Bishop William Murphy said Friday he is seeking Vatican approval for the first Latino auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of Rockville Centre to help serve the needs of Long Island's growing Hispanic population.
Murphy said he made the request about two months ago, and that he could get an answer before the start of summer, though more likely it will come in the fall. He has submitted the names of three candidates, all from outside the diocese, whom he did not identify. "I would like that very much as a way to solidify the commitment of the church to the Hispanic population and give them at the highest level of our life as church a voice and presence that will confirm them and encourage them," Murphy said in an interview.
The announcement was greeted with joy by some Latino leaders.
"This is excellent news and it is really going to make the Latino community on Long Island very happy," said Manuel J. Ramos, former head of the diocese's Hispanic Apostolate Office. "With the number of Hispanics we have in the diocese, it would be wonderful to have a Hispanic bishop."
While the diocese does not have concrete numbers on Latino Catholics, experts including Ramos estimate they account for at least 25 percent of the Catholic population on Long Island, compared with 10 percent or less in the early 1980s.
The diocese normally has three auxiliary bishops. One was transferred this year to New Hampshire, and two others are close to retiring.
Auxiliary bishops assist the bishop in his duties by attending confirmations, dealing with priest personnel issues, and visiting parishes. They typically administer a specific geographic area or population in the diocese.
Murphy noted that Pope Benedict XVI is not obliged to approve any of the three Latino candidates he proposed for one of the open slots.
He also said Murphy is well-connected with Latino church notables beyond the diocese, one of the largest in the country.