Bishop Mitchell Rozanski cleared the low bar set by his predecessor when it came to issues of communication and response to clergy abuse. Opportunities were missed to do so much more. ("Springfield Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski named to top post in St. Louis," Eagle, June 11.)
At his introduction as the new Archbishop of the St. Louis diocese, Bishop Rozanski spoke of initiatives he had taken in Springfield as if they were entirely his own. But they came only after pressure was applied by activists like Olan Horne of Chester, an abuse survivor who advocates for other victims, and by The Berkshire Eagle.
The bishop signed an agreement with Western Mass. district attorneys to assure that they are informed of alleged clergy sexual abuses. The pattern within the Catholic Church and the diocese has been to cover up the allegations and shuffle the accused priest to another diocese. He also appointed a retired judge to hear allegations of abuse made against the late Bishop Christopher Weldon after a task force charged with doing so unraveled in dissension over the testimony they heard following the claim made by the head of the board that the bishop had been cleared. Judge Peter A. Velis was reportedly near the end of his investigation in May and we look forward to his report. Bishop Rozanski deserves credit for doing both but he was pushed into acting rather than taking the initiative and both actions were overdue.
The traditional poor communications within the diocese could not get worse under Bishop Rozanski and indeed progress was made. But he failed the parents, students and faculty of St. Joseph's Central High School when he closed the high school with no warning. The school was dealing with declining enrollment and an operating deficit but the decision to close was "a bolt from the blue" according to St. Joseph's Strong, which argued that a phased closing would have provided time to explore other possibilities and given parents and students time to consider their options.
The next bishop will be charged with assuring the survival of the three Catholic elementary schools in the Berkshires that were the feeder system into St. Joseph's. This will involve forming links with Catholic high schools in bordering counties. The successor will have to deal with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on a diocese that had taken a financial hit because of declining church attendance.
Good communication with the flock will enable the diocese to better handle these and other challenges to come. There is considerable room for improvement that we urge the next bishop of the Springfield Diocese to strive to make.