Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Arise, @ArchChuck – Indy’s “Adopted Son,” Thompson Inherits Brickyard Church

(Updated with presser feed, Installation date, etc.)

True story: amid the frigid splendor of Cardinal Joe Tobin’s installation at Newark in early January, this scribe hitched a couple bus rides with the amply sized Indiana delegation, which made the trek to see their former boss to his new home.

Along the way, the shop’s daily mailbag essentially came to life as, at one point or another, what seemed like the bulk of the Hoosiers on-board leaned in, warmly besieging a reporter with just one question:

“Who’s coming to Indy?”

Especially in these days of a process that’s anything but linear, one can see how the chips will fall only so far in advance…. Still, even for the usual caginess that comes with the turf, it was even more impossible to be fully candid with them, at least in words – for most of the trips, the already-tipped frontrunner happened to be sitting at my side. And now, he is indeed the Pope’s choice… or, as some might put it, the “Heir to the Joe.”

In the least surprising major move Stateside Catholicism has seen in some time, at Roman Noon this Tuesday, Francis named Bishop Charles Thompson of Evansville (right) as the Seventh Archbishop of Indianapolis, the move coming smack in the midst of the USCCB's June Meeting in the city, whose public sessions start tomorrow.

At 56, the Louisville native – an established social media presence known always and everywhere as “Chuck” – becomes the nation’s youngest metropolitan, ending the nearly five-year run over which the distinction was held by Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland, the last provincial head named by Benedict XVI. Yet perhaps most poignantly, having been a spiritual son and protege of two archbishops – Louisville’s late Tom Kelly OP and Indy’s retired Daniel Buechlein OSB – over his 30 years of priesthood, it seems no accident that Thompson has risen to the rank himself.

Wiry and easygoing with a self-described "social justice" bent dating to his teens, the archbishop-elect was said to be "anxious, but ready" for today's rollout, according to a Whispers op informed of the appointment.

A resolutely "Francis man" among a bench whose extremes tend to make disproportionate noise, Thompson outlined the pontiff's imprint on his vision at considerable length in a 2016 pastoral letter to the Evansville church, a text built around the Pope's imperative of "missionary discipleship." And speaking of emphases, that the Indy pick recently took to issuing a rare public message from a Catholic prelate to his local Muslim community – "our brothers and sisters in Abraham" – to mark Islam's penitential month of Ramadan... well, it didn't hurt.

Despite his roots in Marion County – the heart of Kentucky’s centuries-old Catholic mecca, the celebrated “Holy Land” – the archbishop-elect has long been as steeped as any “outsider” could be in the life of Indiana’s principal church, now home to some 300,000 members.

For starters, Thompson's hometown lies just across the Ohio River from the Indy archdiocese’s mostly Protestant, sparsely populated southern tier… but in particular, the fold he now inherits was his home as a seminarian in formation at St Meinrad – the source of his bond with Buechlein, then its rector – before returning to the Benedictine house in the early 2000s as a professor of the canons, juggling that role with a Louisville pastorate (with the then-retired Kelly as his "parochial vicar") and Chancery work as vicar-general to Archbishop Joseph Kurtz. Upon his 2011 appointment to Evansville – a heavily rural outpost in Indiana’s southwest corner – that familiarity was only burnished given his seat on the Hoosiers’ provincial bench and the strong history of coordination among the state’s bishops on common causes.

All this goes to underscore the backstory and needs which framed today’s move – much of the paradigm reportedly set by Tobin himself. On one critical front, the move toward a “young” choice speaks to a premium on stability; upon his installation, “Archbishop Chuck” will be the fourth prelate to lead the Indy church in the last six years – named in 2011 due to Buechlein’s declining health, then-auxiliary Chris Coyne served a year as apostolic administrator with full powers until Tobin’s late 2012 arrival from Rome, then was quickly whisked home to New England as head of Vermont’s statewide diocese of Burlington.

At the same time, a significant ongoing concern within the archdiocese has been the apparent balkanization between the population core within the see city’s metro area and feelings of neglect in the south, which Thompson’s experience almost uniquely equips him to bridge. Most of all, however, the repeated turnover of leadership and other pressing challenges – among them a parish planning effort begun by the now-cardinal – will now be remedied by an extraordinarily smooth and easy transition, with little to no time needed in terms of learning curve. And along with it, the incoming archbishop brings a decent knowledge of Spanish, an ever more necessary skill given his new charge’s growing Latino bloc.

As first reported here yesterday, a 10am Eastern presser has been called at the Chancery – here, the livefeed for on-demand video of the event... and with it, the text of the archbishop-elect's first statement:

Per the norms of the canons, Thompson must be installed within two months of today’s move. With this pick, Francis has now named a quarter of the 32 Stateside Latin archbishops.

(SVILUPPO: Per the archdiocese, the Installation is scheduled for Friday, 28 July – and, with the archbishop-elect now slated to head to Rome to receive his Pallium at month's end alongside two other prelates with Hoosier ties, will be invested with the metropolitan gear at the same time.)

Developing – more to come.