|Wednesday, June 2, 2004|
The newly appointed bishop of the Paterson Diocese took center stage Tuesday, speaking in the measured words of a Bible scholar and moderate churchman - one who is more at home preaching the Gospel than fighting the battles roiling the Catholic Church.
"I see the role of bishop as the shepherd of all his people - those who agree with him and those who disagree with him," the Most Rev. Arthur J. Serratelli said during a news conference at St. John the Baptist Cathedral in downtown Paterson.
The news conference was held hours after the Vatican officially named Serratelli, 60, to succeed Bishop Frank J. Rodimer, 76, who will retire after leading the diocese for 26 years.
Serratelli, currently the second-ranking bishop in the Newark Archdiocese, was ordained in 1968 and has spent most of his 36-year career preaching and teaching in North Jersey. He has built a reputation as a scholar who taught the Bible to generations of seminarians at Seton Hall University and a down-to-earth pastor who appeals to the people in the pews.
Indeed, he has a doctorate in sacred theology yet enjoys lifting weights in his spare time. He said he will be looking for a place to exercise in Paterson.
"I'm going to have to, if I want to stay sane," he quipped.
Serratelli also is known for his humor. He joked that his 90-year-old mother reminded him to wear matching socks to his new job.
"That was her only comment," he said.
Serratelli will be installed as the seventh bishop of Paterson on July 6, taking over a diocese that serves 377,000 Catholics in Passaic, Morris, and Sussex counties. The diocese has 111 parishes, 58 elementary schools, and six high schools.
His elevation comes as Catholics engage in a volatile debate about Holy Communion, the most sacred sacrament in the church. The debate was sparked by a handful of bishops who have declared that Catholics who support abortion rights should not receive Communion.
Serratelli currently serves under one of those bishops, Newark Archbishop John J. Myers.
Asked whether he would deny Communion over abortion rights, Serratelli delivered an impromptu Bible lesson.
He cited two seemingly contradictory scriptural passages. The first, in the Gospel of Luke, showed Jesus befriending a man others condemned as a sinner.
"One of the reasons why Luke wrote that story was to put the emphasis on the mercy and compassion of the Lord," Serratelli said.
The second passage, however, shows St. Paul admonishing those who take Communion "in an unworthy manner."
In the end, Serratelli said he would wait until a committee of bishops finishes drafting a policy on the responsibilities of Catholic voters and politicians.
"My own personal sense is that most bishops are not thinking of making the altar a place of confrontation," he said.
Serratelli also said he would keep in place - at least temporarily - Rodimer's policy of allowing the lay reform group Voice of the Faithful to meet on church property. Myers has barred the group from archdiocesan property, saying it holds anti-Catholic views.
Voice of the Faithful, formed in response to the sexual abuse crisis, vows to support victims and priests with integrity, and to push for changes that would give lay people more power in the church.
Serratelli said he would oppose any effort to change basic doctrine. But he said there are other areas where lay people can and should have a voice.
"The holy spirit that dwells in the clergy also dwells in the laity," he said.
A founding member of the group's Northern New Jersey chapter said members want to meet with Serratelli.
"For the last couple of years, there has been absolutely no communication, no dialogue with the bishop [Rodimer]," Ann Zouvelekis said.
Serratelli grew up in Newark. He studied at Seton Hall University as well as the Pontifical Bible Institute and Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He speaks several languages, and read his statement Tuesday in Spanish and English.
Serratelli will be closely watched as he takes over a diocese wounded by the clergy abuse scandal. The diocese still faces a lawsuit filed by 25 plaintiffs, most of them saying they were molested by the Rev. James Hanley.
Seven other priests are facing disciplinary proceedings in other cases.
Rodimer has come under intense criticism for failing to immediately remove Hanley or call authorities.
Serratelli said his first job is to familiarize himself with the specific cases. "First and foremost, I'm going to listen, because there is a history I have to learn," he said. "And then, secondly, I'm going to deal honestly and compassionately."
He will have the opportunity to listen sooner than he thinks.
A group of priest-abuse victims said in a statement that members will show up today at Serratelli's office in Newark and deliver a letter asking for a meeting.
