of justice and lack of fidelity to Church teaching that was evinced by the chancery. Four years later, when the pastor of a neighboring pastor fired his parish’s sodomite music minister, Bishop Knestout supported that pastor. Had he not had reason to anticipate our vigilance, who knows how he would have acted?

    This appointment is no surprise. Cardinal Wuerl is a member of the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops. He most likely is assisting the pope in selection of progressive bishops to “stack the deck” as it were. He certainly had an ideal candidate in Knestout; plus, what better way to reward an obviously loyal underling?

    While such a move was inevitable, it still is lamentable. The only silver lining to this cloud is that he is no longer here. Pray for him, though, that he might realize his calling and be a faithful bishop. While I regret his promotion, I’m not sorry to see him go.

  2. Why was Mons. Guido Marini dismissed? He is truly a priests priest. Where is he being sent now? Who is next amongst the Papal Masters of Ceremonies. Vinchenzo? Mon. Cihak? Who can replace Mons. Guido and do the job he has done so perfectly for these many years. God Bless Him and pray for him.

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