The names of three possible new bishops for the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh reportedly have been given to Pope Benedict XVI, leading some church-watchers to believe an appointment is imminent.
No names of potential appointees were attached to these reports. But some have been circulating since then-Bishop Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh was appointed archbishop of Washington, D.C,, in May 2006. Most prominent are Bishop Blase Cupich, 58, of Rapid City, S.D., Bishop Dennis Schnurr, 59, of Duluth, Minn., and Bishop David Zubik, 57, of Green Bay, Wis., a popular former auxiliary bishop of Pittsburgh.
Last week's surprise appointment of a new archbishop for Baltimore, which came after the pope had left Rome for vacation, inclines some observers to believe there is an effort in Rome to clear a backlog of appointments.
Rocco Palmo, whose Internet blog on Catholic ecclesiastical politics has a strong record of predicting appointments, wrote yesterday that Pope Benedict was said to have the Pittsburgh dossier on his desk. The appointment was expected within "weeks," he wrote in "Whispers in the Loggia."
In an interview, Mr. Palmo, a Philadelphian whose sources include well-placed people in the hierarchy, said, "The word out there is that something is coming quickly."
Most analysts believe that means before August, because the Vatican offices close for the entire month.
Other sources, some speaking off the record, also said they heard that names had cleared the vetting process in the Congregation for Bishops, which means they had likely been given to the pope.
The Rev. Louis Vallone, pastor of St. John of God, McKees Rocks, is currently teaching a canon law course in Rome, where he has been seeking news of the Pittsburgh post.
"I heard that the [list] definitely came from the apostolic delegate [in the United States] to the Congregation for Bishops. We have also heard that it was possible that the congregation had vetted it and sent it to the pope," he said.
If the list cleared that quickly, he said, it probably means that all three men are already bishops of their own dioceses. If they were auxiliary bishops, without a record of leadership, the congregation would have taken longer to vet their qualifications, he said.
Of names that the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette culled last year from sources knowledgeable about U.S. appointments, Bishops Cupich, Schnurr and Zubik are the only diocesan bishops who have not been sent elsewhere in the meantime.
Bishop John Gaydos, 63, of Jefferson City, Mo., has also emerged as a dark horse.
Auxiliary bishops mentioned for the post include auxiliary Bishop Paul Bradley of Pittsburgh, who has been running the diocese as its administrator since June 2006, and earning high praise from priests. The others are auxiliary Bishops Thomas Paprocki, 54, of Chicago, and Joseph McFadden, 60, of Philadelphia.
Just because names have been given to the pope does not mean the appointment will be fast. He is on vacation in the Italian Alps until July 27, although that did not prevent the appointment of Archbishop Edwin O'Brien to Baltimore last week.
Of 10 vacant dioceses in the United States, Pittsburgh's is the second-longest unfilled, behind Birmingham, Ala., which has been open since May 2005. Ten more dioceses have bishops past retirement age, three since 2005.
The fact that the Vatican offices shut for August means there may be a push to clear the backlog, said the Rev. Thomas Reese, senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Institute at Georgetown University, who studies the Catholic hierarchy.
"There is a certain pressure to clear the decks before they all go on vacation," he said.
Father Vallone pointed out that delays can occur if the chosen man turns it down.
"I still think it could be September, or even later," he said.
Typically a man who has been chosen receives a call one to three weeks before the public announcement, said Susan Gibbs, communications director of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C.
"I don't know the reason why it varies," she said.
At least two important officials of the Diocese of Pittsburgh are slated to be away this week: the Rev. Ronald Lengwin, the diocesan spokesman, and the Rev. Lawrence Di Nardo, the delegate for canonical services.
Although it might appear that they do not expect a new bishop to be named, last week's Baltimore appointment showed that appointments can blindside staff.
"The best way I can exemplify how much advance notice I had was that I was on vacation" when the announcement came, said Sean Caine, director of communications for the Archdiocese of Baltimore.
For most Baltimore staff, the notice "was a matter of hours, not days," he said.
Bishop David Zubik
Bishop Blase Cupich
Bishop Dennis Schnurr
Ann Rodgers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1416.