Joliet, Ill., Bishop Appointed New Leader for Western Washington Catholics

By Steve Maynard
News Tribune
September 16, 2010

An experienced bishop who leads the Diocese of Joliet, Ill., was named today as the new Catholic archbishop for Western Washington.

Archbishop J. Peter Sartain said today he will bring a pastoral focus to his work and continue the healing process for victims of clergy sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Seattle.

“What I have tried to do and will continue to try to do is to be very vigilant in the preparation of our priests and likewise very open to the suffering of victims, whether they’re recent or many, many years ago,” Sartain, 58, said at a news conference today. “I will be available to meet with victims and their families because that’s, I think, a very important, direct part of the process of healing that needs to take place.”

Pope Benedict XVI named Sartain as the new archbishop for Western Washington, succeeding Archbishop Alex J. Brunett, 76, who is retiring.

Brunett submitted his resignation in January 2009 upon turning 75, as required by church law. The archdiocese announced Wednesday that the pope had accepted Brunett’s resignation and his successor would be announced today.

Brunett, who has led the Seattle archdiocese since 1997, introduced Sartain (pronounced SAR-tin) at a news conference in Seattle.

Sartain is a Memphis, Tenn., native who was a pastor and diocesan leader there before being appointed bishop of Little Rock in 2000 by Pope John Paul 11 and then bishop of Joliet by Benedict in May 2006.

The Diocese of Joliet, encompassing suburban Chicago, is similar in numerical size to the Archdiocese of Seattle with about 650,000 practicing Catholics. There are about 600,000 practicing Catholics in Western Washington, forming the region’s largest religious group.

Sartain he has much to learn about Western Washington, having last been to Seattle 18 years ago to go salmon fishing with friends from Memphis.

He said he learned of his new assignment on Sept. 7, in a phone call from Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the pope’s representative to the United States. Sambi told him the pope had appointed him archbishop of Seattle.

“It was a complete surprise to me,” Sartain said.

Sartain was born in Memphis on June 6, 1952. He earned a bachelor's degree in English at St. Meinrad College in Indiana in 1974. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in sacred theology from the Pontifical University of St. Thomas in Rome in 1977 and was ordained a priest in 1978.

The new archbishop said he brings a pastoral focus to his work, visiting parishes and getting to know the people he serves.

That includes keeping a list of their prayer requests and praying for their needs.

He has three baskets filled with requests at his chapel in Joliet.

“I have a prayer list and I invite people to send me their prayer intentions,” Sartain said. “It’s another way I can express my love for them.”

He said the clergy sexual abuse scandal will be one of the challenges he will deal with in Western Washington.

The Seattle archdiocese has paid about $42 million in settlements, counseling and attorney’s fees to about 300 victims over the past 23 years, with about 70 percent of the money paid by insurance companies, The Associated Press reported.

The Spanish-speaking priest, reportedly the youngest archbishop in the United States, said he will discover other challenges in time.

"When the church goes about its work of being the church everywhere, there are lots of challenges and lots of opportunities," Sartain said. "I will get to know what those are as well and will pay attention to all of them."

Sartain said he expects to be installed as archbishop – the ninth bishop of Seattle – within the next two months.


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