The following comes from an April 27 Whispers in the Loggia blog post by Rocco Palmer:
And all of a sudden, everything was filled: at Roman Noon this Monday, in the fourth move on a US diocese within the last six days, the Pope named Bishop John Wester of Salt Lake City as the twelfth archbishop of Santa Fe, granting Archbishop Michael Sheehan’s retirement after 22 years of rebuilding New Mexico’s 320,000-member marquee church.
Nearing the end of his three-year term as chair of USCCB Communications, the 65 year-old archbishop-elect had been the most frequently-mentioned Anglo among the potential choices for Santa Fe. A smooth, low-key conciliator in the tradition of his hometown church of San Francisco, Wester’s elevation to an equal-sized, but more prestigious charge given its pallium – given the attributes of the “Land of Enchantment,” quite possibly the most coveted appointment in the West – clearly bears the fingerprints of his mentor, Cardinal William Levada, as the onetime archbishop by the Bay-turned-CDF chief approaches his final year on the membership of the Congregation for Bishops before his 80th birthday in June 2016.
In succession to the eminently-regarded Sheehan, the nod represents a keen mandate for stability and continuity in the life of one of Stateside Catholicism’s most historic and picturesque outposts. In that, it is a complete turnabout from the circumstances of the last Santa Fe appointment in 1993, when the East Texas-born prelate was parachuted in to clean up a moral and administrative disaster following revelations that his predecessor, Archbishop Robert Sanchez, had engaged in sexual misconduct with young women.
The lead storyline of Wester’s near-decade in Salt Lake has been an extraordinary level of growth that’s seen the diocese’s Catholic population roughly quadrupled over the last two decades, now surpassing 300,000. As the bulk of the growth has sprung from a boom in the state’s Hispanic population, the succession to the new archbishop will return even more pointedly to the fault-line that marked Wester’s own transfer to the heart of Mormon Country: the tension in the trenches between LDS and Catholics in ministering to the Latino influx. While the two faiths enjoy a remarkably strong relationship at the level of their respective leaderships – a trait dating to the hard-scrabble early days of Utah Catholicism – the delicacy of the situation at the grassroots was understood to have nixed any movement for the naming of a Hispanic to the post last time.
Ergo, whether the preference for diplomacy can again overcome an even starker demographic reality will arguably make for the key question of the coming Salt Lake appointment. On another key front, Wester’s employed the church’s helm in one of the nation’s most conservative states to advocate several counter-cultural positions in the local debate. Entering a charged fray at many statehouses in the post-Obamacare era, in an editorial last year, he urged the Utah legislature to support the local expansion of Medicaid, citing the church’s pro-life message.
Elsewhere, the diocese joined the LDS leadership in backing the recent landmark state law barring discrimination against gays and lesbians, while Wester blasted Gov. Gary Herbert in March for signing a bill allowing the continued use of firing squads in executions in lieu of lethal injection. Named an auxiliary of San Francisco in 1997 under then-Archbishop Levada, the archbishop-elect is the second protege of the “godfather” of the US church’s progressive wing – the SF emeritus John Raphael Quinn – to be given a bigger berth in recent months, alongside Bishop Robert McElroy, who was installed as head of the million-member San Diego diocese earlier this month.