Replacing bishop in diocese could take months


EVANSVILLE — Throughout his time as the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Evansville, Most Rev. Charles Thompson made a point to stress the importance of living a Christ-centered life. Every bishop creates their own episcopal motto — a brief statement that describes their approach and how they will lead in the position — upon appointment. Thompson’s is “Christ the Cornerstone,” from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians.

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But on Tuesday, Pope Francis named Thompson the seventh archbishop of Indianapolis, a position that he will officially be installed into on July 28. He will leave a hole with big shoes to fill when he moves to his new role in the state capital.

“I was sad to see him go because he’s been such a great spiritual leader, but at the same time, I’m happy for him and wish him nothing but the best,” said Father Eugene Schmitt, leader of St. Isidore Parish. “He led the Diocese in a good way.”

From now until his installation, Thompson, 56, will serve as apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Evansville, which will entail all of the same duties he exercised as bishop.

“It’s basically a change in title, but the role doesn’t really change,” said Diocese Director of Communications Tim Lilley.

Lilley also said that the week following Thompson’s installation, a group of diocesan priests will meet as a council of consulters with the charge of electing one of their brother priests to serve as the diocesan administrator for Evansville until Pope Francis appoints the sixth bishop of the Diocese.

He expects that replacement timeline to take months. The archbishop position in Indianapolis opened in November of last year, meaning that post was open for roughly seven months. Lilley noted there are other openings across the country that are also yet to be filled.

Lilley said that during Thompson’s time in Evansville the archbishop-elect approached everything he did with his episcopal motto front and center.

“In a very general term and to use scripturally-related language, he was the shepherd of the Catholic community of Southwest Indiana that spans 12 counties,” Lilley said of Thompson. “He really served as the shepherd of the people, the shepherd of the church here in Southwest Indiana.”

He added: “His legacy is very difficult to pinpoint beyond saying he was a truly wonderful spiritual leader who challenged all of us every day to keep our lives Christ-centered.”

In the Catholic Church, the bishop ordains priests and permanent deacons, leads many significant celebrations throughout the liturgical year and serves as the primary teacher of doctrine. From an administrative standpoint, the bishop is also responsible for the governance of the Catholic community he serves, making pastoral appointments and ultimately overseeing all diocesan offices. In the Catholic Diocese of Evansville, those include the chancery, communications office, Office of Hispanic Ministry, treasurer’s office and the Diocesan Tribunal, as well as Catholic charities and schools.

Archbishop-elect Thompson’s most immediate predecessor is Gerald Gettelfinger, who is currently the Diocese of Evansville’s Bishop Emeritus. Gettelfinger served as bishop from April 1989 to April 2011.

According to the Catholic Diocese of Evansville website, the diocese is comprised of 45 parishes with 22 elementary schools and four high schools. The parishes are served by 37 active diocesan priests, eight religious or missionary priests, and 43 active permanent deacons.

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