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Challenges Ahead for New Hartford, CT Archbishop

Hartford Courant Staff Writer

October 21, 2003

As the new archbishop, the Most Rev. Henry J. Mansell will face some of the same problems in the archdiocese of Hartford that he grappled with in Buffalo.

There is a shortage of priests, which is expected to accelerate in the next decade as the baby boom generation retires. There is a continuing need to restore trust in the wake of the priest sexual abuse scandal.

Mansell said during a press conference Monday that he would get to know the archdiocese by getting out to meet the people.

"I do hope to get to every Catholic institution - every school, every parish, every social service agency - to get to know the great story of the archdiocese of Hartford," Mansell said. "I will find out what is to be done, [and] in consultation and collaboration, work with the people who are involved."

The Rev. Frank Carter, pastor of St. Bridget Church in West Hartford, was among more than 50 priests and nuns who went to St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield Monday to meet the new archbishop during his brief visit.

"He wants to discover the diocese," Carter said after the press conference. "He sees himself as a servant of the archdiocese. I feel that is a wonderful posture to take."

Carter said one of the biggest concerns in the archdiocese is the need for more men to enter the priesthood.

About 124 priests from the Hartford archdiocese will retire within the next 10 years. Currently, only half the number of priests serve the archdiocese's 216 parishes as did 20 years ago.

The Hartford archdiocese has faced allegations and lawsuits regarding sexual abuse by priests. Mansell's handling of the crisis in Buffalo continues to provoke some controversy - and dismay at his appointment as archbishop - most recently because he has refused to name priests who have been accused of sexual misconduct.

Mansell denied Monday that he moved accused priests from parish to parish and defended his decision not to make public the names of any priests who had been accused, including two whom he recently told to retire.

"The bottom line is that, in the diocese of Buffalo, we can say today that there is not one single priest in active ministry that has ever been in an act of sexual abuse of a minor at any time," he said, adding that the sex abuse scandal points to a need for such matters to be addressed throughout society, not just by the church.

In September, questions were raised when the two priests in the Buffalo diocese abruptly retired.

"They were asked to retire because they had been involved in incidents years and years ago; they were not shuttled from parish to parish," Mansell said, adding that the men spent time in treatment facilities and were reinstated based on medical recommendation.

"But after Dallas [under a charter adopted there by the U.S. Conference of Bishops in 2002], one incident and you have to go, regardless of what has happened in the ensuing period. And so, they were relieved [of their duties]," he explained.

"They have served in cases for 35 or 40 years without a single allegation, tremendously successful parish priests who are very much appreciated by their people," Mansell said. "I feel at this point, it's a matter of basic human decency not to reveal their names. To subject them to humiliation and ridicule at this point, when the statute of limitations has long since run out, would be very unfair, and a violation of who they are."

In Hartford, Mansell said he would rely on the diocesan review board, as he did in Buffalo, and would be "taking these matters on a case-by-case basis."

David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said the organization is "dismayed" by Mansell's appointment as archbishop.

"I speak to victims in the Buffalo who feel they have been victimized twice by Mansell's tactic. He is one of the most staunchly silent [bishops] about things that have happened," Clohessy said. "Survivors feel this lack of knowledge is really very scary."

Mark Furnish, who heads the SNAP chapter in the Albany-Rochester area, also called Mansell's actions troubling.

"To assume that the mere passage of time cures child molesters is naïve and dangerous," Furnish said. "The Dallas charter also calls for openness and transparency, and there is nothing open or transparent about this. It's clear from his comments today that his primary concerns are with the molester and not the families that have been devastated."

Mansell was introduced at the press conference by Archbishop Daniel A. Cronin, who will continue to lead the archdiocese until Mansell is installed during a formal ceremony Dec. 18 at the Cathedral of St. Joseph in Hartford.

Mansell said one of his goals was to increase church attendance and create more vibrant parishes that will attract youths.

"I think what's happening today is we are no longer taking for granted our faith," he said. "There is now a greater intentionality."

Meanwhile, Cronin said he would remain in the Hartford area and retire to St. Thomas Seminary. He will serve at Mass and other functions at which he is needed, Cronin said. "I'm in good health, thank God, so I can help wherever the archbishop feels I am needed."

While in Buffalo, Mansell was active in promoting sainthood for the Rev. Nelson Baker, who founded an orphanage in Lackawanna, N.Y. Mansell said that he would now take up the cause of sainthood for the Rev. Michael J. McGivney, a New Haven priest who founded the Knights of Columbus in 1882.

Mansell said he learned only recently that he was to become an archbishop. "There's speculation and rumors and I regard those all as distractions," he said. "I try to screen it out and do the work at hand. My goal was to be a priest to the best of my ability.

"I never dreamed I would be an archbishop. I never dreamed I'd be a bishop," Mansell said after the press conference. "My desire when I was ordained was to be a parish priest, which I was for seven years. It remains my desire to be a good priest, and a good archbishop."

An Associated Press report is included in this story.
Copyright 2003, Hartford Courant

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests