Bishop Pelotte Resigns

By Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola
Gallup Independent
May 1, 2008

GALLUP — The latest chapter in the history of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Gallup is now coming to an end.

The Vatican announced Wednesday that Pope Benedict XVI has accepted the resignation of Gallup's Bishop Donald E. Pelotte. According to a news release issued by the diocese, the pope accepted Pelotte's resignation in accordance with a provision of church canon law that "relates to the resignation of a bishop due to ill health or another serious reason."

Pelotte, 63, has been struggling with medical problems since he was discovered severely injured in his Gallup home on July 23, 2007. He told diocesan officials, emergency room personnel, and Gallup police officers that he had fallen in his home. Pelotte, who reportedly suffered traumatic brain injury, was subsequently treated at medical centers in Phoenix, Houston, and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

The bishop did attempt to return to the diocese on a part-time basis in September 2007. However, Pelotte placed a very confused 911 call just a week after his return, and a little more than two months later, church officials announced the pope had granted Pelotte a one-year medical leave of absence. Pelotte was reportedly attempting to recuperate at his Florida condominium.

Pelotte's retirement did not come as a surprise to many within the diocese. For more than two weeks, rumors of his impending resignation have been circulating.

In addition to Wednesday's news release, priests and others in the diocese were notified of the announcement earlier in the day by an e-mail from Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, the Phoenix bishop who was appointed apostolic administrator of the Gallup Diocese in January.

"Until a successor is named," Olmsted wrote in the e-mail, "I shall continue to serve as Apostolic Administrator sede plena of the Diocese, a pastoral responsibility that I have been happy to fulfill since January 3 of this year." Olmsted concluded the e-mail with a prayer request for Pelotte as he begins his retirement and a prayer request for the pope "as he begins the process of choosing our next Bishop."

Santa Fe Archbishop Michael J. Sheehan echoed similar thoughts in a released statement. "The faithful of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and I are grateful for Bishop Pelotte's many years of service as Bishop of Gallup and pray for his continued healing and to pray for Pope Benedict XVI as he prepares to appoint Bishop Pelotte's successor," said Sheehan.

When contacted by the Associated Press, the Rev. James E. Walker, vicar general of the diocese, said he was saddened but not surprised by Pelotte's resignation, given his condition.

"The bishop looks good physically but brain injuries can make it difficult to step right back into running the Diocese of Gallup or any other diocese," he said.

Pelotte, a member of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, is the third bishop to serve in the Diocese of Gallup. The diocese was officially formed by a papal decree on Dec. 16, 1939. The Most Rev. Bernard T. Espelage was installed as the first bishop on Oct. 30, 1940, and he served until his retirement in 1969, the year a portion of the diocese was transferred over to the newly formed Diocese of Phoenix. Gallup's second bishop was the Most Rev. Jerome J. Hastrich, who served from 1969 through 1990.

Pelotte first came to the Gallup Diocese in 1986 after being appointed coadjutor bishop. With Hastrich's retirement, Pelotte was installed as bishop in 1990.

Originally from Waterville, Maine, Pelotte was the first person of Native American descent to serve as a Roman Catholic bishop. French-Canadian on his mother's side, Pelotte had Abenaki tribal ancestry through his father.

Pelotte's quiet retirement is in sharp contrast to his arrival in Gallup in 1986. According to a diocesan "Golden Jubilee" publication of 1989 written by Elizabeth Kelley, thousands of people attended Pelotte's "ordination to the Episcopacy" ceremony of May 6, 1986, which was held at Red Rock State Park. Cardinal John Krol presided, and former Santa Fe Archbishop Robert F. Sanchez served as the principal consecrator.

Although the Pelotte era is now over in the Diocese of Gallup, the former bishop will remain in the news due to the legal battle over Gallup Police Department photographs that were taken of his injuries on July 23, 2007. District Judge Grant Foutz is presiding over that civil lawsuit, which involves media requests for access to the photographs.


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