Until Pope Francis names a new bishop for the Diocese of Toledo — an announcement that could be many months away — a diocesan administrator will be the top man in northwest Ohio’s Roman Catholic Church, and his main duty will be to not to change things.
The impending change comes after Tuesday’s papal announcement of Toledo Bishop Leonard P. Blair’s appointment to lead the Archdiocese of Hartford, Conn., succeeding retiring Archbishop Henry J. Mansell, 76.
The papal nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, informed Bishop Blair, 64, of his appointment while the bishop was in Rome on Oct. 17, a day before he met with Pope Francis.
“I was able to thank Pope Francis in person for the confidence he has placed in me, and I asked for his blessing on the church in both Hartford and Toledo,” he said at a news conference Tuesday at St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield, Conn. The archbishop-designate will be installed in Hartford on Dec. 16.
“I leave behind many co-workers and friends in Toledo whom I will dearly miss, but I look forward to the blessings of a new family of faith in which to make a home as your archbishop," he said.
A diocesan administrator will be appointed to temporarily fill the vacancy. He will have limited powers so that the next bishop can have greater freedom to mold the diocese according to what he sees as its needs, said the Rev. Monte Hoyles, chancellor of the Toledo diocese.
During the interregnum, people and groups in the church, from Toledo to the Vatican, will propose candidates for consideration as bishop. They will seek someone whom “people have discerned is the right person for the right position at the right time” to be appointed by Pope Francis, Father Hoyles said.
Once Archbishop Blair is in Hartford, the diocese’ College of Consulters, a group that normally advises the bishop, will meet to vote by secret ballot on who will serve as diocesan administrator.
The college is a body of eight priests from Toledo, Perrysburg, Sylvania, Fremont, and Lima, and their instructions according to church law are to pick a priest who is at least 35 years old and is “outstanding in doctrine and prudence,” Father Hoyles said.
The last time Toledo was between diocesan bishops was 2003, when Bishop James Hoffman died of cancer.
Bishop Blair was appointed Toledo’s seventh bishop 10 months later, on Oct. 7, 2003. In the interim, Toledo’s auxiliary bishop, Robert W. Donnelly, was voted diocesan administrator. Bishop Donnelly, who retired in 2006 at age 75, is not expected to fill that role again.
Toledo currently does not have an auxiliary bishop.
Archbishop Mansell told Pope Benedict XVI of his willingness to retire in October, 2012.
At Tuesday’s news conference, Bishop Blair spoke about the Catholic Church not meeting moral standards, including its attempts to recover from instances of child abuse by priests.
He said Roman Catholicism should “be the church in the way that Christ wants us to be the church,” and follow the teachings of Jesus.
In northwest Ohio, Bishop Blair oversaw about 322,500 parishioners in about 126 parishes. The difference between an archdiocese and a diocese is primarily one of size; larger dioceses are officially called archdioceses but have essentially the same structure as a diocese. The Archdiocese of Hartford has about 700,000 parishioners in 213 parishes.
Members of the Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, SNAP, had strong objections to Bishop Blair being named archbishop of Hartford and advancing to an archdiocese.
Claudia Vercellotti, a founder of the Toledo chapter of SNAP, referred to priests in the diocese who faced criminal charges for child abuse; the conviction of Father Gerald Robinson for the 1980 murder of a nun, Sister Margaret Ann Pahl; search warrants served on church property, and SNAP’s origins in Toledo.
She accused Bishop Blair of covering up incidents rather than acting as Jesus might.
Diocese spokesman Sally Oberski could not be reached for a response to the accusations.
Bishop Blair said during the news conference that he recognized that people are hurting, and said he admired Pope Francis’ description of the church as “a field hospital for the wounded in today’s world.”
Father Hoyles said the beginning of Bishop Blair’s time in Toledo was a “bit rough.”
“He came at a time when the church was dealing with many things going on, not all of them positive, and to come out of that and to lead us through a time that was challenging for the church is probably one of the greatest legacies,” he said.
Bishop Blair also attracted attention as one of three bishops examining the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, a U.S. nuns’ group. The bishops, in their examination of the group, assessed that many nuns did not adhere to Catholic teaching on social issues.
Answering a question about issues in Connecticut government — same-sex marriage is legal there, and assisted suicide is an issue that might receive legislative attention — Bishop Blair said, “I certainly subscribe to the teaching of the church on these matters” and that it comes down to “right and wrong.”
“We do have to bear witness to these truths,” he said.