|Wednesday, July 7, 2004|
Bishop Arthur Joseph Serratelli, a plain-spoken cleric from Newark and a formidable biblical scholar, was installed Tuesday as the seventh bishop of the Paterson Diocese in a solemn, magisterial rite.
The two-hour Mass of Installation, the first in the diocese since Bishop Frank Rodimer was installed 26 years ago, sparked a stunning outpouring of joy from Spanish-speaking residents, who gathered in front of faded downtown storefronts and behind police barricades to greet the new bishop as his procession made its way down Grand Street and into the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.
Accompanied by guitars and hand drums, about 100 to 125 people waved palm leaves and balloons, hoisted welcoming signs in Spanish, and sang "alleluia'' loud enough to rival the bagpipes of a police color guard.
"We're here because we hope Bishop Serratelli will bring a light to the children of Paterson and their families,'' Rafael Lopez said.
Serratelli, dressed in white and gold vestments, seemed surprised and moved by the throng. He stopped and chatted for a moment before ascending the steps of the brownstone cathedral, embracing Paterson Police Chief Lawrence Spagnola, and walking past the red wooden doors.
Inside, he declared to a crowd of about 1,000 that Christians must be as brave and unwavering in their faith as soldiers embarking on a difficult mission.
"Even in the face of obstacles, and at times hostility, and even danger to ourselves, we run with the Gospel," Serratelli said against the backdrop of a towering stained glass window depicting the life of John the Baptist.
"Yet we are human, sometimes heroically virtuous, other times sadly sinful," he added minutes later. "But we are never discouraged nor despairing.''
In the front row was his mother, Eva, 90. After his homily, she was the first in line to receive Communion from him.
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who elevated Serratelli from priest to auxiliary bishop four years ago in the Newark Archdiocese, declared the beginning of "another golden age'' for the Paterson Diocese.
"He is someone who can challenge [young people] to see the world the way Jesus would want them to see it,'' said McCarrick, now the leader of the Archdiocese of Washington.
Serratelli will serve as spiritual leader for 378,000 Catholics in a wildly diverse swath of North Jersey. The diocese spans the tough textile towns of Paterson and Passaic, the wealthy suburbs of Morris County, and the rural hamlets of Sussex County.
Serratelli, 60, most recently the No. 2 bishop in the Newark Archdiocese, succeeds Rodimer, 76, who is retiring after 26 years at the helm.
The changing of the guard has already occurred. Serratelli has moved into the bishop's mansion on the East Side of Paterson. Rodimer has moved to a house the diocese bought for him in Rockaway Township.
Serratelli spent his day in typical Paterson style. He lunched at The Brownstone House, a well-known eatery frequented by the county political elite and law enforcement officials. He was expected to have a private dinner there Tuesday evening with priests.
Local Catholics said they were excited by the new bishop.
"He's Italian,'' quipped Marlene Leo of Hawthorne, who attended the installation. "I think that's great.''
Serratelli was ordained in 1968 and spent 27 years teaching Scripture and biblical languages at Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University.
He has a reputation as both a down-to-earth man who enjoys weightlifting and a scholar deeply enamoured with the church and its traditions.
Both sides were on display at Tuesday's installation.
He joked about looking over his predecessor's daily schedule and feeling overwhelmed. He also made light of the standing-room-only crowd, saying he hoped all churches would have the same problem.
In his homily, meanwhile, the only explicit social issue he touched on was abortion.
"Only a society that safeguards the fundamental right to life for all will stand,'' he declared.
He also told a story of sin and forgiveness. He spoke of a woman who was murdered many years ago in Italy and became a "martyr for purity.'' Her murderer, Serratelli said, served 30 years in prison before being released and reconciling with the mother of the victim.
"What an example!'' Serratelli said. "What a needed lesson.''
The Mass carried all the pomp and pageantry of the Catholic Church.
It began with Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, the Vatican's emissary in the United States, presenting the apostolic mandate that proclaimed Serratelli to be Rodimer's successor.
Serratelli was then escorted by Montalvo and Newark Archbishop John J. Myers to his cathedra, or throne. He was presented with his crosier, the staff that marks his office. The audience burst into applause.
Afterward, an aunt said that Serratelli showed early signs of his calling. As a boy, he would often pretend he was a priest, just as others pretend they are soldiers or firemen, she said.
"He never missed a Mass,'' said Catherine Cherry of Brick Township. "It would be snowing hard, and he would be telling his mother it was time for church.
A Paterson woman who took a class taught by Serratelli said the bishop is a deep thinker who can relate to anyone. Even in a weighty class on theology, he would use a simple style to teach people. And he would always have a sense of humor.
"He would bring in doughnuts to class,'' Judi Barbarito-Cocilovo said. "They weren't just any doughnuts. He would stop at an old-fashioned bakery and bring in those really big, puffy crullers.''
