I had a special relationship with Pope Paul VI that began with his election to the papacy. As soon as the conclave that elected him ended on June 21, 1963, Archbishop Coleman Carroll, Archbishop of Miami, announced that he was going to Rome for the coronation Mass and he invited me to accompany him even though I had become a priest of the Archdiocese only two years earlier. I had been dispensed from my solemn vows as a Benedictine in 1961 because the Archabbot of Saint Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, had wanted me out of the Archabbey and the Order because I was an architect and did not approve of his building plans. The monastic chapter had voted down his project following my expression of disapproval in Chapter. I was promptly accepted by Archbishop Carroll as a priest in the Archdiocese.
Pope Paul VI, as Monsignor Giovanni Battista Montini and as an official in the Secretariat of State, had had a close relationship with the Carroll family since Monsignor Walter Carroll, the brother of Coleman was also an official in the Secretariat of State and Monsignor Montini had visited the Carroll home in Pittsburgh. So, at the end of June in 1963 we went to Rome and we had a private audience with Pope Paul VI after the coronation Mass.
In 1971 Archbishop Carroll’s first and only Auxiliary Bishop, Bishop John J. Fitzpatrick was made the Bishop of Brownsville by Pope Paul VI in May of that year. Rumors began circulating immediately that I would be the next auxiliary bishop of Miami. I tried to put a stop to the rumors by explaining to anyone and everyone that when I was dispensed from my solemn vows as a Benedictine in 1961 I had automatically acquired an impediment to promotion even to the rank of a monsignor by the terms of Canon 641.
Still the rumors persisted and finally Archbishop Carroll went to Rome by himself in August, 1971, something he would normally never do since he hated the heat of Rome in the summer. The months passed by and then at the end of November, 1971 Archbishop Carroll informed me that Pope Paul VI wished to appoint me his auxiliary bishop. I protested “But that is impossible since I have an impediment.” The Archbishop replied, “Do not question the decision of the Pope since he is the Supreme Legislator of the Church.” So, on December 6, 1971 I was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Miami and was ordained on January 25, 1972.
In February, 1972 I received my copy of the ACTA APOSTOLICAE SEDES,
a Vatican publication that is analogous to the Congressional Record. In it I read that in September, 1971 Pope Paul VI had asked the Congregation for Bishops and the Congregation for Religious whether he should abrogate Canon 641. The Congregations met separately in October and jointly in November to consider the question and then recommended to the Pope the abrogation of Canon 641. The Pope accepted the recommendation. Two weeks later I was appointed Auxiliary Bishop.
One can assume that in August Archbishop Carroll, who had a Doctorate in Canon Law, visited with Pope Paul VI and said something like: “Your Holiness, you know that Canon 641 was adopted by the Church in medieval times to prevent monks from leaving their monasteries to become bishops at a time when most priests in the Church were monks. This is the 20th Century and surely the need for that Canon no longer exists.” The Pope evidently agreed, and as they say, the rest is history. In November, 1975, Pope Paul VI appointed me the first bishop of the new diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee.