In a town as Catholic as St. Louis, it’s only natural that in the transition time between archbishops the speculation about whom the pope might assign as the city’s next Catholic leader runs rampant.
The truth is, no one knows who will succeed Archbishop Raymond Burke, and anyone who has any information about the specifics of the search is bound by a vow of silence - called a papal secret. A papal secret is a secret - if you’re a priest or bishop - you likely don’t want to let out of the bag.
Those who keep a close eye on this kind of thing rarely stick out their necks to offer actual candidates’ names to inquiring reporters, or, when they do name names, they take pains to ensure their own remains off the record.
What is always unclear is where prospective candidates’ names surface to begin with, since only a handful of people actually know which bishops’ names are in the envelope sent from the office of the apostolic nuncio - the pope’s U.S. diplomat - on to the Vatican.
In recent years blogs have ramped up the energy surrounding the speculation game, and this year - and this archdiocese - is no exception. One local blog has used cryptic photo clues to have its readers guess at the guesses.
The most recent blog darling for the position of Burke’s successor is Bishop Salvatore Matano, who leads the Burlington diocese (which happens to be the only diocese in Vermont.) Matano, 62, is a Rhode Island native who got the Vermont job three years ago.
Matano is also a former classmate of Burke’s - the two studied together in Rome in the early 1980s. That’s a connection many commentators have seen as the common thread among the speculees (new word I just made up meaning those about whom something is speculated.)
Giving more credence than most to the Matano speculation was a post by Rocco Palmo on his popular “Whispers in the Loggia” blog. Palmo is well-sourced and his blog is followed by those both inside and outside the church.
Common wisdom is that because of Burke’s new and prominent position as head of the Vatican’s supreme court, he will have Pope Benedict XVI’s ear on his successor in a way that many outgoing bishops do not. In an interview with the Burlington Free Press, Palmo offerered some recent history as guide:
Palmo cited as an example the 2006 decision to replace San Francisco Archbishop William Levada with his longtime friend, Utah Bishop George Niederauer, after Levada became a cardinal at the Vatican.
Speculation will continue until the morning (St. Louis time) when Benedict finally reveals his selection. St. Louis is a relatively large diocese and word is it won’t be long before the pope makes his announcement. Until then, the guessing game will continue.