Election of Bishop Christopher Coyne, auxiliary bishop of Indianapolis, as chairman-elect of the U.S. Bishops’ Communications Committee may be another blessing of the Pope Francis effect. Bishop Coyne was a last minute addition to the two-man slate for chair-elect of the communications committee, when Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, New York, dropped out of the running in light of a Vatican document released last week.
Bishop Murphy quit the slate when the Vatican issued a statement on resignations of diocesan bishops and officials of the Roman Curia, publicized by the Vatican Information Service, November 5. The document modified the presentation and acceptance of resignation from pastoral ministry by diocesan bishops and offices of the Roman Curia.
Bishop Murphy turns 75 on May 2015, when he is expected to hand in his resignation from the pastoral care of his diocese, according to church law. An election as chairman-elect now would seem ineffective given that he wouldn’t really complete a three-year term as chair.
Most* of the text of the Vatican document follows, with pertinent article being Article 3.
Art. 1: The current discipline in the Latin Church and in the "sui iuris" Oriental Churches, by which diocesan and eparchal Bishops, and those held to be of equivalent office in accordance with canons 381 para. 2 of the Code of Canon Law and 313 of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, as well as coadjutor and auxiliary Bishops, are invited to present the resignation from their pastoral office upon reaching the age of seventy-five years, is confirmed.
Art. 2: Resignation from the aforementioned pastoral offices is effective only from the moment in which it is accepted by the legitimate Authorities.
Art.3: With the acceptance of the resignation from the aforementioned offices, the interested parties cease to hold any other office at national level conferred for a period determined in concomitance with the aforementioned pastoral office.
Art. 4: The gesture of a Bishop who, by motives of love or the wish to offer a better service to the community, considers it necessary to resign from the role of Pastor before reaching the age of seventy-five on account of illness or other serious reasons, is to be deemed worthy of ecclesial appreciation. In such cases, the faithful are requested to demonstrate solidarity and understanding for their former Pastor, providing punctual assistance consistent with the principles of charity and justice, in accordance with canon 402 para. 2 of the Code of Canon Law.
Art. 5: In some particular circumstances, the competent Authorities may deem it necessary to request that a Bishop present his resignation from pastoral office, after informing him of the cause for this request, and listening closely to his reasons, in fraternal dialogue.
Art. 6: Cardinals serving as Heads of the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia and other Cardinals holding office by pontifical nomination are also required, upon the completion of their seventy-fifth year of life, to present their resignation from office to the pope, who, after full consideration, will proceed.
Bishop Coyne became a last minute candidate, though he probably should have been on the slate from the start. He was elected November 11, during the annual Fall Plenary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore.
Bishop Coyne’s position is important in two ways. The head of the U.S. bishops’ Communications Committee has the responsibility to steer church communications and no bishop is more up to the task than the blogging bishop. Bishop Coyne works the real world of the Internet. He doesn't have a staffer do it for him. He does it himself.
The position of chair also puts him on the U.S. bishops’ Administrative Committee, where he can bring new life and thought and an awareness of what concerns people who frequent the Internet, our younger, up-and-coming church.
The election of media loving Cardinal Timothy Dolan as chair of the Pro-Life Activities Committee has much significance for the church in the public eye too. Carrying the pro-life message from the Archdiocese of New York, which is ensconced in the world's news media capital, enhances the bully pulpit already inherent in the New York Archdiocese. Cardinal Dolan will have no trouble bringing the church's pro-life message to the airwaves. He also is savvy enough to express the message in the pastoral terms asked for by Pope Francis.
Mary Ann Walsh, R.S.M., is a member of the Northeast Community of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas and U.S. Correspondent for America.
Correction, November 11, 2013: An earlier draft did not make clear that the citation above is an excerpt of a Vatican document.