What’s next for Harrisburg Diocese?

Photographs and memories were the order of the day at Harrisburg's Diocesan headquarters in Lower Paxton Township.

Employees gathered and assembled pictures of Bishop Joseph McFadden, who died unexpectedly Thursday morning in Philadelphia;

From first grader Joe McFadden wearing a suit in black and white and a pre-priesthood McFadden in polyester checkered pants as a basketball coach, to Monsignor Joe McFadden in his religious, red garb and a dark-haired and large-glasses McFadden surrounded by family – most notably his sister who is a sister; an Immaculate Heart of Mary nun – a life well-lived is portrayed in photos that span several feet of display case.

But employees and parishioners are now trying to picture life without their leader, the tenth bishop of Harrisburg. What now?

“The scary thing is, when you get a new bishop you don't know how's this gonna work?,” said Father Ed Malesic, a longtime priest in the Diocese and midstate native. “What's he gonna be like? What's his agenda gonna be?”

Malesic is one of ten midstate priests chosen by Bishop McFadden for the Diocese's College of Consultors. This group will meet Monday to begin the process of selecting an administrator, likely a local priest who will run the day-to-day operations of the diocese until a new bishop is installed.

“They (College of Consultors) are actually overseeing the diocese right now, so if there was a crisis they'd be called together to make a decision as a group of priests,” Malesic said.

The next bishop of Harrisburg, its 11th, will be named after a lengthy and somewhat mysterious process. Observers say it will likely take eight months to a year before McFadden's successor is named.

Malesic explained that several influential priests in the region, like Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, and other Pennsylvania bishops will suggest names to Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Vigano, who is basically the Vatican's ambassador to the United States and based in Washington, D.C.

Vigano will take those suggestions and possibly combine them with his own preferences and create a list of three names. He will note his favorite and send the list to the Congregation of Bishops in Rome. They will consult and investigate those three men and let their favorite be known and pass the list on to newly installed Pope Francis.

“The pope is the pope,” said Malesic. “He could pick one of those three, the recommendation, or he could pick the other two, not highest recommendation, or somebody else entirely. It's up to him.”

It could be a familiar face, like William Walterscheid, a longtime local priest who is now an auxiliary bishop in Pittsburgh.

Or it could be a complete unknown.

But there is one certainty: right now, nobody has a clue.

“You can try and figure it out in so many different ways,” Malesic said. “And you never will.”

An administrator will be chosen much more quickly. In fact, he must be chosen within eight days of McFadden's passing. So by next Friday, the Harrisburg Diocese will have a temporary leader managing its affairs.

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