Our episcopal transition

As is well-reported in this edition of The Anchor, on July 3 our diocese entered into a period of transition. Bishop George W. Coleman, the seventh bishop of Fall River, introduced the eighth, Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha. Bishop Coleman stressed that Bishop da Cunha would not be alone in his ministry. “The Diocese of Fall River consists of thousands of God’s people, priests, deacons, consecrated men and women and faithful, all of whom live the life of faith and seek to serve the Church.”

In his letter to the priests of the diocese (which you can read on page 11), after expressing his welcome to Bishop da Cunha and his thanks to the priests for their collaboration with him during his episcopacy, Bishop Coleman offered a practical direction. “Since the diocese becomes vacant with the naming of a new bishop, the bishop’s name should be omitted in the Eucharistic prayer until Bishop da Cunha takes possession of the diocese in September.”

Thinking about that brings to mind when Pope Benedict flew out of the Vatican and off to Castel Gandolfo last year on the evening when his resignation took effect. Back then we had no idea who the Holy Spirit had in store to give us as our new Holy Father. This time we do know who our new bishop will be (so we are not wondering about that), but we do realize that we are in an interim period, in which Bishop Coleman is now the apostolic administrator of the diocese, not the diocesan bishop, while Bishop da Cunha wraps up his tasks down in the Archdiocese of Newark.

The secular news media were present for Bishop da Cunha’s July 3 visit to Fall River (they may have wondered why the announcement was made on the day before a holiday, something which civil government leaders do when they want to announce bad news, in the hopes that tree-trimming or turkey preparation or fireworks purchasing [depending upon to which holiday we are referring] will somehow distract the populace, but we need to remember that July 4 is not a holiday in Vatican City) and they posed questions which did not all reflect the joy that Bishop Coleman mentioned in his letter. They asked Bishop da Cunha whether he was coming to Fall River with a list of parishes to close or Catholic schools to shut down. He pointed out that he had only arrived in the diocese the night beforehand (save for a trip he made with the Brazilian community from New Jersey some years ago, which brought him to Martha’s Vineyard, one of our Brazilian enclaves) and that he comes with no preconceived notions, but that he wants to work with the people of the diocese to promote Catholic education and strong parishes.

He was also asked about the scandal of clerical sexual abuse (As one person remarked, “is this all the news media can think about?”). One must concede that one of the reporters who asked about this did say that the Fall River Diocese did have a good track record of handling abuse accusations, having dealt with this issue early on, when the Porter scandal broke more than 20 years ago. Bishop da Cunha said that sexual abuse is a problem everywhere and it always needs to be addressed seriously, mentioning that it is the policy of the bishops of the United States to do so.

As we move through this period of transition, we will not be mentioning either Bishop Coleman or Bishop da Cunha by name in the Eucharistic Prayer, but that does not mean that we should not pray for them. We pray for Bishop Coleman, thanking the Lord for his kind and prayerful service as a priest and bishop for almost 50 years (he will be 50 years ordained a priest this December). We ask that God give him many blessings as he prepares for retirement. Retirement for a cleric is not like retirement from a secular job. Administrative tasks are gone, but the work of sanctification (that of oneself and that of the people a cleric serves) goes on until death. As many retired priests have said, ministry in retirement is even more joyful, because one can concentrate on being a priest, not an administrator. 

We pray also for Bishop da Cunha. He is saying goodbye to the people of New Jersey, people with whom he has served as a religious Brother, deacon, priest and bishop. It is not easy to leave, but he already has the experience of leaving his home country of Brazil to come to New Jersey (at least, if he wants to occasionally see people from there, the distance will not be too great). We pray for him as he prepares to serve with us here in the Fall River Diocese, to carry out the mandate Jesus gave to all Christians right before He ascended into Heaven, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature” (Mk 16:15). Bishop Coleman will continue to do that, Bishop da Cunha will soon be doing that here, too. We all need to do our part in carrying out that mandate.

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts