Pastor chosen to
The Rev. Thomas Gross will hold
the post until the pope picks
a new bishop
A committee of Hawaii Catholic priests yesterday elected one of their number to head the local diocese until Pope John Paul II names a new bishop.
The Rev. Thomas Gross, 57, is the new administrator of the Honolulu diocese, which includes 66 parishes and about 233,000 Catholics throughout the state. He has been pastor of St. John Vianney Church in Kailua for seven years and on the top management team of the diocese for the past four years.
Bishop Francis DiLorenzo, who was reassigned by the pope to the Richmond, Va., diocese on March 31, chose Gross as one of two vicars general in 2000 and appointed him to the College of Consultors, an advisory board whose role includes picking the interim diocesan administrator.
Thomas L. Gross
First Hawaii assignment: 1985
Named St. John Vianney Church pastor: 1996
Appointed diocesan vicar general: 2000
Elected diocesan administrator: May 28, 2004
"My intention is to continue the work of Bishop DiLorenzo," said Gross, and a key focus is "to support the vibrancy of the parishes." He said he intends to continue as pastor in Kailua, with the help of other priests, and "I'll try to be as accessible as possible" in the chief executive post.
His first executive act was to fill secondary management positions -- the Rev. Joseph Grimaldi as delegate to the administrator and the Rev. Gary Secor as delegate for clergy. Both men have held similar positions, but under the Code of Canon Law, DiLorenzo's appointments were undone as soon as he was appointed to Richmond.
It is the first time that the local church will be directed by a priest instead of a bishop since the diocese was created in 1941. Before that time, the islands were considered mission territory with administrators appointed from the mainland and Europe.
Although it's the first time the Vatican allowed the Honolulu diocese to have a priest at the helm, it is not unique.
"There are 30 other dioceses among 200 in the United States in our situation," Grimaldi said.
The committee of 10 priests "wanted someone with administrative ability who is also pastoral, particularly to reach out to the priests of the diocese in these trying times," he said. "Father Tom is very concerned for his fellow priests."
Barbara Akeo, administrator at St. John Vianney parish, said: "He is a behind-the-scenes kind of guy who gets things done, quiet and effective. He is very spiritual, an excellent pastor and very calm. He's a humble guy and that's why we love him. I hope he doesn't get too busy and have to leave this parish."
Church law sets limitations on the administrator's authority. Parish building projects already under way will continue, Gross said, but any new projects will wait.
He may not name pastors to parishes, nor buy or sell property, said Grimaldi, who is also judicial vicar, an expert on canon law. And only a bishop has the authority to ordain a priest.
Grimaldi said there is no way to predict how long it will take for a bishop to be named.
"I believe they had begun the process even before Bishop DiLorenzo was chosen for Richmond," he said.
"It's a secretive process, involving consultation among a number of people," he said.
U.S. bishops submit names of prospects throughout their careers. The pope's representative to America will seek detailed information from as many as 40 people who know a nominee. His list goes to the Congregation of Bishops in the Vatican and that agency makes a recommendation to the pope.