At 85, Pope Benedict XVI is the first to resign the papacy in centuries, citing his age and health concerns. But a relatively young Orange County bishop Benedict appointed just months ago may carry on his influence in the diocese for years to come.
“He’s younger than I am,” the Rev. Enrique Sera of Costa Mesa’s St. Joachim Catholic Church said about Bishop Kevin W. Vann, 61.
Benedict chose Vann to lead the Orange County Diocese in September. Vann was welcomed in a ceremony at UC Irvine about two months ago.
Sera, who said he comforted parishioners Tuesday morning, the day after Benedict announced his retirement, had similarly glowing words for the pope and the bishop.
“He’s wonderful, he’s a really wonderful man,” Sera said of Vann. “He’s very interested in the priests of the diocese and the parishes.”
Sera once had a meeting interrupted at St. Anne Parish in Santa Ana when the pastor informed him the bishop had arrived without warning.
“He’s so funny because he’ll hop in the car and pop into a parish unannounced,” Sera said.
Sera’s message to parishioners after Benedict’s surprise announcement has been one of continuity and thankfulness for the pope’s service, he said.
“Pope Benedict is very well loved here, and at least the rank and file parishioners are very sad that he is going; but we understand,” he added.
Sera advised Catholics to take speculation about opportunities for sweeping change to doctrine or priesthood rules with a grain of salt.
"[The new pope is] certainly not going to change the Ten Commandments or how the church is seen,” Sera said. “I’m telling people to realize that popes come and go. And if he had died of a major heart attack, we would still have to contend with a new pope.”
Orange County is the 10th largest diocese in the United States and one of the fastest growing, according to the diocese.
Much like the city in which it resides, St. Joachim has a large Latino population. At least 65% of the parishioners attend the Spanish-language services, according to the pastor.
A connection with that community is one hope Sera has for a new leader.
“Personally, I would hope whoever the new pope is would be very aware of the situation in Latin America and Africa,” he said.
That situation, Sera said, is a need for literacy and doctrinal education in Latin America, where the church has historically had a strong base, coupled with a response to the boom of Catholics in Africa.
Speculation about the short list of papal candidates has included Latino and African clergy, but Sera said he’s putting little stock in that guesswork.
“There’s an old adage that the Romans say,” he said, “that many cardinals walk into the conclave as pope and walk out as cardinals.”