Bishop McManus Appointed to Lead Worcester Diocese
Providence's Auxiliary Bishop Will Succeed Retiring Bishop Daniel P. Reilly on May 14

By Richard C. Dujardin
Providence Journal [Providence RI]
March 10, 2004

Ending months and even years of conjecture as to where he might wind up, the man serving as the number-two Catholic bishop of Providence was officially appointed by Pope John Paul II yesterday to lead the 350,000 Catholics of the Diocese of Worcester.

Bishop Robert J. McManus, a 52-year-old Providence native and moral theologian, related yesterday that he first learned of the appointment March 1, after returning from a morning meeting in Woonsocket with members of the fraternal group, L'Union St. Jean Baptiste, and discovering a voice-mail message telling him to call the papal nuncio in Washington.

According to a joint announcement from the two dioceses, Bishop McManus will be installed as the fifth bishop of the Diocese of Worcester on May 14.

"With all honesty, I am very much at peace," said Bishop McManus. "I never invested a lot of emotional energy into wondering where I was going to go. I sincerely believe it's God's will and I'll be in the place that God wants me to go."

Bishop McManus, who has been the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence's auxiliary bishop since his ordination as a bishop in February 1999, had been seen by many as the diocese's chief moral theologian since his return in the 1980s from studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. Whenever there were possible openings in various dioceses in the last couple years -- be they be in Fall River, Worcester, Ogdensburg, N.Y., or Helena, Mont. -- Bishop McManus' name invariably came up as a candidate.

Yesterday, in news conferences in Worcester and in Providence, he demonstrated his willingness to jump into the fray when it comes to moral controversy.

Asked about the decision by Worcester's retiring bishop, Daniel P. Reilly, another native Rhode Islander, to boycott Holy Cross College's graduation last spring because of the abortion-rights views of its commencement speaker, political commentator Chris Matthews, Bishop McManus said he would have done the same.

"It seems to me," he told reporters, that if an institution claims to be Catholic, there ought to be some "truth in advertising" and not honor people who "flaunt the church's teaching on the sanctity of human life."

Likewise, he said, he believes it unacceptable for any Roman Catholic officer to declare that he or she is "personally opposed" to abortion but then do nothing to curtail it. In his role as moral teacher in the Diocese of Worcester, he said, he would try to "talk to these people" and get them to consider the moral implications of their stands.

Bishop Robert E. Mulvee acknowledged yesterday that he had mixed emotions about his auxiliary's new appointment, saying Providence's loss will be Worcester's gain. He said he didn't know whether the Vatican would send someone to replace Bishop McManus. He said he wouldn't even consider making such a request until May 15, the day after Bishop McManus leaves.

A farewell Mass in Providence for Bishop McManus will be held sometime in early May.

According to figures provided by church officials, the Worcester diocese has 350,000 Catholics, compared with the 639,962 Catholics in the Diocese of Providence. It has 159 priests in active ministry, 42 retired priests, and 16 priests ministering elsewhere.

Bishop McManus, who links his own religious vocation to his days as a young boy at Blessed Sacrament parish in Providence and looking up to the priests in his parish as heroes, said he believes it is incumbent on bishops, working along with priests, deacons, religious and lay people, to reach out to the people who have been deeply hurt by clergy sexual abuse.

"One of the measures of the tragedy is that they feel that they have been psychologically and spiritually betrayed, and therefore betrayals always means a certain lack of trust. I hope what I can do as bishop in the diocese is to restore that trust."

He said another source of concern for him is the need for the recruitment of more candidates for the priesthood, something he plans to make a top priority.

Still another challenge, he said, concerns what he sees as a "forgetfulness in the practice of the faith" on the part of a vast number of Catholics who, like him, belong to the baby-boom generation.

"Even among people who have been raised Catholic and went to Catholic schools, there are many who, for some reason or other, their faith has not become as active as maybe it once was," he said in an interview in his office. "It's not necessarily any hostility against the church. It's just that somehow it doesn't have a priority in their life.

"One of the dimensions of the new evangelization is to work for a new springtime. There has to be a vitality in life of the church, and that has to happen at the parish level. One of my priorities will be to work as diligently as possible to bring any number of factors together so that when people go to church on Sunday they will have a meaningful and enduring experience of their faith."

On the topic of same-sex marriage, and efforts to amend the Massachusetts Constitution in that matter, he said that "it seems to me self-evident" that the bishops will want to uphold the nature of marriage as "a relationship between a man and a woman."

Born in Providence on July 5, 1951, the new Worcester bishop is a son of Helen F. (King) McManus, of Narragansett, and the late Edward W. McManus.

He entered Our Lady of Providence Seminary soon after graduation from Blessed Sacrament School on Academy Avenue, Providence, and went on to further studies at Our Lady of Providence Seminary in Warwick, Catholic University of America in Washington and the Toronto School of Theology, where he received a master of divinity degree.

After returning from advanced studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, where he studied from 1984 to 1987 and obtained licentiate and doctoral degrees in sacred theology, Bishop McManus became the director of the diocesan Office of Ministerial Formation and took up residence at St. Luke parish in Barrington, where he lived until 1998.

In 1990, he assumed the additional duty as theological consultant and editorial writer for the Providence Visitor newspaper, and in 1998 was named rector of Our Lady of Providence Seminary while continuing his duties as vicar for education and director of ministerial formation.

Delving into the role of movie critic, Bishop McManus said he had seen Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ on Ash Wednesday night and found it "very moving." He said he hoped the film could be used as "a great tool of evangelization among our Catholic people and others."

He said he did not find the film antisemitic. "I think it has to be clearly known to people that it's part of Christian theology that the death of Christ was ultimately caused by all the sins of humanity, including my own and your own. To attribute the death of Christ to a particular people through history is very inappropriate."


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