BALLARAT Catholics will learn the identity of their new bishop tonight as Pope Benedict XVI prepares to make the appointment at 8pm.
The 8th Bishop of Ballarat will be named on the Vatican’s official news website at midday Rome time with the Pope at his summer residence, Castle Gandolfo.
Retiring Bishop Peter Connors will become the diocesan administrator until the November 16 ordination of the new bishop at St Patrick’s Cathedral.
The appointment remains a well kept secret, with speculation suggesting a local priest or a Melbourne-based bishop could soon lead the Ballarat Diocese.
Catholic commentator Paul Collins said Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne Peter Elliot could be considered for the appointment, as could Bungaree Parish priest and educator Fr Shane Mackinlay and Ballarat Liturgical Commission chief Fr Justin Driscoll.
The leader of the Australian Redemptorists order, Fr Paul Bird, is also thought to be a candidate with as many as six Australian bishops set to be appointed in coming months.
“Really it remains anyone’s guess at this point,” Dr Collins said, “but there are some very good candidates to follow the strong leadership of Bishop Connors.”
Senior clerics led by Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart submit three names to the Papal Nuncio to Australia, Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto.
Investigations then take place into the candidate’s suitability for the appointment before the shortlist, called “a terna”, is given to the Holy Father.
“Those names are sent to Rome, and the Vatican then does another search through records to see if the priests named have said anything too radical or anything which might be too critical of the Vatican,” Dr Collins said.
Dr Collins said a local priest could make an easier transition into the job, ahead of expected criticism of the Diocese as part of a Victorian parliamentary inquiry into clergy sexual abuse.
“Bishop Connors has kept the Diocese afloat through very difficult times and the next person coming is not going to have it any easier,” Dr Collins said.