It's that time of year again -- preparing the official U.S. bishops statistics, this time for the media's consumption at the 2009 Fall General Assembly (Nov. 16-19) in Baltimore.
Given the "circle of life" equilibrium that follows the usual trickle of new appointments, reassignments, promotions, retirements and deaths, these numbers don't really fluctuate that much. But they did it enough to matter. And they've done it recently.
To review, there are currently 429 active and retired bishops in the United States.
Of these 258 are active bishops:
-- 5 Cardinal Archbishops
-- 29 Archbishops
-- 1 Coadjutor Archbishop
-- 153 Diocesan Bishops
-- 70 Auxiliary Bishops
And 171 are retired bishops:
-- 8 retired Cardinal Archbishops
-- 19 retired Archbishops
-- 94 retired Diocesan Bishops
-- 50 retired Auxiliary Bishops
The recent fluctuation in these figures has come almost entirely from the spate of bishops' appointments that have rolled out of Rome since early October.
To recap, on October 7, the pope accepted the retirement of Gaylord, Mich. Bishop Patrick Cooney and named Msgr. Bernard Hebda as his successor. This meant one new retired diocesan bishop, one new bishop overall and a net of zero in the number of active diocesan bishops.
On October 15, the pope named three brand new bishops, sending one to the vacant Diocese of Duluth, Minnesota, a second to replace retired Bishop Arthur Tafoya in Pueblo, Colorado, and a third to be auxiliary of Providence, Rhode Island. The end was result was one more retired bishop, one new auxiliary bishop, a net of one new diocesan bishop, and -- as said before -- three new bishops overall.
On October 19, the pope named Indianapolis pastor Father Paul Etienne the new bishop of Cheyenne, Wyoming, which has been vacant for some time. This was a gain of one active diocesan bishop and one bishop overall.
On October 21, the pope accepted the retirement of Boston auxiliary Bishop Francis Irwin, meaning one less active auxiliary and one more retired auxiliary overall.
On October 28, the pope named Joliet pastor Father Joseph Siegel an auxiliary bishop of his diocese, bringing the number of active auxiliaries back up by one and the total number of bishops up by one.
With the dust settled somewhat, this means that in the month of October, the U.S. bishops gained a whopping six new members. The U.S. bishops also mourned the loss of retired Wilmington Bishop Michael Saltarelli in October, meaning their total membership increased by five. Given the three retirements in October, it means their active membership went up by three.
Even though a number of these newly-appointees aren't even slated to be ordained bishops till after the new year, the prospect of six new bishops in just a month is an exciting sign of life in the U.S. Church.