Farewell to the nuncio
Southern African Catholics will have noted with some sadness that the current apostolic nuncio to Pretoria, Archbishop James P Green, will leave this region to represent the Holy See in Peru.
Archbishop Green has made many friends since his arrival here almost exactly five years ago. In his first appointment as a nuncio, the American-born prelate has been accessible, friendly, gracious and impressively capable.
When he arrived in Pretoria in late 2006, he found a local Church that was frustrated with the slow process of filling vacant dioceses, and anxious about the succession of the many bishops who were about to reach retirement age.
In an editorial to welcome Archbishop Green, The Southern Cross noted that among the priorities our local Church leaders might wish to bring to the nuncio’s attention is the high number of vacant or soon to be vacant dioceses in Southern Africa.
At that point, six dioceses were vacant. Five years later, Archbishop Green has been involved in the appointment of 17 bishops in the Southern African region.
He departs with only two dioceses vacant: Port Elizabeth, after Bishop Michael Coleman’s sudden retirement, and Kokstad, after Archbishop William Slattery’s much applauded transfer to the archdiocese of Pretoria.
This means that more than half of our current bishops have been appointed during Archbishop Green’s tenure. Remarkably, many of them are still relatively young. The median age of our current episcopate is 60, with only three bishops 70 or over.
This means that the present conference will serve for an average of another 15 years. Only three diocesan bishops’Cardinal Wilfrid Napier of Durban, Bishop Zithulele Mvemve of Klerksdorp and Bishop Mogale Nkumishe of Polokwane will be required by canon law to submit their resignation within the next five years.
In short, the local Church now has a very stable episcopate.
Archbishop Green has been quite bold in making his nominations to the pope. Many of the appointments were unexpected and innovative.
One frequently voiced criticism, however, is that the present episcopate, about half of which is white, does not reflect the local Church’s demographic diversity. Some may respond that such considerations are secondary to finding the right man for the job. It is a question that might well be continued with Archbishop Green’s successor as papal representative.
There is no denying, however, that the local episcopate has gained a new vibrancy through the influx of new blood. With such a young conference of bishops – of the current 28 serving bishops, only ten have been in their position for longer than a decade will also come new ideas. We are confident that a fresh wind will invigorate the local Church.
It is also remarkable how well the new bishops have been received by the faithful in their dioceses, especially since many of them came from other dioceses (which can also be an advantage).
This, then, is Archbishop Green’s legacy: a stable episcopate of good men who can be trusted to take the local Church into the future.
And so we await the appointment of the new nuncio. When he arrives, he will encounter an episcopate that is in good shape. In terms of episcopal additions, the next nuncio may well turn his attention to the appointment of auxiliary bishops. At present, only Durban has an assistant bishop, but that need unquestionably exists in the archdioceses of Johannesburg and Cape Town.
As for Archbishop Green’s future, we have no doubt that Southern Africa will have served as a pivotal station in a bright career, as it has done in the past.
One previous nuncio even became a leading cardinal, the Australian Cardinal Edward Cassidy, who served here from 1979-84 and later was appointed president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity.
We cannot predict whether Archbishop Green will one day wear the red hat, but we should not be surprised to hear of him again.
In the interim, the local Church will in union thank Archbishop Green for a most fruitful time of service in Southern Africa, and bid him farewell with prayerful good wishes.