Vatican names next bishop

Last modified: 9/20/2011 12:00:00 AM
Peter Anthony Libasci was named the next bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Manchester yesterday by the Vatican, following the retirement of Bishop John McCormack.

Libasci, formerly the auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Rockville Centre in Rockville Centre, N.Y., will officially take office Dec. 8 after a transition period in which McCormack will serve as the interim bishop.

"Seeing these wonderful warm smiling faces, welcome, welcome, welcome, and all I can say is Thank you. Thank you so very, very much," Libasci, 59, said at a press conference at Saint Joseph Cathedral in Manchester. "My eagerness, my hope, is in these next few days and weeks and months and years to (more) and more promote the beauty of the church in New Hampshire."

McCormack, who said last year he would step down because he had reached the mandatory retirement age of 75, has served as bishop since 1998. While leading New Hampshire's 300,000 Roman Catholics, McCormack oversaw the consolidation of many of the state's parishes, which number now about a third less than a decade ago. Through this initiative, three of Concord's parishes - St. John the Evangelist, St. Peter's and Sacred Heart - merged in late June.

McCormack's tenure in New Hampshire grew turbulent when Boston's child sex abuse scandal came to light in 2002. McCormack had previously served as a top aide to Cardinal Bernard Law in the Archdiocese of Boston, where he was responsible for investigating allegations of sexual misconduct by priests.

At the time, many called for McCormack's resignation, saying he was involved in moving abusive priests from church to church. McCormack later admitted he had not done enough to help those who were abused.

Libasci yesterday said further healing of the Catholic church following the sexual abuse scandal will be one of his leading priorities.

"The most important thing right off the bat is the compassion, the compassion and the desire to heal, to help to restore, to heal and to again rebuild individual lives, family lives, life of the church, life of the community," Libasci said.

But many who have wished for McCormack's retirement said yesterday Libasci isn't the right leader to take his place.

David Clohessy, director of the Survivor Network of those Abused by Priests, said Libasci does not have a record of promoting further protections for children and noted Libasci's history in the Diocese of Rockville Centre, which was involved in its own sexual abuse scandal. A 2003 Suffolk County Grand Jury report found priests in the diocese were involved in sexual misconduct with children and that officials there ignored credible complaints and failed to act on warning signs, with not one priest in the diocese who knew about the abuse reporting it to authorities. Libasci, who served in Rockville Centre as a priest, monsignor and auxiliary bishop, was not named in the report.

Clohessy called on Libasci yesterday to take the same path as 28 other bishops in the United States and post online the names of church employees who have been involved in sexual misconduct cases.

"We need to see decisive prevention steps like posting the names. There is no quicker, easier way to warn parents and protect kids than posting those names," Clohessy said.

As he comes into office, Libasci will also face the challenge of addressing the nationwide shortage of priests, which has spurred parish consolidations across the country. In 2011, 3,200 of the 17,000 parishes in the United States were without a resident pastor, according to numbers from Georgetown University.

Michele Dillon, a Catholic scholar and professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire, said because there has yet to be an overarching response to the priest shortage from the nation's bishops, Libasci will need to address the issue locally or advocate for a national response.

Libasci said he is not coming to Manchester with any preconceived goals other than to listen intently to those familiar with the state and the church's challenges here.

"I need to take time to seriously see what's going to be the most important things, what to do and the direction of the diocese," he said. "So I can't establish goals at this moment but very eagerly will be looking forward to doing that as they become very, very apparent."

Kevin Donovan, spokesman at the Diocese of Manchester, said following his official retirement in December McCormack plans to stay in New Hampshire.

"He's expressed interest in serving Bishop Libasci in any way he can," Donovan said. "That might be celebrating Mass for priests that are on leave or on vacation, doing special ministry, whatever he's able to do."

(Tricia L. Nadolny can be reached at 369-3306 or tnadolny@cmonitor.com.)




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