Choice of new auxiliary bishops under way


THIS week marks the deadline for priests of the Dublin diocese to return their forms containing the names of the men they would like to see fill the two vacant posts as auxiliary bishops of Dublin.

All Dublin diocesan priests, plus order priests who hold parish or diocesan positions, have in recent months received an invitation from Archbishop Desmond Connell asking them to write in three names on this form, in order of their choice. Several superiors of Dublin based women's religious orders have also received the form.

The posts are those left empty by the retirement on health grounds of Bishop Dermot O'Mahony and the move to Limerick by Bishop Donal Murray to succeed the late Bishop Jeremiah Newman.

Several priests said this week they expected there would be a poor response to the archbishop's invitation because many priests particularly those of a more liberal outlook, saw little point in expressing an opinion which they expected to be largely ignored by the Papal Nuncio, the archbishop and their advisers.

One priest said he did not know a single one of his colleagues who had returned the form. The form is sent out "under the pontifical secret", which means that priests are not supposed to discuss its contents with anyone.

However, another priest thought the response might be better than when the subject of consultation was a future archbishop, since the Papal Nuncio is more likely to listen to priests' preferences for the much less powerful position of auxiliary.

After the forms are studied the Nuncio may carry out a second secret round of consultations with selected priests and "lay people of outstanding wisdom", in the words of canon law. In recent years in particular this has often included people from conservative groups like the Knights of Columbanus and Opus Dei.

The four names most frequently mentioned as likely auxiliary bishops are Mgr Alex Stenson and Mgr John Wilson, respectively the diocesan chancellor and the head of its finance committee; Father Dermot Lane, the parish priest of Balally, a leading theologian who is president of the Mater Dei Institute of Education; and Mgr Raymond Field, head chaplain to the Defence Forces.

Father David Weakham, the Carmelite parish priest of Knocklyon, has also been mentioned, although his chances may be lessened by the fact that the last auxiliary appointed, Bishop Fiachra O Ceallaigh, was also an order priest.

Mgr Stenson is a long serving senior administrator and canon lawyer who played a central role in dealing with recent clerical scandals.

Mgr Wilson is known to be close to Archbishop Connell, and Mgr Field is a confidant of his senior auxiliary, Bishop Eamonn Walsh, an influential voice in the diocese's affairs. Father Lane is chairman of the diocese's council of priests; has been prominent in its new consultative women's forums; and is believed to be a member of the archbishop's "crisis committee" for dealing with emergencies like clerical sex abuse revelations.