Talks are now rife on who could be the next bishop to be appointed head of Ireland's second-largest diocese with the departure of Bp. Noel Treanor, who will serve as apostolic nuncio to the European Union with headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.

Bishop Treanor will continue serving as head of the Diocese of Down and Connor until January 2023, when his successor will have been named.

Potential Successors to Bishop Treanor

According to Irish News, at least four names have already been tipped as potential successors to Bishop Treanor.

His website profile said Treanor first served the diocese on Feb. 22, 2008. He was ordained a priest on June 13, 1976.

Fathers Eugene O'Hagan and Tim Bartlett, who are both serving as parish priests in Down and Connor, are the two names already eyed for the soon-to-be-vacant position. The other two were the Auxiliary Bishop of Armagh, Bp. Michael Router, and Fr. Alan McGuckian, Bishop of Raphoe.

A spokesperson for the diocese told Irish News that they will release a statement concerning the "pastoral care and governance of the diocese on his (Treanor) departure, pending the appointment of a successor."

Irish Catholic newspaper's editor, Michael Kelly, projected Father Bartlett to be among the top candidates for the position.

"He's a very popular parish priest, very efficient and obviously has had much involvement in the church over the years, from parish level to the Irish Bishops Conference," Kelly said.

Kelly added that Father McGuckian, who has worked with Bishop Treanor, already has familiarity with the diocese, which makes him "an obvious choice or one in good contention."

Meanwhile, Bishop Router could serve the diocese for at least 20 years or more if appointed to the position, given his relatively young age. Kelly added Father O'Hagan, who he said is "very well respected and always on top of things and knows the diocese well."

Also Read: Pope Francis Aims to End Dispute Between Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox Churches

An Outsider as Replacement Bishop?

Kelly pointed out another possibility, one in which Pope Francis appoints someone who is not from the Diocese of Down and Connor. The newspaper editor mentioned the pope's past appointments where the appointee was an outsider.

"It is very difficult to know the mind of Pope Francis, in other appointments he has tended to choose someone from outside the diocese. For example, the recent appointment of Bishop of Ossary was Fr Niall Coll, who is originally from Donegal. Very often it seems that it would be an outsider who would have the edge," Jelly explained.

He said such practice could pose problems for the appointee, as it would require an adjustment period of at least two years. Kelly said if the pope chooses someone already familiar with how things in the diocese work, then the appointee could quickly make an impact.

"You are looking for that balance, so perhaps someone like Fr McGuckian, who is currently from outside the diocese, but is someone who knows the diocese and previously worked in it, would be an obvious choice," he explained.

Related Article: Cardinal Robert Sarah Says West Threatens Religious Liberty, Calls It 'Implicit Bias Against Christianity'