The Deacon's Bench

The reports that Los Angeles’ Cardinal Roger Mahony is ready to retire have an interesting backstory:

For the record, any claims of a selection already made cannot be confirmed and, as the lay of the land is looking at present, would appear premature. What’s more, lacking an announcement from the Holy See, it should — but, given the hysteria surrounding appointments, can’t — go without saying that anything can change at any time.

Keeping that important corollary in mind, scores of reports in church circles have circulated since November that, over a year before he reaches the retirement age of 75, Mahony is “widely known” to have petitioned for an understudy on his own initiative. In early January, three independent sources outside the archdiocese indicated to Whispers that the consultation stage of a selection process had been underway at least since mid-autumn, with one adding that the cardinal’s request for a coadjutor had been granted by the Holy See in October. From there, the cardinal is credibly understood to have been given the privilege of approving the terna of his potential successors — not the final choice — with at least one Mahony aide anticipating an announcement sometime around the cardinal’s 74th birthday, February 27th.

Once named, then installed with the customary “Mass of Welcome” some two months after his appointment, a coadjutor would spend roughly a year assisting the ordinary and learning the ropes before immediately succeeding to the archbishopric upon its vacancy — in this case, on the acceptance of Mahony’s resignation by the Pope shortly after the cardinal turns 75. Though such provision is often sought by prelates seeking a smooth transition of governance, it’s likewise a savvy move; a departing ordinary usually stands a better chance of getting the coadjutor of his choice than a successor who’s selected outright.

That said, while a putative version of the shortlist has made the rounds, given Benedict’s commitment to intense personal study of case-files and making his choices his own, especially for major assignments, all bets are genuinely off until the Apartment has spoken. As for what’s already on-record, Mahony let slip in a recent posting on his new blog that 2010 would be “my final full year” as head of his hometown fold, American Catholicism’s progressive seat and one of the global church’s most complex, energetic and diverse diocesan set-ups.

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