New Bishop Surprised by Appointment

By Bill Zajac
Republican [Springfield MA]
March 14, 2004

The Most Rev. Timothy A. McDonnell was into the first hour of a weeklong Spanish immersion language course in Florida when he was notified that he would become the eighth bishop in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield.

"I was flabbergasted," said McDonnell about the March 1 phone call.

McDonnell had been just as flabbergasted when he received word he would become an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of New York in 2002.

"That came out of the blue," said McDonnell. "I think God has a sense of humor and that God reaches out and taps you when you don't expect it."

McDonnell also showed a sense of humor when he was introduced to the diocese at a news conference Tuesday.

He laughed at the April 1 installation date, adding, "I think we will make use of St. Paul's line, 'Fools for the sake of Christ.'"

McDonnell stayed with the Spanish course into Saturday, when he returned home. He arrived in Springfield Monday before returning again to New York Tuesday.

While in Florida, he downloaded information about the diocese from the Internet.

"Until I got here I didn't get a real feel for the most important part of the diocese: Its people," McDonnell said.

McDonnell will replace the Most Rev. Thomas L. Dupre, who resigned suddenly a month ago amid allegations raised by The Republican that he sexually abused two minors beginning more than 25 years ago.

He became bishop of the diocese in 1995.

Dupre, 70, left the diocese and checked into a mental health facility the night before his early retirement was announced. Health concerns were cited as the reason by diocesan officials, who said they have not heard from Dupre since his departure.

While Dupre's last two years as bishop were dominated by issues surrounding the clergy sexual abuse crisis, the bishop elect had some dealings with the issue as well.

At his last parish, St. John and St. Mary Parish, McDonnell had invited a priest accused of sexually abusing a minor to say a weekend Mass.

When Father (Francis) Stinner came to the parish, we announced at all the Masses that those charges had been against him. It was brought before the parish council, so the parish knew the situation," McDonnell said after the news conference Tuesday.

Stinner had no other involvement in the parish, McDonnell said.

"He didn't live or work in the parish," McDonnell said.

He said that situation would not occur today because of the policy that was subsequently created in 2002 by U.S. bishops.

Stinner could not be reached for comment.

St. John and St. Mary parishioner Rosemary Eshgi said some people had concerns about the situation, but that eventually Stinner was prevented from celebrating Mass there in early 2002.

The Springfield Diocese had a similar situation with the Rev. Edward M. Kennedy, who was removed from parish ministry in the 1990s because of credible accusations of sexual misconduct.

Kennedy was used occasionally as a "supply priest," one who fills in at Sunday Masses when permanent priests are sick or on vacation.

Kennedy was removed from all ministry in summer 2002 when dioceses began enforcing the U.S. bishops' then newly created "zero tolerance" policy.


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