Editorial: Challenges for the new bishop

Tampa Bay Times

The newly named bishop for the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg will soon head an institution that spans all of Tampa Bay. Gregory L. Parkes will take over for the retiring Bishop Robert Lynch in January, leading nearly a half-million Catholics throughout Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties. He is a fresh face assuming an important role as a moral and spiritual leader during a time of political upheaval both inside and outside the Catholic Church.

The appointment is something of a welcome back for Parkes, currently the bishop of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee. A Florida State University graduate, Parkes was a banker in Tampa before joining the priesthood 17 years ago. Over daily prayers at Christ the King Catholic Church in Tampa, he realized his calling, left his career and went to seminary armed with considerable life experience. At 6-foot-8, Parkes is an imposing presence but known for his gentle demeanor.

He has plenty to emulate from the tenure of Lynch, who is retiring after 20 years as bishop. Lynch avoided being dogmatic. He has allowed, under the progressive influence of Pope Francis, some breathing room around sensitive topics such as marriage annulments, and he wrote a humble blog post acknowledging the church’s role in ostracizing gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. He has emphasized the importance of forging bonds with other faiths, personified by his close friendship with Rabbi Jacob Luski of St. Petersburg’s Congregation B’nai Israel. …

Parkes will have to contend with the remnants of the church’s worldwide priest sexual abuse scandal. The scandal cast an immediate pall on his announcement as bishop, with an abuse survivors’ group criticizing his handling of a priest accused of sexual assault in 2013. Parkes should work to continue the healing and rebuilding of trust eroded by the scandal and take care to handle any new allegations with utmost integrity.

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