On this day, September 21 in the year 2012, the Holy Father has accepted the resignation of Bishop Matthew Clark. As of today, Bp. Clark is no longer the Bishop of Rochester and he relinquishes any power and privilege that belongs to said position. The bishop is given the honorary title of “bishop emeritus.” He is still a bishop, just not our shepherd any longer.
At a news conference that took place around 10 AM this morning, it was announced that Bp. Robert J. Cunningham of Syracuse will manage the Diocese of Rochester as Apostolic Administrator until a replacement has been named by Pope Benedict. Sadly, Fr. Joseph Hart will assist Bp. Cunningham in this administration. The diocese is presently sede vacante, meaning that we do not have a diocesan bishop. Our next bishop will be named in the coming months, so stay tuned.
Reflection on how we got here
I have to admit that when I woke up this morning I was shocked to hear that Bp. Clark had been replaced a mere two months after submitting his resignation. It’s a somewhat unprecedented move to have a bishop’s resignation be accepted so quickly, and it’s surely a repudiation of Bp. Clark’s tenure as Bishop of Rochester. Most of us expected a quicker than normal change, just not this quick! So why was the bishop’s resignation accepted after only two months? First of all, the bishop’s fruits have been rotten. Below is a table of figures comparing the state of the Diocese of Rochester when Bp. Clark arrived to when he departed:
|Active diocesan priests||341||90|
|Catholic high schools||9||5|
|Catholic elementary schools||78||25|
|Total Catholic school students||76,724||20,603|
Source: Official Catholic Directory, 1979 and 2012
Second, Bp. Clark has a lengthy and oft-tumultuous history with Pope Benedict; the two have butted heads on numerous occasions. In November of 1986, Cardinal Ratzinger forced Bp. Clark to remove his imprimatur from a sex book written by former Rochester (and now Buffalo) priest, Fr. Matthew Kawiak. The book condoned various immoral activities including masturbation and homosexual acts. Also in 1986, Cardinal Ratzinger banned Diocese of Rochester priest, Fr. Charles Curran, from teaching in Catholic institutions. Bp. Clark famously defended this priest to the bitter end despite Fr. Curran’s repeated dissent on human sexuality. In 1997, Clark received even more scrutiny from Vatican officials concerning his Rainbow Sash Masses for homosexuals at Sacred Heart Cathedral on March 1st and October 5th of that year. Perhaps the pinnacle of the disagreements between these two men came in October of 1998 when Ratzinger ordered the removal of James Callan from administrator of Corpus Christi church. As most readers already know, Corpus Christi had been blessing gay unions, offering non-Catholics and non-Christians Holy Communion, and elevated Pastoral Associate Mary Ramerman to the title of “Associate Pastor” while letting her wear a half-stole at the altar. After Callan’s removal, the parish split and a large number of parishioners formed the schismatic Spiritus Christi church, which now boasts a gaggle of priestesses offering invalid Masses. Mr. Callan commented later about how Bp. Clark held a protective umbrella over the community for many years. The blood of this schism, and the loss of 3,000 souls, rests on Bp. Clark’s hands. The Holy Father certainly recalled these various acts of dissent.
Basically what I’m getting at is, the speed with which this resignation has been accepted is no coincidence. Our cries have been heard, and our next bishop is at hand. Your letters to Rome have made a difference. God is good!
What will happen next
The process of selecting the next Bishop of Rochester is underway. Various priest and bishop candidates will be considered, and three names will be recommended to Pope Benedict to fill this vacancy. The Pope, and the Pope alone, will make the decision. However, the Holy Father will likely receive input from various prominent Catholics such as Card. Dolan, the Nuncio, and the Congregation for Bishops which is led by Card. Burke. It could take several months for our next bishop to be named. After he is selected, the person will be consecrated/ordained (if not already a bishop), and formally installed during an Installation Mass.
Bp. Cunningham will oversee the Diocese of Rochester, in addition to his duties in the Diocese of Syracuse, until our next bishop has been installed. It is highly probable that Cunningham will clear out the Rochester curia so that our new bishop will be able to make his own appointments. I imagine he’d ask for the resignations of all curia members sometime soon. Bp. Cunningham will also tie up any loose ends and prepare a smooth transition for our next bishop.
Remember that Bp. Cunningham is only a temporary administrator. Don’t expect a lot of significant changes in the coming months.
It’s anybody’s guess who will be the next Bishop of Rochester. The process is bound by secrecy, though information tends to get out. After all, the people involved are only human. One rumor which I am sure you have heard is the possibility that Bp. Joseph Perry will be our next bishop. The rumor was that Bp. Clark was offered Perry as a coadjutor early last year, but declined. If this is true, then it is highly probable that Perry will be named our next bishop at some point in the near future. You may be asking, “why not name Perry our bishop now if this is the case?” Good question. My guess is that Perry wasn’t named today because he is needed to assist in the transition in the Archdiocese of Chicago while Cardinal George battles cancer. If Perry is to be our next bishop, he may be appointed shortly after George’s successor is named.
There are a great number of potential bishop candidates. Below is a list I assembled of some of the most likely individuals to be named our next bishop.
Auxiliary bishop candidates:
1. Bishop Joseph Perry, 64, Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago
Diocesan bishop candidates:
1. Bp. Alexander Sample, 51, Bishop of Marquette
2. Bp. Michael Jackels, 58, Bishop of Wichita
3. Bp. Robert McManus, 61, Bishop of Worcester
4. Bp. Leonard Blair, 63, Bishop of Toledo
This process isn’t going to be completed in a week or two. There are 15 dioceses in need of a bishop. Some dioceses, such as Tyler, have been vacant for 14 months. Others, such as Las Cruces, have a diocesan bishop serving 12 months past 75. Here are the lists of vacant dioceses and dioceses with bishops serving past 75:
1. Tyler 
2. Indianapolis 
3. El Paso 
4. Bridgeport 
5. Portland (Maine) 
6. Fargo 
7. Oakland 
8. Rochester 
9. Ft. Worth 
Bishops serving past 75
1. Bp. Ramirez, Las Cruces 
2. Card. George, Chicago 
3. Abp. Vlazny, Portland (Oregon) 
4. Bp. Pfeifer, San Angelo 
5. Bp. Hurley, Grand Rapids 
6. Bp. Kinney, St. Cloud 
So, my friends, here we are. We have waited 33 long years for change to come to Rochester and now the day has arrived. Bishop Clark is no longer the Bishop of Rochester, and soon his replacement will be named. Our next bishop will face the unenviable task of resurrecting a diocese in shambles. He will face a strong, ingrained, vocal progesssivism in the local priesthood and most area parish staffs. He will have difficult decisions to make about St. Bernard School of Theology, pastoral appointments, dissent, and a host of other local issues. This man is going to need our support and prayers. Please pray for our next bishop. May he be loving, strong, traditional, and orthodox in faith. Please pray for Bp. Clark. May he have a long, healthy and enjoyable retirement. May the very quick acceptance of his resignation not cause him any hurt or shame.
It’s time to move Forward in Hope. It’s time to Keep the Spirit Alive. Hope and change. Yes we can.