GOOD MORNING MONSIGNOR
From time to time, people in the diocese write to me and ask me to make their pastor a “monsignor.” Easier said than done for reasons which I will put forth in a few moments. The title of “Monsignor” is a strictly honorary title (that means no more money or responsibility for the person) which is used for priests who have been recommended by their bishops to the Holy See for the title. In Italy, Spain and Portugal, the word “Monsignor” is also used when addressing bishops or anyone other than Cardinals and Patriarchs but that custom is not present in English speaking countries for bishops (pardon the diversion). Here in the United States, Monsignor is almost exclusively used for those who have received this title from the Holy Father at the request of the bishop.
There are three “ranks” of Monsignors, Protonotary Apostolics (bet you haven’t heard that one before), Prelates of Honor to His Holiness, and Chaplains to His Holiness. The title “Monsignor” is used for all three and only the ecclesiastical dress signifies any difference. Pope Paul VI greatly simplified these honorary recognitions.
So, what is to stop me from making your favorite pastor a “monsignor?” Several things which have changed in the last ten years. First, no diocese is allowed to have more than 10% of its living clergy honored with the title. In other words, there is a ceiling number above which a local bishop may not exceed. When a bishop submits a name to the Holy See for consideration, an examination of files is conducted to make sure that there is nothing in the nominee’s background which might block him from receiving an honorary title. Not every name submitted receives approval and no reason is ever given. Finally, generally monsignors must begin at the “bottom level” (Chaplain to His Holiness), spend five years at that level before they can be advanced to the next level (Prelate of Honor to His Holiness).
Early in my time here as bishop I hoped to award longevity and faithful service to everyone who passed a certain number of years of incardinated service (thirty was the number in my mind at that time) and was able to name ten in the year 2000. Subsequently the new rules were put in place about 10 per cent of the clergy and beginning at the level of Chaplain to His Holiness and working the way up five years at a time.
Does it cost the diocese to make Monsignors? The answer is yes but it is very minimal given the record keeping and parchment issuing that is involved. The “taxa” or tax for Prelates of Honor is $200 and for Chaplains to His Holiness is $150. Should the new monsignor choose to obtain the proper dress which accompanies the honor, more cost is incurred by the priest himself.
Some dioceses simply do not make monsignors. In Florida this would be true for the last ten years for the dioceses of Palm Beach and St. Augustine. It was also true here in this diocese for a brief time. Generally speaking, priests are uncomfortable with the practice and rarely, very rarely ask. If asked, as many bishops have done, the priests usually vote “no” on the question of whether or not a diocese should ask for one or more of their number to be appointed. But there are not too many ways a bishop can recognize devoted and faithful service over a long period of time. I always said that I would rather be given a sabbatical than be made a monsignor but neither hope was realized. I was made a Monsignor because of holding the position of General Secretary of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference in 1989 and never really had a sabbatical. Certain positions in a diocese (such as Vicar General) often can be better served (usually outside of the territory) with the occupant having the title. Rectors of seminaries are often bequeathed the title as sometimes is their Spiritual Director counterpart. So if you ask me to do something nice for your pastor, it might be easier to find another way of expressing admiration and appreciation. Here are a list of the Monsignors in this diocese according to the rank:
Reverend Monsignor Laurence Higgins, P.A.
PRELATE OF HONOR TO HIS HOLINESS
Reverend Monsignor Norman Balthazar
Reverend Monsignor Harold Bumpus
Reverend Monsignor J. Bernard Caverly
Reverend Monsignor John Cippel
Reverend Monsignor Diego Conesa
Reverend Monsignor Colman Cooke
Reverend Monsignor George Cummings
Reverend Monsignor Desmond Daly
Reverend Monsignor Anton Dechering
Reverend Monsignor Dacian Dee
Reverend Monsignor Michael Devine
Reverend Monsignor Antonio Diez
Reverend Monsignor William DuBois
Reverend Monsignor Thomas Earner
Reverend Monsignor Aidan Foynes
Reverend Monsignor James Lara
Reverend Monsignor Joseph McCahon
Reverend Monsignor Robert F. Morris, VG
Reverend Monsignor Brendan Muldoon
Reverend Monsignor Edward Mulligan
Reverend Monsignor John Neff
CHAPLAINS TO HIS HOLINESS
Reverend Monsignor Avelino Garcia
Reverend Monsignor Robert Gibbons
Reverend Monsignor Patrick Irwin
Reverend Monsignor Michael Muhr
Reverend Monsignor Austin Mullen
Certain readers who have read this far will note that there is some news contained in the list above. More about that later.
Images from Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monsignor