New NH Bishop Wants to Help Heal Old Wounds
Reaction from local and national observers over the selection of Bishop Peter Libasci is mixed.
Bishop Peter Libasci, who has spent his entire career as a parish priest in New York, is ready to bring a ministry of healing and hope to the Diocese of Manchester, which serves more than 300,000 Catholics across the state.
Libasci was introduced during a 10 a.m. news conference Sept. 19 at St. Joseph Cathedral in Manchester by Bishop John McCormack, who appeared relaxed as he described his successor as someone with "a strong devotion to the Lord."
"Although he comes from New York, it's our expectation that he's not a New York Yankees fan," McCormack said, evoking laughter from the crowd of mostly church personnel and media.
Libasci, 59, was born in Queens and attended St. John's University in New York, and St. Meinrad Seminary in Indiana. He was ordained in 1978 as a priest of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, and in addition to English, speaks Slovakian, Spanish, Italian and French.
For the past 12 years Libasci has served as pastor of St. Therese of Lisieu parish in Montauk, N.Y., a community Libasci described as full of diversity and all the challenges that go along with cultural and economic struggles.
When asked about his initial goals as leader of the Manchester Diocese, Libasci said he will begin by listening.
"My challenge is to listen very carefully, to learn the culture, the life -- that is my greatest goal, to come to know and to learn," Libasci said.
He also acknowledged the continuing challenges for Catholic Bishops of dealing with the years of sexual abuse by parish priests, a church-wide scandal which rocked the Manchester Diocese when allegations first became public beginning in 2002.
"The most important thing right off the bat is the compassion -- the compassion and the desire to heal, to help restore to heal and to again, rebuild individual lives, family lives, life of the church, life of the community -- it's so important, and that will be a very important part of my life," Libasci said.
Libasci said his personal motto is "Arise and walk," taken from a parable in the Biblical book of Acts.
"I've taken that as my motto, just the three last words of that passage. When you're paralyzed by fear, in the name of Jesus Christ, let's try this, we can do this. When we don't know what to do, in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, arise and walk. We can do this, " Libasci said.
"And so, that's pretty much what I'm trying to bring. My faith in our Lord, my trust and hope and my knowledge, from experience, that this is what we all want," Libasci said. "The goodness of God and the ability to grow together."
Libasci planned to spend the rest of the day on a whirlwind tour of some of the city's charitable and Catholic enclaves -- Trinity High School, the New Hampshire Food Bank, and the Presentation of Mary Convent, ending back at the Cathedral for a prayer service with the priests.
At least one local Catholic who has been vocal about the issue of priest abuse said the diocese is in need of change. Whether Libasci is the right person for that job will take time to know, said Carolyn Disco of Merrimack.
"I'd be curious what his footprint is, if indeed he has one," said Disco, a survivor support chairwoman for the New Hampshire chapter of the Voice of the Faithful.
In the past Disco has criticized McCormack for a lack of leadership, including, she claims, being obstructive when people have sought church records of alleged priest abuses.
"Right now it's more of a question of, 'Who's he?' I just know that New Hampshire needs a breath of fresh air."
Terence McKiernan, president and founder, BishopAccountability.org, released a statement Monday that was critical of Libasci's appointment, adding that it was as an example of the Vatican’s “keeping it in the family.”
His statement reads, in part:
"Bishop-elect Libasci rose to prominence under Bishop William F. Murphy of Rockville Centre NY, whose misdeeds in Boston were condemned by the Massachusetts Attorney General and the U.S. Attorney but rewarded by Cardinal Law.
"With this new appointment, Pope Benedict has shown disrespect to the people of New Hampshire, to the survivors who were treated badly by Bishop McCormack and Bishop Murphy, and to survivors of clergy abuse everywhere, whose abuse was caused or exacerbated by the corrupt managerial practices of the Vatican," writes McKiernan.
McKiernan's full statement can be read here.
Kiernan's organization, established in 2003, provides an online archive of priest sexual abuse scandals reported around the world.
Jennifer Horn, a conservative political activist and parishioner at Immaculate Conception Church in Nashua, said a new bishop should be a signal of hope and optimism among local Catholics.
"New Hampshire Catholics have felt eager and ready for new leadership for some time now. Bishop Libasci is relatively young and will hopefully bring new energy and fresh ideas to the position," Horn said.
"As the mom of five one of my most pressing concerns is how we make the Church as accessible and as meaningful as possible to our young people, so they will remain engaged in the faith as they move into adulthood," Horn said. "I will be looking at Bishop Libasci to provide leadership in providing healing and strength for those Catholics who, like myself, still harbor doubt and disappointment regarding how the priest scandals of the past were handled, as well."
Libasci will be installed as Bishop on Dec. 8 at 2 p.m. at St. Joseph Cathedral.