Recent episcopal appointments by Pope Francis are proving fascinating.
In England, recently Bishop Malcolm McMahon O.P. has been promoted to Liverpool; Fr Robert Byrne Cong.Orat. has been appointed auxiliary bishop in Birmingham; and today it was announced that Fr Alan Williams S.M. has been appointed Bishop of Brentwood. In Australia this past Saturday Fr Columba Macbeth-Green O.S.P.P.E. has been appointed bishop of Wilcannia-Forbes, a vast and relatively empty diocese in outback Australia that has been vacant for 5 years.
In Australia especially, but also in England and Wales to a lesser degree, Religious bishops have not been common in the last century or so. In England the exception has been the tradition of having a Benedictine or two among the local hierarchy. Not unreasonably, nor surprisingly, episcopal appointments tend to be made from the ranks of the diocesan clergy. But for these two conferences Pope Francis seems willing to appoint Religious (or quasi-Religious in the case of Oratorians) to vacancies, and not necessarily from headlining congregations. Fr Williams, a Marist Father, and Fr Macbeth-Green, a Pauline Father, represent congregations that are not normally vescovabili in their respective countries.
More insightful commentators than I might be able to read the message here, if there is one. It may be merely that Pope Francis is not going to be tied to the prevailing pool of candidates and is being far more zealous for merit. It could also be that, give his strictures against careerism in the ranks of the clergy, he is looking in typically non-careerist pastures for new shepherds.
Sydney is vacant; will the Dominican Bishop Fisher be appointed there? In northern Sydney, Broken Bay, a wealthy but dispirited diocese with a drought of vocations, may well land a Religious bishop, and perhaps from a less predictable order or congregation.
Also interesting, if possibly inconsequential, is that Bishops-elect Williams S.M. and Macbeth-Green O.S.P.P.E. are both currently rectors of Marian shrines. Just saying…