Serratelli was born in Newark on April 18, 1944, the son of Eva Fasolino, a factory worker, and the late Pio Serratelli, an accountant for Sherwin-Williams. He received a bachelor's degree from Seton Hall in 1965 and degrees in theology from the Gregorian University in Rome and in Scripture from the Biblical Institute in 1976. He earned a doctorate in theology from the Gregorian University in 1977.
Arthur J. Serratelli was formally installed yesterday as the seventh bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Paterson, and in his homily he urged Catholics to spread the gospel and steered clear of controversial issues that have plagued the church in recent years.
Serratelli, appointed five weeks ago to succeed retiring Bishop Frank Rodimer, received his gold bishop's staff during a two-hour ceremony at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.
About 1,000 relatives, friends, priests, laity and bishops, including Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former Newark archbishop, attended. Serratelli will oversee a diocese that represents nearly 400,000 Catholics in Morris, Sussex and Passaic counties.
Serratelli urged his flock to espouse Christian values. In explaining how this can be difficult, he cited Col. Andrew Rowan, who during the Spanish-American War spent three weeks traveling through jungles in Cuba before successfully delivering an important message to a general.
"Today every Christian needs the same commitment and courage," he said. "Go into the world and preach the gospel, Jesus tells us. ... He sends us to bring the gospel to those who have never heard it and to those who need to hear it anew."
His homily, delivered in both English and Spanish, was a plain-spoken speech about the gospel, poverty, reconciliation, and the church's opposition to abortion.
"We are vigorous for the sake of the common good in our respect for human life from conception to natural death," he said. "For only a society that safeguards the fundamental right to life for all will stand."
Without mentioning specifically the sex abuse scandal that has rocked the Catholic church since 2002, Serratelli did speak of forgiveness, referring to St. Maria Goretti, who was murdered in 1902 at age 11 and whose feast day was yesterday, as a "victim of abuse and violence."
Noting that Goretti's murderer and mother received Holy Communion together after the killer had served a 30-year prison term and "was reformed," he said, "What an example! What a needed lesson!"
Though he did not tackle the issue head-on yesterday, Serratelli, who previously served as the Newark archdiocese's vicar-general, the second-highest position in the archdiocese, has received praise from the leader of New Jersey's chapter of Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests for his dealings with the group.
"We have high expectations for him," said Buddy Cotton, SNAP's state leader. "We've invited him to sit and talk with us because there are still some very significant gaps in how this diocese handles (sex) abuse allegations. We want to close those gaps."
Many people believe Serratelli will eventually be viewed as a moderate on controversial issues the church has grappled with recently.
At the formal announcement of his appointment last month, Serratelli indicated he will continue Rodimer's policy of allowing Voice of the Faithful, a lay church reform group, to meet on Paterson diocese property.
Newark Archbishop John J. Myers, Serratelli's last boss, has banned the organization -- which was formed in the wake of the clergy sex abuse scandal and whose goals include shaping structural change in the church -- from the Newark archdiocese, calling it anti-Catholic.
Another controversial issue Serratelli did not address yesterday was whether Catholic politicians and laity who support abortion rights should be denied Communion.
Serratelli has previously indicated he does not favor denying Communion. Some bishops have said otherwise.
"I think (Serratelli) made clear he doesn't want to make Communion a political forum," said Jan Figenshu of Madison, who studied with Serratelli from 1998 to 2000 at the Immaculate Conception Seminary at Seton Hall University. "If anybody's capable of making a very level-headed pastoral decision, it would be Bishop Arthur."
Among those who attended yesterday's ceremony was Serratelli's 90-year-old mother, Eva, who sat proudly in the front row.
"What can I say? Today is a happy day," she said before the ceremony.
A Newark native, Serratelli served as an altar boy at Our Lady of Mount Carmel and graduated from Seton Hall Prep and Seton Hall University's seminary.
Ordained in 1968, he served at St. Anthony's Church in Belleville from 1969 to 1970 before joining the faculty at Immaculate Conception Seminary, where he taught systemic theology. He later received a hard-to-obtain licentiate degree in sacred scripture in Rome.
He was appointed a regional bishop in the Newark archdiocese in 2000.
Rodimer, who served as Paterson bishop for 26 years, did not speak during yesterday's ceremony, but said in a statement that he looks forward to retirement.
"This is going to be another part of my life and I am happy about it. One of the reasons that I am so happy is that I am being succeeded by Bishop Serratelli. ... He knows people and he loves the diocese."
Serratelli and McCarrick praised Rodimer, who received multiple ovations.
Though he has had a reputation of being a fair-minded and pastoral bishop, Rodimer has been dogged since 2002 by accusations that he mishandled allegations of clergy sexual abuse.
The Paterson diocese is home to New Jersey's most notorious case in the sex scandal. More than a dozen people have accused the former Rev. James Hanley of abusing them when he worked at the Church of St. Joseph in Mendham.
The diocese forced Hanley to retire in 1988, but not until last year was he removed from the priesthood. Rodimer has acknowledged he underestimated the seriousness of the charges until it was too late to prosecute.