….In Los Angeles as elsewhere, spring means confirmations, and in dioceses with auxiliary bishops they and the ordinary share the workload of administering the sacrament to children and young people. That is no small chore in Los Angeles which, with 4,350,000 Catholics and 238 parishes organized in five “pastoral regions,” is by far the country’s largest.

Bishop O’Connell’s death brought the number of active Los Angeles bishops to just three — Archbishop Gomez and two auxiliaries — Bishop Marc Trudeau and Bishop Alejandro Aclan. But Bishop Aclan is recovering from a stroke suffered last summer.

By contrast, the Archdiocese of Chicago (2,093,000 Catholics, 221 parishes) has eight active bishops — Cardinal Blase Cupich, the ordinary, and seven auxiliaries. Even the comparatively small Archdiocese of Washington (667,000 Catholics, 139 parishes and missions) has five active bishops — Cardinal Wilton Gregory and four auxiliaries.

What accounts for the disparity in episcopal manpower between well-stocked dioceses like Chicago and Washington and the huge, undermanned Archdiocese of Los Angeles? Unforeseen accidents of timing certainly have something to do with it — Los Angeles had an additional auxiliary bishop until last June, when Bishop Robert Barron, who had served there since 2015, was named Bishop of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota.

Part of the explanation also may reside in the fact that Chicago’s Cardinal Cupich is a member of several Vatican departments (“dicasteries”) and travels frequently to Rome for meetings. Archbishop Gomez also had plenty on his plate outside Los Angeles from 2016 to 2022 when he was, first, vice president and then president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops….

Canon 403 of the Code of Canon Law says the pope appoints auxiliaries “at the request of the diocesan bishop.” But although that is usually how it works, it sometimes happens that the pope names an auxiliary whom the local ordinary hasn’t requested — if, for example, he wants the man to be part of the hierarchy but doesn’t consider him ready to be an ordinary yet.

It can also happen that the pope names an auxiliary with “special faculties” in what Canon 403 calls “serious circumstances even of a more personal character” — in other words, when Rome finds the local ordinary permanently or temporarily unfit to manage a diocese but doesn’t want to remove him from office….

Meanwhile Catholics mourning the loss of Bishop O’Connell are left to wonder why the Vatican has been so slow to increase the number of auxiliaries in Los Angeles, something one would have thought an obvious pastoral need even before the recent tragedy.

Full story by Russell Shaw in National Catholic Register.