By DEIRDRE C. MAYS
CHARLESTON — Bishop David B. Thompson has been elected by the College of Consultors to serve as the administrator for the Diocese of Charleston until the installation of Bishop Robert J. Baker, S.T.D., Sept. 29.
The consultors met and voted in a secret ballot July 20 at May Forest, the mother house of the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy on James Island in Bishop England Hall.
While visiting an infirmed priest at Bon Secours-St. Francis Xavier Hospital, Bishop Thompson was paged by Msgr. Robert Kelly, the senior consultor. By phone, he was informed of the unanimous vote.
“It’s nice to be elected administrator when I am ministering to one of my priests,” Bishop Thompson said.
Th Bishop accepted the position and made a profession of faith in the mother house chapel.
“It’s a historic and necessary event and it is commanded by the code of canon law,” he said. “It is historic for me because it took place at May Forest in Bishop England Hall, the hall dedicated to our first Bishop who brought the O.L.M. sisters to our diocese.”
As administrator, his duties will be that of the Bishop of Charleston.
“With the vacancy of the see, the administrator will not make major, far reaching decisions … sede vacante nihil innovetur,” he said.
The consultors are priests appointed by the bishop who act as his inner circle, explained Msgr. Kelly. According to canon law, there must be a minimum of six and a maximum of 12 priests. When the see is vacant, as in the case of Bishop Thompson’s retirement, the presiding officer of the diocese convokes the College of Consultors to elect an administrator within eight days of the Vatican’s accepting his resignation. In Charleston, the presiding officer, or senior consultor, is the oldest ordained member of the board. At least seven consultors must be present for a valid quorum. Ballots are done in secret and nominations cannot be divulged before or after the vote. The majority vote rules. Until the election takes place, the senior consultor is responsible to lead the diocese.
“Nothing stops,” Msgr. Kelly said. “The continuity is great.”
The Diocese of Charleston’s consultors are: Msgr. James A. Carter, vicar general; Father Peter Clarke; Father Michael De Antonio; Msgr. Thomas Duffy; Msgr. Thomas Evatt; Msgr. Christopher Lathem; Msgr. Leigh Lehocky; Father Michael McCafferty; Msgr. Charles Rowland; Father Joseph Wahl, C.O.; and Father Paul Williams, O.F.M.
Father Lawrence Wrenn, of the Archdiocese of Hartford in Connecticut, was also brought in to act as canonist. Father Wrenn is an internationally known canon lawyer who serves as a judge on the tribunal at the Archdiocese of Hartford. From 1965-83 he was a judicial vicar in that diocese, and served as judicial vicar on the court of appeals for the Province of Hartford from 1983-96. The province includes three dioceses in Connecticut and one in Rhode Island. He is acquainted with the Diocese of Charleston through Msgr. Kelly, with whom he was ordained in Hartford in 1953.
“Bishop Thompson was eager that he be present and lend credence to what we are doing,” Msgr. Kelly said. “In certain elections, the legal aspects can become complex. We brought a canon lawyer from outside the diocese in case any technical questions arose.”
Bishop Thompson also made the suggestion so he could retain complete neutrality since he was a candidate.
Father Wrenn explained why the Vatican does not allow the residing bishop to remain in control of a diocese until the new one is installed.
“Since Bishop Thompson had turned 75 and turned in his resignation, they chose the usual approach,” he said. “Once his resignation was accepted the see is considered vacant, and once vacant, the consultors have the right to elect an administrator. Before a new bishop is appointed or ordained and installed, a year could pass. This was just standard procedure.”
Bishop Thompson’s letter to the Pope
July 20, 1999
Most Holy Father:
In accordance with the prescriptions of Canon 422 of the Code of Canon Law, I hereby respectfully inform your Holiness that on July 20, 1999, in Bishop England Hall at the mother house of the Sisters of Charity of Our Lady of Mercy, Charleston, South Carolina, the College of Consultors of the Diocese of Charleston elected me DIOCESAN ADMINISTRATOR to serve in that capacity until September 29, 1999, when the Most Reverend Robert J. Baker, S.T.D., will have taken possession of the See of Charleston as its twelfth bishop. I accepted this office.
After my election, in the chapel of the aforesaid mother house and in the presence of the College of Consultors, I took the required oath of office for diocesan administrators, placing my hand on a book of the holy gospels. Further, I witnessed certification of my election by the appointed tellers, with this document’s being consigned to the diocesan archives.
To you, Most Holy Father, I pledge my total fidelity and obedience in my responsibilities throughout the length of my incumbency as Diocesan Administrator of the Church of Charleston, the while reverencing your sacred person and assuring you of my abiding prayers.
Most Reverend David B. Thompson
Administrator, Diocese of Charleston