Bishop-designate Michael G. Duca
Specifically, does Bishop Muench remain in charge of the Diocese of Baton Rouge until Aug. 24, when Bishop-designate Duca is scheduled to be installed at St. Joseph Cathedral? Or does Bishop-Designate Duca take charge from afar?
Practically, not much changes for Bishop Muench, according to Father Jamin David, author of “Something Old or Something New?” which was his Canon Law thesis examining the administrative processes in place when a bishop leaves a diocese.
Canonically, Father David noted several changes were triggered when Pope Francis accepted Bishop Muench’s resignation letter at noon Rome time on June 26. Bishop Muench, as required by canon law, had sent in his letter on Dec. 28, the day of his 75th birthday.
“We have a new bishop. At the time (Bishop Muench’s) resignation letter was accepted, the see (diocese) became vacant, if not for a millisecond,” said Father David, who is a judge for the Tribunal for the Diocese of Baton Rouge. “Also at that time, the Congregation of Bishops, acting on behalf of Pope Francis, based on powers given them by the Holy Father, appointed Bishop Muench Apostolic Administrator for the Diocese of Baton Rouge.
“What that practically means between June 26 and August 24 is Bishop Muench has most of the same powers given to a diocesan bishop for operations and for the benefit of the faithful of a diocese.”
However, those powers are not limitless. According to the Code of Canon Law, the outgoing bishop can implement no action that would “hurt the new bishop’s decision making ability in the future,” Father David said. “There can be no innovations.
“I think an administrator would be wise not to appoint new pastors, not to close parishes, not to harm any future decision making for the new bishop.”
However, he did say Bishop Muench will have to make decisions to keep the diocese operating as normal, and those decisions might include appointing administrators at church parishes where a pastor is either retiring or in the case of death. He added that one option might even be transferring priests to attend to the sacramental needs of the people of God.
“Really, (Bishop Muench’s) job is to keep the ship afloat for the next two months,” Father David said.
He added that in the event of a natural disaster, such as a hurricane or a flood similar to what happened in 2016, Bishop Muench has the full power to enable all of the organs of organization of the diocese, including Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge to function in recovery efforts.
Regarding the transition in the Diocese of Shreveport, Father David said that diocese has “lost a bishop.” Similar to Bishop Muench, Bishop-designate Duca also has some limitations, but Father David is uncertain if the incoming bishop has been appointed Apostolic Administrator, which has some canonical meaning.
On Aug. 24, the see (in Shreveport) will no longer have Bishop-designate Duca as an administrator and another administrator will have to be elected, likely by their College of Consultors, until the Holy See appoints a new bishop.
“What’s also interesting is because the see (in Baton Rouge) was vacant for a millisecond, when a see becomes vacant, certain people lose their former titles,” Father David said.
He explained the diocese technically no longer has a vicar general but Father Tom Ranzino will remain the moderator of the curia, which is a title he also has had in addition to vicar general.
“That makes some difference canonically because the vicar general typically takes the place of the bishop or fulfills certain administrative functions of the bishop in his stead,” Father David said.
He added that there is no longer a presbyteral council because that council advises the bishop, and since, canonically speaking, Bishop Muench is no longer the bishop and Bishop-designate Duca has not taken canonical possession, there is no bishop for the council to advise.
However, Father David stressed that typically an incoming bishop reappoints those people to their former jobs, at least temporarily.
“I think that’s wise because it venerates the prior administration but at the same time these are the people most familiar with operations,,” he said. “Once the new bishop gets to see personalities and how the diocese functions, he can make the decisions he needs to about any future changes.”
Practically little changes for Bishop Muench, who can continue to install pastors in their new parishes, address issues of marriage dispensations, support pastors who might be changing Mass times, and even perform confirming the faithful.
“He still has the powers of a consecrated bishop but canonically does not have the administrative prerogatives afforded to a diocesan bishop,” Father David said.
He added Bishop Muench will continue to address many of the same issues he has been dealing with for quite some time, including a “stewardship of priestly resources and providing for pastoral needs in parishes.”