McDonnell Reaches out in Search for Bishops Help Asked in Naming Bishops

By Bill Zajac
The Republican
February 2, 2006

SPRINGFIELD - Two years after the head of the Springfield Diocese resigned amid allegations of sexual abuse, the current bishop is reaching out to laity and clergy for names of possible candidates for appointments as bishops. The Most Rev. Timothy A. McDonnell, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, recently sent letters to all priests, deacons and some women religious. Also, at least some pastors were asked to invite several lay people from each parish to participate in the process. McDonnell invited them to suggest priests who might warrant consideration to become bishops serving somewhere in the U.S. Catholic Church. The process is not necessarily geared toward identifying possible successors for McDonnell.

The head of the East Longmeadow affiliate of Voice of the Faithful, a organization dedicated to greater lay participation in church governance, praised the process as a forward step.

"This is very encouraging. In the past, it was the good old boys club choosing who would best represent their interests. This seems to be a more open process," said John M. Bowen of Longmeadow, head of Voice of the Faithful's chapter in East Longmeadow.

Diocesan spokesman Mark E. Dupont said McDonnell would not reveal how many lay people were being asked to participate.

Generally, the Catholic Church seeks names of candidates for bishop every three years in a process that usually only involves input from bishops and diocesan consultors, a group of about 10 experienced priests.

"I am asking that you name three priests, in order of your preference, which you, in conscience before God, judge might be worthy candidates for the Office of Bishop," McDonnell wrote in the letter.

He included a one-page list of qualifications and attributes that should be considered in the process. It has been more than three years since the process was conducted in Springfield, according to McDonnell's letter.

McDonnell was unable to determine when the diocese last submitted several names of possible candidates, according to Dupont.

"Although the decree outlining this procedure only requires a bishop to seek the advice of the consultors of the diocese, many dioceses have chosen to broaden this request to include all the priests, deacons as well as a representative group of religious and laity," McDonnell said in a statement requested by The Republican after it learned of the letter.

"The procedure is not meant to be a popularity contest, but rather a first step in a long process that calls for prayer, discernment, careful consideration and discretion," McDonnell's statement read.

He plans to consider all names that are submitted to him, but to recommend only several of them at a Bishops Provincial meeting later this month, according to the letter.

As in the past, bishops' recommended names will be passed along to the papal nuncio, the pope's U.S. representative. He will forward candidates' names to the Vatican, where bishops are chosen by the pope with input from advisers.

The Rev. Ronald F. Sadlowski, pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in the Feeding Hills section of Agawam, welcomes the opportunity to provide input.

Parish priests may recognize attributes in fellow priests that a superior may not see or of which they may not be aware, he said.

"I would like to see someone pastorally sensitive and who has the wisdom and mind of the church," Sadlowski said.

McDonnell's letter says the names of possible candidates will remain confidential.

"I will share the results only with Bishop (Joseph F.) Maguire, before making recommendations at the Bishops Provincial Meeting," the letter states.

Traditionally, the church often assigns newly appointed bishops outside the local dioceses where they had been serving.

Only one of the last four bishops in the Springfield Diocese was from the diocese.

Maguire, who retired in 1991, came from the Archdiocese of Boston. The late Bishop John A. Marshal served in the Diocese of Burlington, Vt., before serving in Springfield. McDonnell served in the Archdiocese of New York before being assigned to Springfield in 2004 to succeed Bishop Thomas L. Dupre.

Dupre, who resigned in 2004 amid allegations of sexual abuse, served his entire career in the Springfield Diocese.

He remains the only sitting U.S. bishop indicted on sexual abuse charges since the clergy abuse scandal erupted in 2002.


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