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Spotlight Report

Bishop says move is only 'speculation'

Wuerl flattered, prepared to serve

By Michael Rezendes, Globe Staff, and John McElhenny, Globe Correspondent, 6/9/2003

Bishop Donald W. Wuerl at Mass in Pittsburgh on June 8. (Globe Staff Photo / Essdras M. Suarez)

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Archbishop choice seen imminent

PITTSBURGH -- Bishop Donald W. Wuerl said yesterday that any suggestion he is to be named the new archbishop of Boston is ''speculation,'' but also said that he would be flattered if he were being considered and that he understands why Boston parishioners are eager for the Vatican to name a permanent successor to Cardinal Bernard F. Law.

''I can be sensitive,'' he said after celebrating the noon Mass at St. Paul Cathedral in Pittsburgh. ''I suspect that that great church is eager to have a full-time, permanent bishop.''

Wuerl would not confirm a story in The Boston Sunday Globe that said the appointment of a new archbishop is imminent and that Wuerl is said to be leading a short list of candidates. He also declined to say whether he has discussed the issue with anyone at the Vatican. ''I wouldn't even want to get into any of that,'' he said.

Still, Wuerl said he would be prepared to go to Boston -- the most challenging assignment in the American Church today -- if he is named its new spiritual leader. ''Every priest and every bishop should always be prepared. That is part of being ordained. You go where you are sent,'' Wuerl said.

Wuerl's chief spokesman, the Rev. Ronald P. Lengwin, said he does not believe Wuerl will be named Boston's new archbishop. ''Personally, I absolutely don't think it's going to happen. I know the bishop's style. If he knew something, I think we would be able to detect that,'' Lengwin said. ''Is it possible he's going and he doesn't know he's going? It's possible.''

Knowledgeable church officials have told the Globe that Wuerl is considered the most likely choice to succeed Law. Other candidates include Bishop Harry J. Flynn of Minneapolis-St. Paul and Bishop Edwin F. O'Brien, the head of all US military chaplains.

Wuerl, a Pittsburgh native who has served as bishop since 1988, expressed contentment with his current assignment, but spoke admiringly of the Boston Archdiocese. ''The church in Boston is a wonderful church. It's a very large and very old church. It's a wonderful, wonderful church,'' he said.

Whether or not Wuerl is the choice to lead the troubled Boston Archdiocese, news that the selection of a new archbishop is imminent triggered a sense of relief and anticipation in Greater Boston. At St. Gerard Majella Church in Canton, parishioners and the pastor, the Rev. Bernard P. McLaughlin, said the appointment of a new leader would allow the church to begin looking beyond the clergy sexual abuse crisis that has gripped it for more than a year.

Dan Donahue, a parishioner leaving 10 a.m. Mass yesterday, said he hopes the new archbishop will bring ''an honest approach'' to the job. ''It's important to put this thing to rest and give the church a new face,'' Donahue said.

Several parishioners said they hope their new spiritual leader will be open to suggestions from the laity.

Since Law resigned last December, after repeated revelations that he failed to remove known sexual offenders from active ministry, Bishop Richard G. Lennon has been interim leader of the Boston Archdiocese.

McLaughlin said that interim status has prevented the archdiocese from ending the crisis. Settlement negotiations between the archdiocese and lawyers representing more than 520 people with clergy abuse claims are stalled. And with donations down by nearly half and significant population shifts among parishes -- some of which have seen increased attendance and others a drop -- the archdiocese is faced with a fiscal crisis and the prospect of closing more schools, shuttering some churches, and merging parishes.

McLaughlin, an early critic of Law and his handling of the clergy abuse scandal, also said that the church must reconnect with the average parishioners to move beyond the crisis, and that the appointment of an archbishop with a personal touch and a dedication to openness would help improve the public face of the church.

''He's got to be able to sit down with the media and give straight answers,'' McLaughlin said. ''The church needs transparency. It needs truth in all it does.''

In Pittsburgh, Wuerl seemed to demonstrate that personal touch, celebrating the noon Mass yesterday and officiating at an afternoon confirmation ceremony, which drew a near-capacity crowd to the cathedral.

At the confirmation, a sacrament that initiates Catholics, most often young teens, to full membership in the church, Wuerl drew a laugh when he asked if the study videos used by the young Catholics were ''awful,'' and then asked for volunteers to answer questions about the meaning of the Sacrament of Confirmation and Catholicism.

Wuerl also answered questions from the media about a possible appointment to Boston.

''Even if someone knew,'' Wuerl said, ''it would be impossible to say because it's the pope who makes the announcement.''

Michael S. Rosenwald of the Globe staff contributed to this story.

Michael Rezendes can be reached at

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 6/9/2003.
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