Rodimer said he plans to spend his retirement in prayer and study. He struck a humble tone in his farewell statement.
"I have been blessed with the input of priests and people who have many varied gifts and ideas," he wrote. "And if I didn't come across as appreciating them all - even if there was no way I could fulfill them all - the fault is mine, not theirs."
|Wednesday, June 2, 2004|
PATERSON - The seventh bishop of the Diocese of Paterson will be a Newark native, son of Italian immigrants and a biblical scholar with a history of service in a Passaic church.
Arthur J. Serratelli , the No. 2 bishop of the Archdiocese of Newark, will replace Bishop Frank J. Rodimer, the diocese announced at a press conference attended by the two men Tuesday. Nearly two years ago, Rodimer turned 75, the mandatory age for bishops to retire, but had to wait for the Vatican's official word, which came Tuesday. Rodimer will serve as interim diocesan administrator until Serratelli's installation on July 6.
While serving in the archdiocese and teaching at Seton Hall's Immaculate Conception Seminary, Serratelli, 60, found time to serve during the past 12 years as a weekend pastor at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Passaic, a church that offers Masses in both Spanish and English.
At a news conference in Paterson's John the Baptist Cathedral, Serratelli praised the rich "cultural diversity" of the Diocese of Paterson, which encompasses 111 churches in Passaic, Morris and Sussex counties.
"I am most happy to make my home now along the banks of the Passaic, and to give my heart and my life to this bride of Christ, the Church of Paterson," he said.
Serratelli, who was appointed to his position in Newark by former Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick, implied that he would lean more toward maintaining Rodimer's policies on certain hot-button issues than upholding policies of the present Newark Archbishop John J. Myers.
Unlike Rodimer, Myers has said he would not give Holy Communion to politicians who support abortion rights and has prohibited the reform group Voice of the Faithful from meeting in churches in the Archdiocese of Newark.
When asked whether he would give abortion rights politicians Holy Communion, Seratelli said that though he hadn't come to a definite decision, "most bishops are not making the altar a place of confrontation."
He said he would uphold Rodimer's policy of allowing Voice of the Faithful to meet on church property.
Regarding policies meant to protect against future clergy sexual abuse, Serratelli said that "there's been a good direction set in the last years by Bishop Rodimer and I hope to continue in his good footsteps." In ministering to victims, he said, he would "look for healing and reconciliation any way (I) can."
The victims' support group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests issued a statement later in the day urging Serratelli to "live up to those words immediately and plan (a) meeting with (SNAP) as his first official act in office as the new bishop of Paterson."
Serratelli said that among his priorities would be to "stir up vocations, so we have more good priests," and to "teach gospel and strengthen family life."
A noted biblical scholar, Serratelli attended Seton Hall Preparatory School and Seton Hall University.
He did his theological studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and studied Scriptures at Rome's Pontifical Bible Institute.
He was ordained a priest in Newark in 1968 and was appointed auxiliary bishop by then-Archbishop Theodore Edgar McCarrick in 2000.
He has taught classes in Old Testament and Biblical Greek and Hebrew at Seton Hall's Immaculate Conception Seminary since 1977.
The Rev. Tom Nydegger, vice rector of the seminary, described Serratelli as a learned man who applied his knowledge to modern life.
"He takes what he does, a bishop and a scholar, seriously, but he's able to present it in such a way that can be humorous, can be touching can be profound," he said. "He can really connect with people."
Monsignor Herbert K. Tillyer, vicar general of the Diocese of Paterson, noted that Serratelli had another kind of important knowledge: a familiarity with North Jersey.
Not only has he served in a diocesan church, he is also following what has become a diocesan tradition: Three of the six Paterson bishops have been from the Archdiocese of Newark.
"I think he's a very gifted and capable man, he's from our own state," said Tillyer.
"He had knowledge of our diocese, he studied with our men, and has taught many of our men in our diocese. He's a good fit."
Arthur J. Serratelli says that when he told his 90-year-old mother the Vatican appointed him bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Paterson, Eva Serratelli of Belleville kept her advice simple: "Make sure you start wearing two socks that match."
