Pope Francis poised to name new Catholic bishop in RI

PROVIDENCE, RI (WPRI) — Pope Francis is expected to name a New York prelate as the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence’s new bishop on Wednesday, in a surprise move that would come months before Bishop Thomas Tobin reaches the church’s mandatory retirement age.

Two sources in the Catholic Church with knowledge of the planning told 12 News the Vatican intends to appoint Auxiliary Bishop Richard Henning of Rockville Centre, NY, as a new bishop for the Rhode Island diocese. Henning is expected to be named coadjutor, meaning he will serve alongside Tobin initially.

A spokesperson for the Diocese of Providence declined to comment Tuesday night, saying any announcement about personnel changes would come from Rome. The Vatican would reveal any new appointees on its website Wednesday morning.

Tobin was appointed bishop by Pope John Paul II just days before the since-canonized pontiff’s death in 2005, and will turn 75 in April, at which point he is required to send his resignation to the Vatican. However, it is at the pope’s discretion whether to accept such a resignation or to keep a bishop in place past age 75.

Francis has long been viewed as likely to find a successor to Tobin when he reaches 75, due to the latter’s outspoken social conservative views and occasional critiques of the current papacy on social media.

Tobin himself joked about that perception on WPRI 12’s Newsmakers last December while discussing what would happen when he reached age 75. “The other thing to keep in mind, though, is that when a bishop sends in his letter of retirement, it’s not accepted right away, usually,” he said, before adding with a laugh, “In my case it might be!”

Henning was born in 1964, educated in New York and ordained a priest in 1992, according to his online biography. Pope Francis first named him auxiliary bishop in Rockville Center in 2018.

Tobin, a native of the Pittsburgh region, has been preparing for this moment for some time. Last buzzer tweeted a photo of a book with this message: “A little summer reading for me – the Vatican document on ‘The Bishop Emeritus,’ which outlines the rights and duties, the opportunities and limitations of retired diocesan bishops. Quite interesting.”

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook

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