When historians assess the impact of a pope’s leadership on the life of the Church, they often review his public image and speeches, his engagement with political leaders, and the internal policies he promulgated, upheld, or modified.
It would be easy to miss the impact of a pope’s episcopal appointments — but folly to ignore them.
As any pope does, Pope Francis has shaped and directed the Church through his episcopal appointments — moves which will help chose his successor, and set direction in the Church even beyond the tenure of his pontificate.
To date, Pope Francis has appointed a majority of the voting age cardinals who will select the next pope. And closer to home, much of the American episcopate now bears a Pope Francis stamp. This is particularly true of auxiliary bishops.
According to data from CARA - the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate - there were 78 active auxiliary bishops in the US during 2022. Seventy-two auxiliary bishops have been consecrated since the election of Pope Francis, though 11 of those 72 have since gone on to be consecrated diocesan bishops.
This means that more than 75% of current auxiliary bishops were consecrated during Pope Francis’s papacy, as compared to just more than 60% of diocesan bishops.
Where has he appointed them?
The Pillar takes a look.
What is an auxiliary bishop?
The function of auxiliary bishop dates back in the Church to the 1500s, though its definition and scope has changed over the centuries.
An auxiliary bishop is consecrated to serve as a deputy to a diocesan bishop or archbishop, because of some situation in which a diocese would benefit from more than one bishop in the area. The auxiliary is generally appointed as vicar general or to another senior leadership position in his diocese.
Customarily, auxiliary bishops are consecrated as bishops of a “titular see,” that is a diocese which no longer exists. (Historically, many of these titular sees are ones which ceased to exist as historically Christian areas of North Africa, the Middle East, and parts of Europe were subjected to Muslim conquest during the Middle ages.)
Auxiliaries by the numbers
Perhaps unsurprisingly, 2013 saw the fewest new auxiliary bishops consecrated in the US, with just two.
Bishop Robert Coyle’s appointment as an auxiliary bishop was announced on February 11th, the same day which Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation, effective at the end of the month. Bishop Coyle was consecrated a bishop on April 25th, 2013, thus putting his consecration within Pope Francis’s pontificate.
The first US auxiliary bishop selected during Pope Francis’s papacy to be consecrated was Bishop Andrew Cozzens, who was appointed an auxiliary bishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis on October 11 and consecrated December 9, 2013.
2017 marked the year with the most auxiliaries consecrated, with 14 bishops consecrated to serve in nine different dioceses.
Covid did not initially slow the consecration of new bishops, with five auxiliaries who had been appointed prior to shutdowns being consecrated in June and July of 2020 and four more who were appointed later in the year being consecrated in the fall.
But whether due to the pandemic or other reasons, 2021 was the lightest full year for auxiliary consecrations, with only two new auxiliary bishops in the U.S.
2023 is already shaping up to be at least average, with three new auxiliary bishops consecrated to date and two more who have been appointed but have not yet been consecrated.
Naturally, the dioceses which have received the most auxiliaries in the last 10 years have been among the larger dioceses in the U.S.
The Archdiocese of New York, which in terms of Catholic population is the second largest in the U.S., has seen the most auxiliaries consecrated during Pope Francis’s papacy, with a total of seven.
The Archdiocese of Chicago, which has the third largest Catholic population in the U.S., came in second, with five auxiliaries consecrated.
San Bernardino, with 1.37 million Catholics, is the diocese with the largest Catholic population which does not have any active auxiliary bishops. San Bernardino's last auxiliary bishop retired in 2015 at the age of 75.
Like San Bernardino, the Dioceses of Fort Worth and Sacramento have no auxiliaries, and more than one million Catholics.
The Archdiocese of Los Angeles – the largest U.S. diocese by population – has only two auxiliaries to assist Archbishop Jose Gomez in ministering to 4 million Catholics.
Auxiliary bishop Edward Clark retired in 2022 upon reaching the age of 75, and auxiliary bishop David O’Connell was murdered earlier this year.
If you're looking for the most unusual piece of trivia about recent U.S. auxiliary bishops, here it is: There is one U.S. auxiliary who is an archbishop.
Archbishop Paul Russell was appointed in May 2022 an auxiliary in the Archdiocese of Detroit. But Russell's title dates back to his service as apostolic nuncio to Turkey and Turkmenistan: In 2016, Russell was made the titular archbishop of Novi, a titular see which was located in Dalmatia.
While Russell is the only archbishop auxiliary in the U.S., he is not presently in ministry – the auxiliary archbishop stepped back from public ministry in August 2022, when he was accused of sexually abusing a minor in 1989 and 1990, when he was a priest of Boston.
The archbishop has denied the allegation.
'The Pillar' covers news you won't read anywhere else. We do it intelligently and reliably, because our subscribers know good journalism is worth paying for. So subscribe today – or upgrade your subscription!
Editor's note: This analysis was updated after publication to reflect some omissions from our data set, including the 11 auxiliary bishops consecrated since 2013 who have since gone on to become diocesan ordinaries. Our analysis initially made use of a list of new episcopal ordinations compiled by GCatholic.org, but because bishops were listed by their current titles, we missed those who had since become diocesan bishops. We have now expanded the analysis based on the transcription of episcopal appointments from the Vatican’s daily Bulletino hosted by Catholic-Hierarchy.org We regret the initial omission.