SPRINGFIELD — The Catholic leader of Western Massachusetts has been named archbishop of St. Louis, ending six years at the helm of the Springfield diocese.
The Most Rev. Mitchell T. Rozanski was selected by Pope Francis to become the 10th archbishop to supervise the eastern Missouri area.
In St. Louis, Rozanski was introduced to the Catholic community this morning by Archbishop Robert J. Carlson, who is retiring after 11 years.
Rozanski described himself as a parish priest at heart who didn't seek larger responsibilities — but could not refuse them.
In a prepared speech, Rozanski said from a podium in the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis that he takes his new post at a time when the "sad spectre of racism" divides people, leaving them in need of what he termed the "healing presence" of Jesus.
"I humbly ask for your prayers and pledge to you that I will do my best to serve the Lord, and you," he said.
Rozanski, who is 62, led the Massachusetts diocese for six years. A Mass to install him as archbishop of St. Louis is tentatively set for Aug. 25. No replacement for Rozanski in the Springfield diocese, which includes Berkshire County, has been announced.
Carlson said Rozanski brings the possibility of change.
"A new look, a new view, a fresh leader is exactly what we need," he told an audience gathered in the St. Louis cathedral.The appointment comes as the Springfield diocese awaits a retired judge's report on allegations that a former bishop engaged in sexual abuse.
A year ago, Rozanski tapped retired Judge Peter A. Velis to investigate whether former Bishop Christopher J. Weldon abused parishioners while leading the diocese for 27 years.
In another effort related to clergy sexual abuse, Rozanski revealed in May that he had appointed a 10-person task force, chaired by former Pittsfield Judge Daniel Ford, to recommend actions to improve the diocesean response to allegations of abuse. Rozanski also signed an agreement in May with three Western Massachusetts district attorneys governing how it will handle abuse reports.
Last month, Rozanski acknowledged that the Springfield diocese "has not always provided a meaningful nor pastoral response to victims."
In St. Louis, Rozanski was asked by a reporter for the Post-Dispatch whether the Springfield diocese had done all it should to hold clergy accountable.
The national group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, SNAP, planned a protest in St. Louis challenging Rozanski's record on the issue.
"I've been working on as much transparency as possible," Rozanski said. "Healing begins in the transparency."
But he said that in the case of a recent temporary dismissal of three Springfield diocese priests, the clergy involved were not identified by name because sexual abuse accusations against them had not been determined to be "credible."
In terms of accountability in Missouri, he pledged to follow all church rules and local laws. "All that will be followed to the letter," he said.
Rozanski said again Wednesday he expects Velis to release his report soon. The bishop has promised to make it public; in May, he said he did not know what the judge's determination would be regarding abuse perpetrated by Weldon, who died in 1982.
Ford's group plans to weigh and possibly further investigate findings in the Velis report, when it is released.
Since last July, 14 people have stepped forward to say they were victims of sexual abuse by church personnel, according to Jeffrey J. Trant, director of the diocesan Office of Safe Environment and Victim Assistance.
In recent decades, the diocese has paid more than $15 million to settle claims by at least 147 abuse claims. That figure includes money paid to two men who said they were raped by former Springfield Bishop Thomas Dupre.
Dupre is believed have been the first U.S. bishop indicted for child sexual abuse; he was not prosecuted, however, because the statute of limitations had run out on the abuse, which allegedly occurred in the 1970s. Dupre resigned in 2004 but remained a bishop emeritus until his death at age 83 in 2016.
Rozanski spent most of his career in the archdiocese of Baltimore, following his ordination in 1984. When named an auxiliary bishop there in 2004, he became the youngest bishop in the U.S., according to the church.
While he has accepted promotions up through the ranks, Rozanski said he considers himself a priest.
"The happiest day of my life was the day I was ordained as a priest," he said.
This story has been updated.