The Rev. Msgr. Robert Hemberger was elected Thursday to the post of diocesan administrator, in which he will assume episcopal duties for the Catholic Diocese of Wichita until a new bishop is appointed by Pope Francis.
Wichita has had no bishop since Michael Jackels left to become the archbishop of Dubuque, Iowa, last month.
Hemberger previously held the title from December 2003 to April 2005, when the diocese had another sede vacante, which is Latin for “vacant seat.”
“I’m here to keep the momentum going and keep us organized,” Hemberger said Thursday.
Hemberger was elected by the Catholic Diocese of Wichita’s College of Consultors, a group of local priests chosen to advise and assist the bishop – when one is in office.
Hemberger has been a priest in the diocese for 43 years, said Amy Pavlacka, communications director for the diocese. During that time, he has worked closely with diocesan leadership, holding the title vicar general, she said.
“It’s not like I’m unfamiliar with Wichita,” Hemberger said. “My hope would be just not to mess it up. If it ain’t broke, you don’t have to fix too much.”
Hemberger will assume the powers and obligations of a diocesan bishop, with a few exceptions. He cannot ordain new priests or establish parishes, for instance.
Once a new bishop has been installed in the diocese, Hemberger may return to his role as vicar general, which will be up to the new bishop’s discretion. On Thursday, the diocese had no indication of how long it might take for a new bishop to be named.
“Hopefully this thing will be speedy,” Hemberger said. “Wichita is the kind of diocese anyone with any smarts would say yes to.”