Apr 1, 2014

On 10th anniversary of his installation, Bishop McDonnell reflects on tenure



Staff report
(Iobserve file photo by Fred LeBlanc)

SPRINGFIELD – April 1 turned out to be a much sunnier day today than it was back in 2004, when, on a rainy and gloomy afternoon, New York Auxiliary Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell was installed as the eighth bishop of Springfield. 

Ten years later, now awaiting the naming of his successor, Bishop McDonnell has begun to reflect on his tenure in western Massachusetts. “It's been only one decade, but it has incorporated joyful, sorrowful, luminous and glorious mysteries,” he told Catholic Communications in a recent interview.

It wasn’t an easy start. Bishop McDonnell’s arrival in the spring of 2004 came on the heels of his predecessor Bishop Thomas L. Dupre’s abrupt departure amid allegations that he had sexually abused two young boys. So the weather that April 1 was fitting for the mood of the diocese Bishop McDonnell had come to lead.

In an interview scheduled to air Saturday, April 5 at 7 p.m. on the Catholic Communication program, “Real to Reel,” the bishop told reporter Peggy Weber what it was like beginning his episcopacy during such a difficult time.

“I still don’t think I’m over the shock. It was wrong. It was wrong that these things happened and I haven’t been able to make them right. That’s one of my regrets – that I haven’t been able to make them as right as they should be. But I don’t know if anybody could,” he said.

                                     (Photo by William Pacocha)

Bishop McDonnell was more successful in settling the many abuse claims filed against the diocese before his arrival. Through his personal involvement, and through two group settlements, he made sure victims received financial restitution, continued support and an apology for the abuse they suffered. Many victims met personally with Bishop McDonnell in sessions which he later called “necessary but painful.”

Another issue awaiting Bishop McDonnell when he arrived a decade ago was the aging of the diocesan Catholic population. Many parishes were operating in deficits with too few parishioners. Just months into his tenure, he created the Office of Pastoral Planning, which began an extensive fact- and analysis-based review of all diocesan parishes. The result was an initiative which shuttered a number of churches, but saw many of the remaining parishes strengthened.

But there also were positive changes underway in the Springfield Diocese. Under Bishop McDonnell’s guidance, the Latino outreach in the diocese expanded greatly. Seminarians are now required to receive cultural training to minister with the Catholic Latino community.

“Not too long ago, we had a gathering of the Hispanic community, for example, which has been growing and I’d say almost 600 people came out for that evening,” the bishop said in the television interview. “One of the great things (in the Hispanic community) is lots and lots of children.”

Having turned 75 in December 2012, Bishop McDonnell knows his time as ordinary is fast coming to an end. Currently the oldest non-cardinal, active bishop leading any U.S. diocese, he understands that very soon another bishop will take his place and he says he hopes that he has made changes that will make his successor’s time less challenging than the last 10 years.

(Iobserve file photo by Fred LeBlanc) 

Perhaps with a hint of hopeful expectation in his voice, he speaks of his retirement plans.

“Oh, I’ll still be around. I’ll be living in the diocese but it will be more ministry and less administration. I can get away from the desk,” he said.

(Editor’s note: The interview will air in its entirety on the April 5 edition of “Real to Reel,” which is broadcast on Saturday evenings at 7 on WWLP-22NEWS.)