After 2 years, Catholics on PEI are still waiting for a new bishop
Catholics on PEI have waited nearly two years to find out who will be appointed bishop of the Charlottetown diocese, which includes all 51 parishes on the island.
Bishop Richard Grecco retired in March 2021, when he turned 75 — the mandatory retirement age for bishops. Grecco also started chemotherapy around this time.
Father Brian MacDougall has been the administrator of the diocese ever since. And he’s surprised he’s been doing it for so long.
“To be honest, I was thinking eight to ten months at the most. But here I am. It’s almost two years,” he said.
“When a bishop retires like Bishop Grecco, they are often asked to stay until a bishop is appointed … but with Bishop Grecco he had battled cancer,” he said. “So when he retired, it was a full retirement.”
MacDougall is a busy man.
He is also the full-time pastor of three churches that make up what the diocese calls the Holy Trinity Pastoral Unit: St Theresa, The Little Flower in Morell, St Peter’s in St Peter’s Bay, and St Lawrence O’Toole in Green meadows .
These are the parishes where he celebrates Mass and performs baptisms, weddings and funerals.
“Overseer and caretaker role”
As administrator of the Charlottetown Diocese, MacDougall said he is looking into any issues that might arise at the diocesan level – but he is not allowed to start new initiatives.
“It’s sort of an overseer and steward in the absence of a bishop.”
Right now, he said, things are on hold because there are many things only a bishop can do.
I’ve been asked literally hundreds of times. It could even be over 1,000 times. “Father Brian, when are we getting a new bishop?” – Father Brian MacDougall
“For example, we will have fewer and fewer priests. So things like congregational merging of different groups of parishes and sometimes maybe closures of parishes,” he said.
“That’s really something that ultimately only a bishop can do, unless there’s some kind of, you know, urgent emergency… and it needs to be addressed.”
MacDougall said people are very curious about who will get the job.
“I’ve been asked literally hundreds of times. It could have been over 1,000 times, ‘Father Brian, when are we going to have a new bishop?’ and ‘Why is this taking so long?’. And I tell them, ‘Well, it’s underway.’”
“I have no inside information as to when exactly that will be. Like all priests and people of the diocese, I hope it will be sooner rather than later, although it is not uncommon for it to be a few years before a bishop is appointed.”
The size of PEI can be a factor
Robert Dennis, chair of UPEI’s Department of Religious Studies, said two years is a long time to wait for a new bishop, but that probably has something to do with the size of the island.
“Bigger places like Toronto would get a bishop right away,” Dennis said.
“It makes sense that the places with the larger populations or with more urgent needs would receive episcopal appointments immediately. Unfortunately, that’s very important for us,” he said.
“But in the context of about a billion Catholics in the world, PEI is a pretty small place. So we have to wait more like other smaller places would.”
And he said there may be additional factors holding things up, including COVID-19.
And then there is the process itself.
The process can be long
Dennis said someone referred to as the “apostolic nuncio” — essentially the Pope’s ambassador to Canada — has a role in collecting names and information.
But he said there is a new person in this position who may need time to become familiar with the clergy and bishops in Canada.
They want someone young enough to bring some energy to the job. – Michael Swan
“The Nuncio would work with names from across Canada. And of those names, for every single vacancy, he would send three … to an office in Rome called the Congregation for Bishops,” he said.
“That office would then look at those names. And then the head of that office, the prefect – who until recently was Cardinal Marc Ouellet of Quebec City – would make a recommendation to the Pope.
Dennis said the pope can appoint anyone he wants but usually relies on the prefect’s advice.
“They would then relay that information through the Nuncio, who would call the chosen person and ask if they would accept that appointment. If they do, they would be set apart as bishop of this place,” Dennis said.
He said he thought it possible that a new bishop would be appointed within a year.
“I’m making that assumption because I think it would be extremely abnormal to go three years,” he said.
“There are other dioceses of comparable size — maybe not in terms of geography, but in terms of population — somewhere like Hurst, Ontario, which recently received a bishop and the resignation of their previous bishop came about six months before PEI.”
As Associate Editor of The Catholic Register in Toronto, Michael Swan keeps a close eye on matters within the Church.
He said there are a few things to consider when considering a new bishop.
“You know, you don’t hire a 74-year-old for a job that he has to retire from at 75. he said.
“So you want someone young enough to bring some energy to the job. Many other dioceses in Canada are facing similar situations,” he said.
The planning is in progress
Father Brian MacDougall said he hoped they would hear it soon.
“I’ve kept saying to people who’ve been asking me lately, ‘Look, it’s been almost two years, so sure to heaven that one of these days the news will come down and the announcement of Rome will be made, and then we have a committee that’s going to set out to plan the whole process,'” he said.
“If they are already bishops, I think they have two months to get into the diocese. And when it’s a priest who needs to be ordained bishop, it usually takes two to four months before he’s officially installed. “
In response to an email inquiry from CBC News, the Secretariat of the Apostolic Nunciature to Canada said the process of appointing a new bishop “always pays attention to the situation of the diocese and may take more or less time depending on the number of circumstances.” can circumstances.
“In each case, however, the process is deliberately kept confidential in order to relieve the parties involved of any public pressure that might impede a well-considered appointment.”