The job should only be so easy.
At an introductory news conference yesterday, just hours after his appointment, Serratelli took questions on topics that included abortion and Communion, clergy sex abuse, and whether a lay church reform group should be allowed on church property. He struck moderate tones in his answers.
On the contentious issue of whether bishops should deny Communion to Catholic politicians who support abortion rights, the 60-year-old Ironbound native said he will wait for a related report by the U.S. bishops conference before he decides his stance.
"I would think it would be premature for me to make any statement before then," he said. "But I have a sense -- and it's only a personal sense -- that most bishops are not thinking of making the altar a place of confrontation."
Some bishops recently have said they would refuse Communion to politicians who favor abortion rights. Newark Archbishop John J. Myers has said it's dishonest for those politicians to receive Communion.
Serratelli, who served under Myers as vicar general of the Newark archdiocese, appeared yesterday at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Paterson, where he will be installed July 6 as head of the diocese that includes about 400,000 Catholics in Morris, Sussex and Passaic counties.
He replaces Bishop Frank Rodimer, whose resignation letter, written when he turned 75 in October 2002, was accepted by the pope yesterday, ending his 26-year reign as bishop.
"It's a big load off my shoulders," said Rodimer, adding that he plans to help around the diocese as needed and live near relatives in Rockaway.
Serratelli, a Bible scholar who has taught sacred scripture at Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University and speaks fluent Spanish and Italian, said he plans to follow Rodimer's policy tolerating the group Voice of the Faithful.
Myers has banned the lay church reform group -- which sprung up because of the clergy sex abuse scandal and whose goals include shaping structural change in the church -- from meeting on Newark archdiocese property, saying it is anti-Catholic and that its goal is "to act as cover for dissent."
But most bishops, including Rodimer, have let the group meet. Serratelli said yesterday that "at the present moment, I would follow the policy that's in place in the diocese of Paterson."
He stressed that as bishop he will meet with people he disagrees with, and, without being specific, contrasted opposition among laity on main tenets of Catholicism with disagreement over other issues.
"There are certain things in the church that have been given to us, and as Catholics we believe handed down by the Lord through the apostles. When it deals with those issues, I think a bishop and priest must be clear.
"However there are other changes, and the priests, bishops (should) listen to the laity ... I see the role of the bishop as shepherd, and he is to be shepherd of all his people, of both those who agree and those who disagree with them ... The Holy Spirit that dwells in the clergy also dwells in the laity, and we must listen to those who speak inspired by the spirit."
The Paterson diocese is home to New Jersey's most notorious case in the clergy sex abuse scandal. At St. Joseph's in Mendham, more than a dozen people accused the former Rev. James Hanley of having molested them as children.
Rodimer's reputation as a fair-minded and pastoral bishop was tarnished by the scandal. The diocese forced Hanley to retire in 1988, but it was not until last year that Hanley was removed from the priesthood. Rodimer has acknowledged he underestimated the seriousness of the allegations until it was too late to prosecute.
Rodimer also vowed, in 2002, to reimburse $250,000 to the diocese that the church's insurance company paid out several years ago to end his liability in a lawsuit that claimed Rodimer should have known about an abuse case.
Yesterday, Rodimer said he is more than halfway done paying back the diocese.
"This is the third year of a five-year pledge, and I'm paying it off," he said.
Serratelli said it is too early to know if his own policies regarding abuse cases in Paterson will differ from Rodimer's. Victims groups have criticized the Paterson diocese's review board that investigates abuse claims.
With Rodimer by his side yesterday, Serratelli said, "There's been a good direction set in the last years by Bishop Rodimer, and I hope to continue in his good footsteps."
The head of the main clergy sex abuse victims group in New Jersey has praised Serratelli.
In his introductory statement yesterday, Serratelli was lyrical about his new job:
"I have been privileged as student and teacher to travel often from the shores of Tiberias to the banks of the Tiber," he said. "... I am most happy to make my home along the banks of the Passaic, and to give my heart and my life to this bride of Christ, the church of Paterson."Jeff Diamant covers religion. He can be reached at email@example.com or (973) 392-1547.
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