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Pope Francis accepts resignation of Great Falls-Billings Bishop Michael Warfel

Bishop Michael Warfel. His resignation as bishop of the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings was accepted by Pope Francis on Aug. 22, 2023. / Diocese of Great Falls-Billings, Montana.

Vatican City, Aug 22, 2023 / 04:41 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Tuesday accepted the resignation of Bishop Michael Warfel of the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings, Montana.

Warfel, who will turn 75 on September 16, will be automatically succeeded by his coadjutor, 57-year-old Bishop Jeffrey Fleming, who was appointed last year.

In an April 2022 statement, Warfel said that the year prior he had asked Pope Francis to appoint a coadjutor bishop “to help me in the administration of our Diocese and to begin a transition for the eventual new Ordinary.”

Warfel, who lived for over 25 years in Alaska and has spent the last 15 years in Montana, is an avid outdoorsman who enjoys hiking and backpacking.

A veteran of the U.S. Army, he served in Vietnam for 18 months and in Korea for 13 months before being honorably discharged in 1971.

Warfel was born in Elkhart, Indiana, and after leaving the army entered the seminary for the Diocese of Fort Wayne/South Bend.

After receiving master’s degrees in divinity and theology, Warfel was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Anchorage, Alaska, in 1980.

He was appointed the fourth bishop of Juneau, Alaska, at the end of 1996. From October 2001 to June 2002 he also served as apostolic administrator of the Diocese of Fairbanks.

In November 2007, Pope Benedict XVI named Warfel to lead the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings. He was installed in January 2008.

The Diocese of Great Falls-Billings covers over 93,000 square miles, the eastern two-thirds of Montana. It has 50 parishes and serves 31,813 Catholics. The total population of the diocese is 427,358.

Bishop Fleming, who now succeeds Warfel as bishop, was born in Billings, Montana in 1966. He studied religious education and theology at Carroll College in Helena and completed his priestly studies at Mount Angel Seminary in Oregon, where he also received a master’s degree in theology.

He holds a license in canon law from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

In his nearly 30 years as a priest, Fleming was parochial vicar and pastor at various parishes in the Diocese of Helena. He was also director of campus ministry at Carroll College.

Fleming was chancellor of the Diocese of Helena from 2020 until his appointment as coadjutor bishop of Great Falls-Billings in April 2022.

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