New Bishop Faces Challenges

Sioux City Journal
November 22, 2006

Bettendorf, Iowa (AP) -- Bishop Martin J. Amos was installed Monday as leader of the Davenport diocese, moving from his hometown of Cleveland to lead a diocese mired in bankruptcy and a lingering priest abuse scandal.

Addressing priests, deacons and invited lay members as bishop for the first time, Amos urged Catholics to join him in returning financial viability to the diocese, comforting abuse victims and reaching out to others in need.

"I know that together we are going to journey," Amos said during his modest installation Mass at St. John Vianney Church.

"I know there are ravines. I know there are going to be some difficult times. I know that we have to try the best we can to bring healing to those who were abused ... and regain our financial base and move out of bankruptcy," he said.

Amos becomes the eighth bishop in the 125-year history of the southeast Iowa diocese. He succeeds 76-year-old Bishop William Franklin, who has served since 1994 and intends to retire.

Ordained as a bishop in 2001, Amos has since served as auxiliary bishop in the Cleveland Diocese, the nation's 16th largest with more than 790,000 Catholics.

During that time, he was responsible for pastoral care in four southern counties of a diocese that has also struggled with the financial challenge and criticism stemming from its handling of sexually abusive priests.

So far, at least 17 Cleveland diocese priests have been suspended over abuse allegations and more than $14 million has been spent to settle claims or pay counseling and legal bills.

While it's unclear how much influence Amos had in Cleveland's handling of the scandal, observers said he should have plenty of freedom to plot a new course in the Davenport diocese.

"It got pretty ugly in Cleveland. So in one way, he's seen how not to do it," said David Gibson, a former journalist who covered the Vatican and the author of "The Coming Catholic Church," a book about how the clergy abuse scandals have changed the church.

Amos inherits a diocese that last month filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, becoming the nation's fourth diocese to do so.

The decision came days before the diocese was scheduled to defend itself in a sexual abuse lawsuit and two years after Franklin settled 37 separate abuse claims for $9 million.

"A new bishop has such a great opportunity," Gibson said. "He can really set the tone from the start. Essentially, what people are looking for is not a miracle man, but someone with a pastoral touch, someone who can understand the anger and react by being very honest, transparent and accountable."

Polls show Catholics tend to be forgiving and quick to respond -- both in the pews and with their pocketbooks -- to changes in policy or direction deemed favorable, Gibson said. Now its a question of how quickly the bankruptcy matter can be resolved and whether Amos can successfully reach out to victims and reconnect with parishioners.

"It's a question of what lessons does he take from his experience in Ohio and apply in Iowa," Gibson said.

The Davenport Diocese has more than 105,000 members stretching across 22 southeastern Iowa counties, including the cities of Iowa City, Davenport, Clinton and Burlington.

But it's the diocese' rural parishes that could present some the biggest challenges.

As rural population declines, parishes face pressure to either close or merge, while priests are being asked to reach beyond traditional parish boundaries.

"The priests are stretched more and more in their efforts of just providing sacramental ministry," said Dorothy Whiston, co-chair of Eastern Iowa Voice of the Faithful. "Having priests that are really part of the community ... is really getting tougher."

Amos said he intends to spend his first few months listening and learning, visiting parishes and schools and conveying his pastoral style.

"Be a loving father, a gentle shepherd and a wise teacher," Amos told reporters after the mass. "If God gives me those three graces, I know things will be fine."


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