Bishop Urges Healing

By Bill Zajac
Republican [Springfield MA]
April 2, 2004

With a mixture of sadness and humor and the promise he will try to be a healer, the Most Rev. Timothy A. McDonnell was installed yesterday as eighth bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield.

In his homily at a Mass following his installation, McDonnell recognized what he has said will be a top priority - healing the pain and damage caused by clergy abuse.

Acknowledging the presence of alleged victims he invited to the installation, he apologized on behalf of the church.

"From the depth of my being, I apologize to those who have been hurt, who have suffered wrongs from those they should have been able to trust. I hope that trust, that faith can be restored," McDonnell said.

Some of the alleged victims in attendance lauded the new bishop's sincerity and expressed hope that it will lead to a greater healing.

Throughout the liturgy there was no reference to McDonnell's predecessor, the Most Rev. Thomas L. Dupre, who resigned in February amid allegations of sexual abuse.

In a ceremony rife with both religious pageantry and symbolism, McDonnell received a standing ovation after he was handed the bishop's staff by Boston Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley, who took over the Boston Archdiocese last year amid a clergy abuse scandal.

Also among about 30 bishops and archbishops from New England and New York was Cardinal Edward Egan of the New York Archdiocese. Egan said McDonnell, who was an auxiliary bishop in New York, had done an exceptional job at a variety of tasks, ranging from running Catholic Charities to his work on missions and building efforts.

"Bishop McDonnell was loved and honored in New York. Our loss is the gain of the diocese of Springfield," he said.

Among the 1,400 people in attendance at St. Michael's Cathedral for the two-hour installation and Mass were local political figures, including Springfield Mayor Charles V. Ryan and his wife, Joan, and state Sens. Linda J. Melconian, Brian P. Lees and Michael R. Knapik.

The installation began with the reading of the Papal Bull, the appointment of McDonnell by Pope John Paul II, and its presentation to the diocesan consultors, eight diocesan priests with leadership positions.

The prayers of the faithful, which included a special prayer for abuse victims, were done in French, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish and Vietnamese. The gifts of wine and bread were presented by two lay persons from each of the four counties in the diocese.

The self-deprecating 66-year-old Bronx native showed his pastoral side while stating he will be a listener as he gets to know this diocese and its people.

Lay people and clergy praised McDonnell. Many said the bishop's message was exactly what the diocese needed.

Although there was no reference to his predecessor, it was clear that McDonnell's quick appointment and installation reflected the difficulties of the diocese.

Papal Nuncio, the Most Rev. Gabriel Montalvo, the pope's representative in the United States, addressed the diocese's difficulties when he presented McDonnell for installation at the beginning of the service.

"Knowing well that the diocese of Springfield in Massachusetts recently has endured a period of great suffering, the Holy Father was particularly concerned to provide as soon as possible a new bishop. His Excellency, Bishop McDonnell, now comes to live among you as pastor and father, to heal your sufferings, to restore your faith in the midst of affliction," Montalvo said.

In his homily, McDonnell talked about Abraham's faith being repeatedly tested and yet always holding true. He said it's a lesson that remains relevant today.

"The wrongs done in the ranks of the church have tested the faith of many, and the betrayals by those who are trusted more than most have hit at the heart of faith," McDonnell said.

Joseph Croteau, the older brother of slain altar boy Daniel Croteau, said McDonnell's apology was the first from a church official in the Springfield diocese.

"I think if what the bishop had to say is true, then it will go a long way in healing the community. ... His apology was big for everyone," said Croteau, whose brother's 1972 slaying was never solved. A recently defrocked priest, Richard R. Lavigne, was the chief suspect.

Alleged victim Martin P. Bono, 49, of Chicopee said he was overwhelmed by McDonnell's "heartfelt, sincere" apology.

"As I listened to him, I felt as though the church was empty and that he was talking only to me and the other victims," said the 48-year-old Bono, who has a pending suit against the diocese.

"For me, it was so healing. I am so glad I went to the church. I am so glad. I feel he has started the beginning of my healing," said Bono, adding he rarely attends church.

Longtime active Catholics John J. and Kathryn M. Patterson of Agawam left the installation feeling optimistic about the diocese.

"I think he knows we need credibility and respect restored to our church. He has a tough job ahead of himself, and he needs our prayers. He looks like he is the guy to get the job done," Kathryn Patterson said.

After speaking with McDonnell at the post-installation reception at Mont Marie in Holyoke, The Rev. Leo J. Hoar, director of campus ministry at Springfield College, said he was amazed at how much knowledge of the diocese and region McDonnell had acquired since learning only a month ago of his appointment here.

"I am putting my complete trust in him, knowing that he is going to be a healer," Hoar said.

Westhampton businessman David P. Baillargeon, a candidate in the diocese's diaconate program, also perceived the new bishop as a healer.

"I can understand why New York is so reluctantly saying goodbye to him. He seems so qualified to handle this job," Baillargeon said.

The Rev. William F. Cyr, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Springfield, anticipates McDonnell will succeed here because of his pastoral approach.

"We don't need a CEO, we need a pastor," Cyr said.

McDonnell showed his sense of humor numerous times, even when he related feeling at home in the diocese.

"I may not as yet be able to tell the difference between the road to Northampton and the road to North Adams, but I thank almighty God for the opportunity to serve in the diocese of Springfield," McDonnell said.

He added he has much to learn.

"Before action, there must be understanding. To achieve understanding, there's a need to listen. I intend to begin my ministry among you as a listener, learning from you, all of you," McDonnell said.

That drew praise from invited guest Joan M. Smola of Hadley, who is the moderator of the Springfield/Northampton affiliate of Voice of The Faithful, a group that has lent support to victims and lobbies for greater participation of laity in church governance.

"Listener. I love that word. It's the best approach he can take," Smola said.

McDonnell introduced himself during his homily as a pastoral person.

"My own faith and trust in God is very straightforward. In my first homily as a new (auxiliary) bishop two years ago, I quoted one of Mother Teresa's sayings: 'There's nothing so bad that God can't bring a greater good out of it, if we let him.'

"My prayer as a priest, as a pastor, and now as bishop of Springfield is that we continue in everything to let him; let him help us - help us all ask forgiveness of any who have been wronged," McDonnell said.

McDonnell, who was in the first hour of a three-week intensive Spanish course when he learned on March 1 of his appointment as bishop here, repeated the first part of his homily in Spanish.

"I'm not going to try anymore Spanish than that," McDonnell said.

He then added, "They tell me I should go study French, Italian, Portuguese, Polish and Vietnamese, and I am afraid to."

Campus minister Hoar said he had tears of joy in his eyes when he watched McDonnell sit for the first time in the empty seat of the bishop - the cathedra.

"I was so impressed that he could express joy amid the pain that this entire diocese is experiencing," Hoar said.


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