Q & A

The Baltimore Sun

Pope Benedict XVI accepted the resignation of Cardinal William H. Keeler and appointed Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien to replace him yesterday as the head of Baltimore's archdiocese. Here are the answers to a few questions about the process:

Why did Keeler have to resign?

Bishops are required by canon law to submit letters of resignation to the pope after their 75th birthday. The pope can name a replacement at any time.

How did O'Brien get picked?

The process is secretive. Current bishops prepare reports on their dioceses and give them to the apostolic nuncio, the Vatican's diplomat to the U.S. government and the American church. He prepares a terna, or list of three candidates, that is sent to the Congregation for Bishops at the Vatican, which votes on a recommendation. The pope gets all the information and can pick from among those names or ask for new candidates.

What does an archbishop do?

The archbishop is the highest-ranking cleric within an archdiocese, usually a geographic jurisdiction of the Roman Catholic Church. Archbishops are the chief administrators of their archdioceses. For O'Brien, his previous archdiocese was not a place, but all of the Catholics serving in the U.S. military across the world.

If Keeler was a cardinal, why isn't O'Brien one?

Members of the College of Cardinals are specially selected advisers whose most critical function is electing a pope. There are some archdioceses that have traditionally been led by cardinals - such as New York and Chicago - although there are no guarantees. Only three of Baltimore's 14 archbishops before O'Brien became cardinals, and Keeler was elevated five years after his appointment to Baltimore.

Is Keeler still a cardinal, even though he's no longer archbishop?

Being named a cardinal is a lifelong appointment. But under canon law, Keeler will not be allowed to vote for the next pope after his 80th birthday.

What will Keeler do next?

He's planning to stay in Baltimore and continue work with the Basilica Historic Trust. Archbishop William D. Borders, Keeler's predecessor, who retired in 1989, has also remained in the area. Borders now lives at Mercy Ridge retirement community in Timonium. The decorated World War II veteran, 93, celebrates Mass daily there.

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