The Toledo Catholic Diocese today (Dec. 19) announced that the Rev. Charles Ritter, a lifelong member of the diocese, has been elected diocesan administrator until a new bishop is appointed.
Ritter, 71, said during a news conference at the Catholic Center downtown that his job is to “keep things functioning” and be “kind of invisible” until Rome names a successor to Bishop Leonard Blair, who after 10 years in Toledo was installed as Archbishop of Hartford, Conn. on Monday.
The Vatican is expected to take anywhere from 3 to 18 months to name a new bishop, Ritter said, making his job as administrator “a very kind of tenuous” position.
One thing he cannot do is undertake major changes, he said, citing the Code of Canon Law, or church constitution.
“First of all, Canon Law says what I am not to do,” Ritter said. He quoted the canon in Latin – at four words it’s the shortest canon in the code, he said — then translated it, “While the See [bishop’s office] is vacant there is to be no innovation.”
“So great, wonderful new ideas, programs, directions? None,” said Ritter, who is an associate pastor of St. Joseph’s Parish in Sylvania.
Maintaining the status quo makes practical sense, Ritter added, without knowing who the eighth bishop of Toledo will be.
“Having no idea what direction a new bishop may take the diocese when he comes, it’s kind of awkward to prepare for him because if I’m preparing in this direction and the new bishop wants to go this way, I’ve not been very helpful,” he said.
Instead, he sees his role as making everyone else’s jobs easier. He plans to meet regularly with the diocese’s College of Consultors, the advisory panel that elected him.
A 1959 graduate of Central Catholic High School, Ritter has been a Toledo priest for 47 years serving mostly in parish ministry, including Findlay, Fremont, Bryan, Toledo and Sylvania.
His first task will be to review the schedules and see where he is needed to represent the diocese. One event on his calendar will be attending the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ meeting in January.
Otherwise, he will focus on keeping a low profile.
“If you can imagine an aircraft carrier at sea and it’s 2 a.m. and the captain’s in his cabin asleep, but there’s an officer on the deck and basically he’s responsible for running the ship. Don’t sink the ship, don’t start a war, and make sure when the captain wakes up in the morning there are no surprises. That’s kind of my job for the next number of months,” Ritter said.
“If I’m doing my job right, I will be kind of invisible and everything will just continue to happen smoothly, and that’s just fine, that’s just fine,” he said.
Sally Oberski, director of communications for the diocese, said Ritter was elected by a majority vote on the second ballot by the diocese’s College of Consultors, an eight-person advisory body of which he is a member. Canon law requires an administrator to be elected within eight days of the vacancy of the bishop’s office.
Ritter said he plans to convene the College of Consultors to collaborate on key decisions. The other members are the Rev. Mike Brown, pastor of St. Clement Parish, Toledo; Monsignor William Kubacki, diocesan moderator of the curia and rector of Rosary Cathedral; the Rev. David Ross, pastor of St. John and St. Rose Parishes in Lima; Monsignor Christopher Vasko, judicial vicar for the diocesan tribunal and pastor of Immaculate Conception and St. Patrick Historic Parishes in Toledo; the Rev. Dennis Walsh, pastor of St. Patrick of Heatherdowns Parish, Toledo; the Rev. Herb Weber, Pastor of Blessed John XXIII Parish in Perrysburg, and the Rev. Michael Zacharias, pastor of St. Ann and St. Joseph Parishes in Fremont.
Ritter said he spoke with Blair, who “happened to call yesterday afternoon,” and told him of his election as administrator. He said he doesn’t expect to consult with the former Toledo bishop often, saying, “one of the joys, I hope, for him in moving on to Hartford is that there’s a whole lot of Toledo stuff he doesn’t have to deal with.”
In response to a question, Ritter said he was aware of a protest Tuesday by the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) in which they dropped off a screwdriver and a pen, symbolizing their call for changes in the diocese.
Ritter said his job is to continue following diocesan policy, the U.S. bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, and civil law, but he also wants to be open to what abuse victims say.
“I certainly want to continue to try to listen attentively when people that are hurting, and representing those hurting, raise issues. I think it’s part of our job, to listen. I think [Pope] Francis, whose shadow kind of lays over much of the church these days, was suggesting that we need to be listening to people. Probably Jesus did too. So it’s probably a good direction to go,” Ritter said.
The last cleric to serve as administrator of the Toledo diocese was Auxiliary Bishop Robert Donnelly, now retired, after Bishop James Hoffman’s death in February, 2003, until Bishop Blair was installed in December, 2003.