The naming of Bishop Philip Anyolo of Homa Bay as the new archbishop of Kisumu last week leaves six dioceses without bishops.
Bishop Anyolo took over from Archbishop Zacchaeus Okoth, who retired.
Apart from Homa Bay, the dioceses without bishops are Bungoma after Bishop Norman King’oo Wambua was transferred to head Machakos, Eldoret after the death of Bishop Cornelius Korir and Kitui after Archbishop Anthony Muheria was elevated to Nyeri archdiocese.
Malindi diocese also has no bishop after the death of Bishop Emanuel Barbara.
In addition, Kenya Military Ordinariate, which is also considered a diocese, has no leader after Bishop Alfred Rotich resigned. Bishop Rotich is now based at Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops secretariat
Interestingly, the Vatican also has no representative in Kenya after Archbishop Daniel Bravo was transferred to Czech Republic in September.
Going by the traditions of the church where bishops retire at 75, Nairobi’s John Cardinal Njue may retire next year since he is 74. But even if he were to retire as archbishop of Nairobi, he would still continue serving as a Cardinal since he is eligible to participate in the election of a new Pope until he is 80 years.
This opens the Catholic Church in Kenya up to the biggest transition period in decades.
And unlike in other denominations where church leadership is changed without input from outside Kenya, in the Catholic Church, the Pope makes appointments of bishops across the world.
The person to play a key role in the appointments will be the Apostolic Nuncio to Kenya.
Late last year, Archbishop Peter Kairu of Nyeri Archdiocese wrote to the Pope seeking permission to retire and it was granted. Machakos fell vacant on December 9, 2014 when Bishop Martin Kivuva was elevated to be Archbishop of Mombasa Archdiocese and the position was not filled until this year.
Another Bishop on the verge of retirement is Emmanuel Okombo Wandera of Kericho diocese, who is 75.
When a bishop or archbishop attains 75 years, he writes to the Pope in Vatican seeking permission to retire. There is, however, no guarantee that this will be granted immediately.
There are now two archbishop emeritus in the country namely Peter Kairu’s and Raphael Ndingi Mwana a’Nzeki formerly of Nairobi.
The church has an elaborate procedure of elevation of bishops and archbishops established under the Canon law, or the law of the Catholic Church, which is followed before the Pope makes the final call.
Archbishop Okoth had been the head of Kisumu metropolitan since May 1990. A metropolitan head is in-charge of several dioceses, also called Suffragan Dioceses.
The Apostolic Nuncio or the Pope’s ambassador to a country plays a big part in ordination of bishops, appointment of archbishops and creation of cardinals.
When a position of bishop falls vacant either by death, ill-health, transfer or retirement, the Apostolic Nuncio writes a letter to select older and experienced priests of that diocese seeking a name of a priest who can be ordained as a bishop.