Vatican confirms Archbishop Buechlein retiring

When Archbishop Daniel Buechlein entered the room, he was the only one sitting.

INDIANAPOLIS - Indianapolis Archbishop Daniel Buechlein is retiring. The announcement made by the Vatican Wednesday is having a big impact in the city where ten percent of the population is Catholic.

When Archbishop Daniel Buechlein entered the room, he was the only one sitting. The 73-year-old Jasper native submitted his request for early retirement in August.

"The Holy Father granted my request and he did it in a hurry. I hope that doesn't mean he was in a hurry to get rid of me," said the archbishop, his trademark sense of humor still intact.

"I'm listening to you speak and I think no wonder I am tired," he said jokingly at Wednesday's announcement.

Archbishop Buechlein has battled cancer and suffered a stroke that left him wheelchair bound.

"It was emotional when I left Memphis 19 years ago and it is the same again. I leave with fond memories. It is melancholy," he said.

Even though the weight of the job is now off his shoulders, he still has to confront the cancer and stroke that have put him in this wheelchair. Normally archbishops serve until age 75 but he requested and was granted his retirement two years early.

Archbishop Buechlein lists education as the crowning achievement of his tenure. Twenty-six archdiocese Catholic schools have been awarded Blue Ribbons. That, according to Auxiliary Bishop Christopher Coyne, will also need to be a priority for the 39-county archdiocese in the future, along with the social issues of the day.

"We have a real need within Indiana right now to support families who are in crisis because of the economy, who have lost their jobs," said Bishop Coyne, who has been named temporary administrator of the archdiocese.

He has rubbed shoulders with Pope John Paul at the beatification of Mother Theodore Guerin in October of 1998, with Pope Benedict XVI at her canonization in October 2006 and even preached Mass in Rome that year as well. Now Archbishop Buechlein says he will return to St. Meinrad Archabbey where he became a Benedictine monk nearly 50 years ago to write his memoirs.

"How do you want people in the diocese to remember and think of you?" he was asked.

"As a holy priest. That is all I want," he said.

But first things first.

"After this press conference I am going to a luncheon for retired priests at St Paul Hermitage. They don't know I am coming yet," he joked.

Now attention turns to succession. For 19 years, Archbishop Buechlein has strengthened the pastoral, spiritual and financial health of the Indianapolis Archdiocese.

"It was fine after I came. It will be fine again," he said.

During a one on one interview, Bishop Coyne said it is unlikely that he would be considered as a possible successor.

"It would be very rare to see an auxiliary bishop named an archbishop. You are moving across a couple of steps that don't normally follow along those lines," he explained.

Bishop Coyne says he looks forward assisting the next archbishop in the same manner he has with Archbishop Buechlein. For his part, the Archbishop says, "I will be at St. Meinrad praying up a storm."

In January, Pope Benedict XVI appointed Bishop Coyne of Boston to assist Archbishop Buechlein in covering his area.

Four of Indiana's five Roman Catholic dioceses have seen leadership changes in the past two years after no turnover since the early 1990s:

- Indianapolis Archdiocese: Archbishop Daniel Buechlein, 73, stepped down effective Wednesday from position he held since 1992 because of health problems. Successor not yet named.

- Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese: Bishop Kevin Rhoades installed in January 2010 to replace Bishop John D'Arcy after 24 years.

- Lafayette Diocese: Bishop Timothy Doherty took over in July 2010, succeeding Bishop William Higi, who retired after 26 years.

- Evansville Diocese: Bishop Charles Thompson ordained in June 2011 to replace Bishop Gerald Gettelfinger after 22 years.

- Gary Diocese: Bishop Dale Melczek, 72, has led the diocese since 1992 and is nearing the church's retirement age of 75 for bishops.

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