Last Tuesday, I held in my hands the episcopal ring which will be placed on the finger of the new Anglican archbishop of Melbourne (Dr Philip Freier) at his installation this Saturday. My friend, the Archdeacon (how Trollopian that sounds!), who had commissioned it, was showing it around at an ecumenical meeting. Dr Freier will be a very welcome addition to the Melbourne ecclesiastical scene. We hope to hear much of and from him.
Bishop Freier is only 51 years of age, and from the Northern Territory. This is interesting for two reasons. The first is that he is roughly the same age as the current Lutheran President/Bishop, The Rev. Greg Pietsch (“if that’s how they spell peach, I wonder how they spell apricot!” as one Catholic was recently heard to say). Both incumbents could well be around for the next 14-19 years, and given that Archbishop Hart, our Catholic Ordinary, has at least another 10 years to go, this means we are heading into a period of quite extraordinary stability in the ecclesiastical leadership of Melbourne (the Uniting Church rotates every three years, so theres never any stability there…).
Ah, but there’s still some excitement ahead, and that’s where the other interesting point about Archbishop Freier comes in. It just so happens that the Catholic Bishop of Darwin, the Most Rev. Ted Collins, has just retired at age 75, leaving a vacancy for someone well trained in evangelisation and Aboriginal Ministry. Whether or not Papa Benny knows about it (and I believe him to omniscient in these matters), there is such a candidate among the auxiliaries of Melbourne: a relatively youthful, can-do sort of bishop whom we will be very sad to lose, but are resigned to the fact that with his talent he won’t remain an auxiliary for ever. We thought him originally marked out for Sale–but it seems that there is at least one good
candidate from the Sale diocese (with experience in training priests) for when Bishop Coffey reaches the magical 75 mark (cf. Coo-ees in the Cloister).
Now add that to the fact that Papa Benny has just accepted Melbourne Auxiliary bishop Joe O’Connell’s resignation (he finishes his duties around next July),
and that we are already one short since Mark Coleridge became Archbishop of Canberra, AND that Bishop Hilton Deakin turns 75 next November, that means that we could be needing FOUR new auxiliary bishops in Melbourne in the very near future.
I understand that bookies are currently taking wagers on the outcome, but being no betting man (a residual queesiness from Lutheranism) I am making no prognostications. (Not in public like this anyway!) Suffice it to say that the Melbourne Catholic Archdiocese is sorely in need of “a few good men” to exchange whatever colour they are currently wearing (black, white, blue or biege) for the episcopal purple!